The last movies I ever expected to love were those ridiculous The Fast & the Furious flicks. Meathead street racer nonsense starring silly actors doing silly things in silly suped up cars as annoying as the ones that buzz around at 1am being far louder than a little lime green import has any right to be? Ugh. No.
Several friends kept insisting the series was secretly amazing, though, a bunch of movies that were more like comic books come to life than, say, the latest Batman or Superman movie or Caligula.
Okay, okay, fine. Facing some empty late nights and some bags of chips that needed eating, I figured I’d marathon the movies. Figured they’d at least give me something to do when trying to shut down my brain after a day of work. Worst that could happen is that I fell asleep on the couch (which is always wonderful). What I didn’t figure is that they’d convert me into a genuine fan.
What follows are some thoughts on each, all penned literally minutes after watching each one and originally intended only to share with some friends. I’m posting them here now as a cheap ploy to drive traffic to this site. I just skim through the first several movies, admittedly, in part because a skim is all they deserve. They’re kinda lousy. And make no mistake, I don’t present these as intelligent or thoughtful studies of what made the Fast films successful or enjoyable. You’re not going to find deep insights here. Instead, you’re going to read in faux-real time as I switch from “this sucks” to “this is amazing!” I’ll save the thoughtful commentary for works that deserve it, thanks.
Scroll down to Fast Five for the start of the fanboy gushing, or start at the start for the full evolution. Vrooom, vrooom.
The Fast and the Furious
The whole thing starts here, in a rather inglorious place. Circa 2001, some dudes who hadn’t really written or directed anything of note, aside from David Ayer’s Training Day, which came out that same year, dropped a street racing movie on the world for some damn reason. Every trailer and commercial painted it like pure cheese. I like cheese when it’s food, not film, so I went into this expecting a total cheeseball movie about street racing douchebags with some crime mixed in for good measure, something that would have me struggling to like the characters and would cause me to cringe a lot.
Except it was … kind of enjoyable. Not a lot. Terrible, predictable story; a spotlight on a subculture I dislike; loads of cheese. Yet kind of fun to watch for reasons that totally elude me. Only had me checking the clock once. Maybe it’s because I went in with such low expectations, or because the cliches doubled as comfort food, or because I knew the real world story behind the paper thin Paul Walker. Don’t know. But I sort of liked it. A little.
The movie is bone stupid, make no mistake. The plot is dumb as shit. The characters shallow as shit. The resolution is absurd as shit. This is not a good movie by any means.
But damned if I didn’t enjoy (kinda) watching it.
Yeah, those comments don’t say or offer much, but to be honest, neither does this movie. There is nothing to analyze or examine. There is nothing especially noteworthy here. Paul Walker is utterly generic blonde dude, so un-charismatic here it hurts, and Vin Diesel is Vin Diesel, i.e. an awesome dude who too often plays douchebags. The supporting cast is fine. The car action is passable. But for some reason, I kind of enjoyed it, even the absolutely idiotic drag race ending. (Seriously, what the hell was that?) Therefore, onward we go …
2 Fast 2 Furious
This one, on the other hand. Oh man, what a piece of garbage.
In 2003, the franchise continued with 2 Fast 2 Furious, created by most of the same people in, presumably, an effort to make Paul Walker the kind of star he just wasn’t cut out to be. The first was a total cheeseball movie about street racing douchebags with some crime mixed in for good measure, a movie that had me struggling to like the characters and caused me to cringe a lot but that I enjoyed in spite of all that.
This was a total cheeseball movie about yada yada yada, but I didn’t unexpectedly like it. Oh no. This flick just plain sucked.
This movie drops Vin, who is the heart and soul of the series, and replaces him with Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), a stereotypical “aren’t I a wacky and unpredictable black sidekick” in lieu of Diesel’s stoic “aren’t I a mysterious and aloof badass.” It’s not a good trade. And it’s not a good movie. Awful supporting cast (even if I did enjoy looking at Eva Mendes and Devon Aoki, who are given nothing to do but look good), the aforementioned irritating sidekick, Dexter’s dad (James Remar, there is something about that actor that grates me), an even dumber and more nonsensical and harder to believe story than the first, etc. Gibson is good in an ensemble — his character is a hoot in later flicks — but here they just don’t know what to do with him, and Gibson himself doesn’t have the chops to carry half the movie.
Remember how goofy action movies from the ’80s were? Just insultingly stupid, trying to get by on style over substance? Bad one-liners, bad hair, that sort of thing?
This was that, except without badasses like Sly Stallone, Arnold, or Bruce Willis to make them kind of cool.
Throw is a bad C list Matthew McConaughey knockoff as the main villain, Walker’s kind of off-putting “aww shucks, I’m a rebel” approach, and some really, really bad CGI for the race scenes and this thing was just a mess.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Three years after the awful second installment, they brought in Taiwanese American director Justin Lin for the third flick in the franchise. He’d done mostly indies before this, including the well-received Better Luck Tomorrow. A few years after this, he’d pretty much take over the whole franchise. The change in directors isn’t the whole shift to the franchise here. After two total cheeseball movies about street racing douchebags with some crime mixed in for good measure, both of which had me struggling to like the characters and caused me to cringe a lot — one I (kinda) liked and the other I didn’t — Tokyo Drift is a major change of pace.
Well, insomuch as this total cheeseball movie about street racing douchebags with some crime mixed in is set in Tokyo and features drift style driving instead of good old fashioned American driving.
For Tokyo Drift, everyone you know gets dropped. This is its own story with its own characters (though they later retcon it into the series in a way that is indeed reminiscent of comic books). It involves some good ol’ boy from the American south who somehow ends up in Tokyo racing against Japanese gangsters. Generic American Dude (Lucas Black) is as boring as a Catholic mass, but his mentor, Han (Sung Kang) is a charismatic, likable dude who is the main reason I didn’t turn this nonsense off in frustration. Was super happy he returned in later movies.
Anyway, not much to say here, either — I’m saving all that for the awesome ones later in the series — except that it’s far less silly than the second but still doesn’t manage to be as enjoyable as the first.
The story is a giant cliche, but at least it’s not as nonsensical as 2 Fast. Bad boy goes to foreign land and must prove himself with the help of his exotic teachers so he can win the climactic fight (race) and the girl. Classic White Outsider stuff — this time with cars!
It’s fine, kind of. The babes are decent. The racing is merely okay. The cheese levels are more down to Earth compared to the second flick, though the opening race that sends Generic American Dude to Japan in the first place is more than a little ridiculous – and not in the cool “this is stupidly awesome!” way of later movies.
I DID feel like I was wasting my time for a lot of it, though, because it’s not until the end that you see how it fits in with the other movies, and then only because of a cameo. I did like that cameo, though, even if only because it told me that my favorite character is coming back in a future movie. The one who dies in this movie, not You Know Who.
I’ll never watch this one again, but I’m glad I watched it instead of CNN or something.
Fast & Furious
I’m not saying this was a good movie, but with Fast & Furious, the oddly titled fourth movie in the franchise, the street racing douchebags take a firm step into Standard Action Movie territory. Less focused on street racing subculture and more focused on just presenting a throwback style action flick with cool cars, hot babes, and big crashes, it’s the sort of movie that would be right at home in the ’80s. And that’s not a bad thing.
In this one, both Paul Walker and Vin Diesel return as the Undercover Cop Who Races and the Bad Guy With A Code, respectively. It basically ignores movies #2 and #3, except for a brief cameo from Wise For His Age Asian Gangster, picking up five years after the first and presenting what could be a direct sequel to it.
The story does require some knowledge of the first, though, because much of this relies on past relationships. The basic premise is simple: both of them want to catch the same bad guy, albeit for different reasons, but they can’t work together ’cause, you know, one is a cop and the other is a wanted felon. Uneasy truce is established, yada yada yada.
With that setup, it delivers what you expect. Here’s a babe. Here’s a party scene. Here’s a crime boss whose brilliant plan is to send his people out into the streets to drive like maniacs in flashy cars, because that totally won’t attract attention. Here’s a crash that no one could actually walk away from. Here’s the climactic car scene. Here’s the cool as hell ending.
It’s not great cinema.
It knows what it is, though, and it does it pretty well. Unlike the last two, this one wasn’t all that cheesy. It’s self-assured and confident, delivering its twist and turns without winking at the audience or trying to be an MTV video. (Does MTV still have videos?) Basically, this is a solid action flick with cars and two main characters who you kind of grudgingly like.
Can’t really complain about that.
It is slightly on the dull side, no question about that, but for me it remained an upgrade over the cheesefests of 2 and 3. Those movies felt like bad two-hour music videos. This at least felt like a solid, if throwaway, action movie. Not one I’m likely to revisit ever again, but solid all the same.
Plus, from here you can kind of see the road ahead and see that perhaps good things are coming.
If I ever rewatched this franchise, I’d probably start with one, skip 2 and 3, and go right to #4.
How did this happen? How did we get to this?
After four movies of hit or miss action in which even the “hits” were merely passable cheesefests with cool cars and hot women, Fast Five, the fifth installment of this franchise (duh), actually manages to be a really damn enjoyable action movie. And I have no idea how it happened.
It’s not like all the ingredients were there. They weren’t. The formula for previous movies was glitzy, cliched crap. Not like they’re held down by an amazing cast, either. Vin Diesel is a likable meathead, Paul Walker can’t act but has blue eyes, and everyone else is forgettable. Not even like it has a compelling narrative built up behind it. Two of the previous four movies can be thrown away entirely, and aside from a major death and the last few minutes of the movie, even #4 is inconsequential.
And yet here we are, with the first movie of the series that does better than “competent action movie.” It’s actually a goddamn blast.
When the movie opens, our heroes are on the run in Brazil. They’re doing some cool heists with cars and looking badass while doing it, so the feds call in The Rock, whose main job is to look badass while going after bad guys. Cat and mouse action ensues.
So this is a Good Guys (who are actually Bad Guys) must escape from the Bad Guys (who are actually Good Guys) movie.
Except it’s not. It’s actually a Gather All The Fan Favorites Together For One Last Job heist movie, because the goal isn’t to get away from The Rock, it’s to steal a bunch of money from some forgettable Brazilian crime lord so they can all escape overseas and live happily ever after. Characters from all four previous movies join the fray for some well done heist stuff. You know the drill. Make plans, do cool shit, watch as the plans go wrong, have fun improvising, have a big action scene, then a plot twist, a big action climax, the end.
There aren’t a lot of surprises here, but there doesn’t need to be. You watch stuff like this because it’s candy, and this is damn good candy.
Only one street race, too, and even that one is practically a big fan service wink to the audience.
The big action finale is super crazy and a lot of fun. I had a lot of trouble with the physics involved — if you saw the movie you know what I’m taking about — but if you click off that part of your brain it’s a real hoot. Just don’t ask how many people they must have killed, because seriously, there must be 20+ cops and just as many civilians dead because of them! It’s utterly insane and laughable in every way.
Everything about this movie is ridiculous, really, but it’s a lot of fun without every descending into the pure cheese of the first three. There is a bit of fan service that you’ll miss if you didn’t see the first four, but I feel like the opening minutes provide all the context needed for a new viewer. This is an excellent jumping on point for new fans.
Also, the mid-credits tag is awwwwesommmmmme!
Admittedly, it’s about 15 minutes too long and could use some of the fat trimmed, but that’s a minor gripe. I’d actually watch this again. And then again.
This is an unabashedly loud, macho anti-hero action movie, and it’s a blast.
Fast & Furious 6
The Fast & The Furious’s transition from a series about street racers that also featured some crime/heist action to a series of action blockbusters about big heists that happened to feature some street racers was not a natural evolution. It was actually ordered by the studio in cynical attempt to attract a mass audience.
Well, chalk the F&F series up as an example of studio interference being a good thing, because this series went from barely passable douchebaggery to amazingness.
The sixth installment continues with the trend of the previous few in that it picks up right where the last left off. The gang are all out living the lives of rich men (hey writers, $15 million is not going to get you a private jet and a 150-foot yacht, just sayin’). Life is good, until the Rock shows up waving dead people in Riddick’s face. Help him capture Bard of Laketown, he says, and you can have the dead people and maybe some pardons.
What follows are a bunch of cars and guns and cars and fistfights and explosions and cars. There is a story that doesn’t matter and some plot twists you’ll half pay attention to, but you won’t be in it for any of that.
No, you’ll be in it to see the action antics of this lovable cast — how in the hell did these douches become lovable, anyway? — and to see insane stunts.
Taking down a military convoy? Cool. A chase through London with a wicked ass car that can flip other cars over? AWESOME. A brutal subway brawl between two badass chicks? Rad. A highway chase scene with a mother fucking tank? Bad. Frickin’. Ass. A Mad Max-style car fight for a giant plane on a runway that must be about 30 miles long? Super damn cool. (And seriously, I checked. People did the math. The runway would have had to have been just short of 30 miles long. HAH!!)
Oh, and a mandatory street racing scene, too, along with another overly sentimental ending (“Family,” sigh) and a cool credits tag that gets you hyped for the next movie.
This evolution is seriously unexpected. The first movie was douchey but sort of fun, the next two were douchey and pretty bad, and the fourth was sort of an okay attempt at being a real movie but not anything I’m in a rush to see again.
These last two? Shit, this is the real deal.
These guys are a superhero team. They even wink at the concept here, poking fun at how each member has their special “power” for the team. It’s such an ensemble at this point, actually, that Paul Walker seems like he’s barely in this at all – and that’s fine. Nobody really takes center stage. The movie belongs to them all. It’s a diverse crowd, too, which is rare to see in macho blockbusters.
Superheroes and comic books are what you have to have in mind going into this, by the way, because stuff like the climactic action scene is outlandish as hell. It’s bone stupid, really, making not a lick of sense and falling apart if you think about it for even a nanosecond.
Doesn’t matter. It’s fun. It’s crazy. It’s cool people doing cool shit. You watch movies like this for the amaazzzing flip car scene or the hell yeeeahhhhhhh! tank scene and the fun cast of characters. Plus, credit where credit is due, they are actually doing a bang-up job of making the series a cohesive whole that all ties together well and plays nicely off past movies. Even Tokyo Drift takes on new significance in the credits tag.
The thing that gets me is that after all these years of scoffing from a distance at these douche movies, wondering how in the hell they made so many of them, I … I …
… goddamnit, I think I love the Fast and the Furious now.
This movie is ridiculous. I mean, just balls out ridiculous. Thirty-mile long runways are pretty crazy, but time works different in movies, so you deal with it. Magic cars that can plummet off cliffs and fly between skyscrapers, with drivers who can survive seven fatal wrecks each in the span of a week?
Furious 7 is the most recent F&F flick, and it somehow became one of the highest grossing movies of all time. This was Avengers level stuff and made this franchise the highest grossing in Universal’s history. Holy shit!
The story is My God Who Cares: the big bad brother of the previous bad guy wants revenge, so he’s going to bump off Riddick and all his friends one by one.
But wait, there’s more! Snake Plissken is a vaguely defined government type who gives Riddick and the Carvengers permission to wreak mass amounts of havoc in order to bring in a stupidly gorgeous hacker gal who has access to the God’s Eye, which lets whoever controls it track anyone, anywhere, any time by hacking into every device in the world simultaneously. Yeah, Batman ain’t got nothing on this.
The idea is that Snake gets the device and Riddick can use it to track down Bad Guy’s Brother before Bad Guy’s Brother gets him.
Of course, Bad Guy’s Brother miraculously shows up EVERYWHERE, anyway, so what the hell do they need this thing for?
Doesn’t matter. They get in cars and do some amazing shit. You’d got your mandatory street race, lots of smokin’ babes and totally jacked dudes, really bad wisecracks in between the most outlandish stunts you can imagine – these people do so many improbable things in the span of 30 seconds it has to violate some law of nature – and a ghost Paul Walker awkwardly inserted into a few scenes, including one clearly cobbled together with short outtakes.
No Han or Wonder Woman, who are both missed, but a welcome cameo from Brazilian Cop Lady and a small but fun turn for the Rock are nice.
Furious 7 is bigger, louder, and more insane than the previous installment, but that doesn’t make it better. It’s not. That’s not a major knock because it’s still a load of stupid fun, and in all fairness they DID halt production for five or six months after Paul Walker was killed in a fiery car wreck (insert commentary about the nature of his death here), but yeah, not better. The draggy parts are draggier, the dialogue cringier, and the slick MTV cuts of early movies have made an unwelcome return.
But I’ll watch Hot Hacker Babe in ANYTHING (Nathalie Emmanuel, oh my god. She plays Dragon Lady’s assistant in Game of Thrones), and surprise surprise, Ludacris has actually turned into a pretty damn funny actor with killer deliver. He’s got a future as a legit actor outside this franchise if he wants it.
Oh, and did I mention that the movie has the Rock walking through L.A. with a chain gun shooting at attack helicopters, while a space age drone blows up cars with missiles?
Yeah. That’s what kind of a movie this is. It’s so obscenely stupid I should be offended it even exists, yet here I am, suddenly adding Furious 8 to my “I’ll see it in the theater” list, because HELL YEAH I am.
I’m a douche.