With Furious 7 about to storm cinemas worldwide, we thought we’d take this opportunity to discuss the franchise as a whole. Having just knocked out The Fast and the Furious, Fast & Furious (bizarrely the fourth in the series), Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 in a single marathon sitting, followed by 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in their own time, our overqualified, octane-addicted writers Jess Ellicott, Brad Mariano and Felix Hubble tackle the strange, schizophrenic beast that is The Fast and the Furious franchise.
Felix: So I’m not sure about you two but I’m super excited about Furious 7 – I was honestly on the fence about the Fast franchise, based solely on my foggy memories of the original and 2 Fast, but after revisiting them and checking out the other four I can honestly say I am converted. I am a bit cautious considering the fact that James Wan’s going to be taking over – as much as I love his movies Justin Lin was truly the series lifeblood after the reboot – but as long as Wan brings the ridiculous I’m going to be fully on board, not to mention I’m super excited about the inclusion of Jason Statham.
Jess: I am 100% converted. I’d been curious since Nathalie Kelley (Neela from Tokyo Drift) came and spoke at my high school back in ‘06. She was an ex-student and came to give us career advice, since she’d made it big starring in a Fast & Furious movie and was clearly a great role model for young women. We were all pretty amped as we got to skip class. I remember the boys from the neighbouring school having their MSN Messenger display pictures set as her. For some reason I’d been sleeping on the films until now. I think the pervading opinion is that they’re totally inane movies made for teenage boys, but what can I say, they’re missing out.
Brad: What I’ve come to enjoy is the cast and canon continuity. No other film series continually bends over backwards to please the loyal fans. This sometimes verges into blatant fan service and bending everything else toward the will of the franchise – the journey of Michelle Rodriguez’s character is particularly notable here – but it’s done in such good faith that it becomes really endearing. For example when assembling a team for the heist in Fast Five, the script left the doors open to introduce any characters or actors they wanted, but they chose to have Ludacris and Tyrese reprise their roles from the second film – neither particularly bankable actors, but the sense of ‘family’ extends beyond the films’ major themes to behind the scenes; clearly the actors enjoy working together and that really comes out on screen. Of course, that will make the departure of series mainstay Paul Walker in the seventh film hit even harder; a film that in at least one person’s eyes is already a favourite for Best Picture early next year.
Felix: Probably more deserving of that award than a lot of previous winners (I’m looking at you Argo, Gladiator, Crash etc.). I’d be remiss to not mention the hilariously misguided representation of gender roles throughout the series – all men are hyper-macho flesh-tanks (even desk cops are well-built) and the women are all either warrior queens like Michelle Rodriguez or hip-hop honey eye candy (I guess at least there’s an alternative?). In the context of the series I didn’t mind it to be honest, everyone feels somewhat objectified and it feels cartoonish yet self-aware – 2 and 6 were the only ones that I felt maybe strayed a bit too far from this path.
Jess: That’s it. I think the hip-hop video thing kind of gets to the heart of it, it’s an ingrained culture and aesthetic that it embraces wholeheartedly, but at the same time exaggerates to the point of self-awareness and parody. That’s not to say it’s not problematic, that women aren’t, for the most part, there as scantily-clad decorations to make the cars look good, but it’s not a total boy’s club. There’s always a girl racer. Michelle Rodriguez may be largely to thank for that. Apparently she had to put her foot down to make Letty’s character as tough as she is in The Fast and the Furious, and I guess it stuck.
That said, the other girl racers in the series, Suki (Devon Aoki) in 2 Fast 2 Furious, Neela (Nathalie Kelley) in Tokyo Drift and Giselle (Gal Gadot) in Fast Five and Furious 6 are never treated like ‘one of the boys’ as much as Letty (Rodriguez). They’re basically eye candy with some dialogue. I think there is a fuller spectrum of male characters than just macho dudes, mainly for laughs though. My favourite is probably the dweeby Hollywood cop in the first film who orders everyone iced decaf cappuccinos, followed by a fantastic cutaway shot to them in a different room, drinking said beverages.
Brad: Nuanced gender roles aren’t something the franchise does successfully, or even attempts to. It gets less egregious over the course of the films, but early on the incessant shots of faceless, bikini-clad women twerking around the cars was as ingrained into the film’s aesthetic as the close-up shots of speedometers and gear changes. 2 Fast 2 Furious was a particularly bad offender, and it makes the location change to Miami beaches seem to be a particularly calculated choice in this regard. The later movies never really apologise for that, but they slightly change – the fifth and sixth movies definitely pass the Bechdel test – and I can’t think of many modern day action films that would feature two extensive fight scenes between female actors as in the sixth film. Combined with a genuinely ethnically diverse cast that doesn’t preoccupy itself with race (is it the Brooklyn Nine Nine of action franchises?) I think the films deserve some credit for the actors represented on screen, and the enormous box office receipts from the last two films in particular vindicate this move away from more well-worn casting tropes.
Jess: I think we can all agree that the Fast & Furious marathon was glorious, right? We sat through about 8 hours of car chases. It was one full-on sensory overload, and probably one of the most insane yet enlightening moviegoing experiences of my life. When I came out I seriously thought I was going to get run over; the streets were a different place. Road rules suddenly seemed Ludacris… I mean, ludicrous. It felt like the scene in The Matrix where Keanu learns kung fu, except it was “I know Fast & Furious.” It was like learning a new language, accessing parts of your brain you never knew existed.
Felix: I was honestly surprised by how briskly the 9 hours went by; I had been up for a few hours and literally made the commute from Wollongong to Cremorne immediately prior to the screenings. Honestly I didn’t find that any of the films dragged right until the end of Fast & Furious 6 (the last of the marathon).
Jess: Totally. A very fast 9 hours. The first is one of the most thrilling films I’ve seen in a cinema, but there were moments in the fourth (Fast & Furious) where I seriously questioned my decisions leading up to that point. It was pretty hard-going. Who cares about Paul Walker and Vin Diesel sorting out their complicated trust issues? Luckily they put their differences aside by the time Fast Five rolls around, where they reach peak bromance.
Brad: It was a hell of a hangover cure, that’s for sure. But it was a rewarding experience – the films are so genuinely interested in canon and characters that seeing them as intended did really work. That the second and third films weren’t included in the marathon strikes as wise, in hindsight, for this reason.
Felix: To be honest, I was a bit sad to see Tokyo Drift not included in the line-up, would have killed to see that self-aware, cheese goldmine on the big screen. A Justin Lin marathon (Fast 3-6) would have been cool, although that would have meant missing out on The Fast and the Furious which I think we can all agree is one of the highlights of the series, if only for its Hackers-esque snapshot of an era. On that note, let’s take a look at the films as individual entities; The Fast and the Furious is obviously a great opening, really well-made, very aware of its role as a B-movie and not high art and overall extremely watchable. But what was going on with 2 Fast 2 Furious? I feel like the series dropped right off – it has its moments but I could definitely have seen this film killing off the franchise, at least critically.
Jess: Long way down from the top! The Fast and the Furious is a thrilling, well-made, surprisingly heartfelt film. 2 Fast 2 Furious is definitely the dud of the lot. It has little going for it apart from Ludacris’ afro, Paul Walker living on a houseboat and Eva Mendez and a couple of colourful set pieces. The plot is dead boring, I majorly struggled to get through it.
Brad: The first two films differ drastically in quality, but there are some similarities. Both are fun, but also occasionally terrible – Walker in particular has some abysmal line readings throughout, and the generally psychologically or strategically grounded driving the series does so well occasionally lapses into lazier, “push the button and the car goes faster” setpieces. I do think the first two work well as pop culture time capsules – the second film is (rightly) generally dismissed, but it does capture the chintzy aesthetic of early 2000s MTV Cribs culture well. It looks and sounds like a Chingy videoclip. And Tyrese does the heavy lifting to fill out the machismo charisma void left by the departure of Vin Diesel well enough to be invited back later on. But the polarising third entry is one where I think we differ most. I thought it was the worst of the series – I loved the drifting and the stunt work was, as always, impeccable. But with the exception of Sung Kang, the cast was mostly horrible – of the three rappers who have appeared in the films, Bow Wow was the least interesting and Lucas Black was an unengaging lead, not least because he is one of the oldest-looking teenagers in movie history. The set-up (kid moves to Japan, immediately forms a connection with someone involved in underground street racing) is the most contrived of all the films and the character motivations are always kind of unclear. I also was continually confused as to how much Japanese Black’s character spoke, or how much English the Japanese did. I thought it was a mess, and but for the reveal at the end, mostly unmemorable.
Jess: OK, OK. Tokyo Drift. It’s a tough one. Racist in parts, different characters, some terrible, terrible dialogue. But it’s possibly the best-looking of the lot, and has all the essential elements that make the films great. Also very tightly paced, never dull. I wasn’t bothered by Lucas Black so much, I thought he showed more emotional range than Paul Walker. And Han (Sung Kang) is probably my favourite character in the whole series.
Felix: I feel like Tokyo Drift is where the series becomes overtly self-aware (although it took most mainstream critics until around Fast Five to pick this up); I definitely think this is the reason that Lin was hired to take on the reboot. There’s something so fun about how ridiculously silly and offensive (both literally and sensorially) it is, some of the dialogue is just so outrageous – “One car in exchange for knowing what a man’s made of? That’s a price I can live with.” – how do they come up with this stuff!? It was a bit weird to see the intense, over-the-top sound design of the first three (particularly Tokyo Drift) absent from Fast & Furious, it made the whole experience feel a bit lacking. I wasn’t big on Fast & Furious, I feel like the studio was exercising a bit too much control over it – it felt really restrained overall, it’s not until Fast Five (after Justin Lin had proven the financial potential of his films) that I feel like Lin got to flex his Tokyo Drift muscle fully again.
Brad: To be contrarian once more, I can go to bat for the fourth film. It has its weaknesses; the climactic car chases in the tunnels are the most CGI-heavy sequences in the series (the practical SFX and visceral response of the climactic truck heist in the first film is never really repeated, but even the ventures into the ridiculous in the recent films look much more convincing than the tunnel scenes), and the second major setpiece is essentially the same as the first. But the film really suffers from growing pains rather than any damning flaws – it’s the bridge between the narratively and tonally different first three films into an ongoing saga. It also does something quite interesting in that it’s both a complete reboot of the type of films Furious films will be, while completely staying in canon. It does the heavy lifting of setting up the films in the future, and succeeds for me in building and cementing the relationships between the leads, particularly Walker and Vin Diesel. And its cheeky ending might be the most purely triumphant, fun moment in the whole series for me.
Felix: I think everyone, no matter their views on the series, should check out Fast Five – there’s a reason that the series has undergone critical re-evaluation and that film is solely responsible. Totally self-aware and ridiculously over-the-top but still well paced and never guilty of falling into ‘lol-so-random’ territory, not to mention the fact that it smashes the Bechdel test out of the park, Fast Five somehow manages to proficiently balance core character development and a really fun heist plot in a way that pays enough fan service, yet avoids being oppressive to series outsiders. The film is a really great exercise in making a sequel to an established franchise fun for everyone, no matter their level of familiarity with the series. I found that the sixth was kind of the same film except with serious pacing issues – overall, I found it far less entertaining than its predecessor, although I’m sure at least one of you will probably disagree with me.
Brad: I don’t have much to add to the critical consensus on the wonderful fun that is Fast Five, but I was fully on board for 6 – I think the only weakness is the fact that the crew led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) is ostensibly a similar rag-tag group as our protagonists, yet aside from a very funny monologue from Tyrese, this never really develops. In this regard, some of the central tensions and dynamics don’t work as they’re supposed to, and the film is a series of great elements rather than the solid affair of Fast Five. But these elements aren’t just fun moments, they’re truly staggering, extended setpieces. The fun with the tank and the sheer eschatological excess of that plane scene cements the film for me as probably my second favourite of the series so far. Not to mention, sufficiently hyped for the next instalment. What are our thoughts/hopes for Furious 7?
Jess: Bring Sung Kang back from the dead! If Rodriguez can, why can’t he? More blurry cinematography that shows they’re going extra fast, more double-layered tank tops, more bright colours, neon lights, burnt meat at barbecues, shameless product placement (“Ahhh, a Corona”), gratuitous cameos (think Rita Ora being in Furious 6 for all of five seconds) and early 2000s hip hop…
Felix: I really hope they bring Han back somehow, he’s such a great character – but most of all, I can’t wait to see Statham absolutely tearing up the screen; the man is a powerhouse and I’m so happy that they’ve brought him into the franchise. Hopefully it’s a Chev Chelios type of affair… if only we could get Neveldine/Taylor attached to the (inevitable) eighth, this is really their kind of gig.
Brad: I’m less optimistic, I think he’s a goner. But I’d bet my house on more Coronas, the obvious product placement becomes a running joke of sorts by the end. And I think Statham will be a great addition, even if he’s only a one time thing – the addition of a known action star has worked before, as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson managed to bring charisma and muscle to the recent films (“give me the damn veggies”) without hijacking the show and really fit seamlessly into the ensemble cast. That said, we might be getting overstuffed, as Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa and MMA champ Ronda Rousey also join the fracas, though I have faith that will work fine, as the saga has generally incorporated stunt casting well, like Gina Carrano in 6, or the obvious best guest spot of all time, Ja Rule in the original.
|1. Fast Five
2. The Fast and the Furious
3. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
4. Fast & Furious 6
5. Fast & Furious
6. 2 Fast 2 Furious
|1. The Fast and the Furious
2. Fast Five
3. Fast & Furious 6
4. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
5. Fast & Furious
6. 2 Fast 2 Furious
|1. Fast Five
2. Fast & Furious 6
3. The Fast and the Furious
4. Fast & Furious
5. 2 Fast 2 Furious
6. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift