Up until recently, I had largely ignored the Fast & Furious franchise. The stories. The actors. Nothing appealed to me about the films. Then, I got roped into watching the relatively recent sixth entry in the franchise which is not available on Netflix in Canada yet. I’m not going to say I loved it but it was a hell of a lot better than I gave it credit for. While the story was questionable at best and the acting was hammy, the cast was at least cohesive and the action was enjoyable. It was good enough for me to actually want to go back and watch the first five films, all of which are available on Netflix.
If nothing else, I wanted to find out why this much maligned franchise is on the verge of releasing its seventh film in 14 years.
The Fast and The Furious (2001) – This is the movie that started it all and it doesn’t hold up well. It’s a weak plot supported by mediocre performances but there’s enough good action to keep you hooked. There’s something about this movie that reminds me of Hackers. Maybe it’s the music. Maybe it’s the clothes. Maybe it’s the over-stylized misunderstanding of an entire subculture being played out on the screen. And it’s hard to deny the similarities to Point Break in the relationship between Vin Diesel (Toretto) and Paul Walker (O’Conner). Diesel is oddly compelling in roles like this, which is a big part of why this movie was a success despite itself.
2 Fast, 2 Furious (2003) – O’Conner has left California for Florida after the events of the first movie and has made a major career switch. This movie is terrible. It’s uneven and lacks a coherent plot, and it’s filled with terrible performances, particularly it’s weak, stereotypical villain. The only thing it offers the franchise is the introduction of Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson to the family. Their characters play key roles in later films. Frankly, I’m not sure how the franchise survived 2 Fast, 2 Furious. It’s awkwardly one dimensional and is primarily a “where is he now” film for O’Conner.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) – At first glance, this film appears to have nothing to do with the rest of the franchise though the true connection isn’t apparent until several films later. It’s set in Tokyo with characters who haven’t appeared in the first two films, though one of the new characters, Han, appears in subsequent films. And here’s the big twist; the events of this film technically happen after the sixth film which was released in 2013. Everything that happens in the fourth, fifth and sixth films happens between 2 Fast, 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift. There’s an extra scene in the sixth movie’s credits that completes the timeline. Confused? Who knew this franchise had such a convoluted timeline… Oh, and this movie is marginally better than the first two. It’s also the first of the four consecutive films in this franchise that Justin Lin directed.
Fast & Furious (2009) – It takes a couple of movies but Toretto and O’Conner are back together again, this time teaming up to avenge the death of a friend and to take down her killer. By driving cars super, extra fast, of course. And O’Conner is inexplicably now an FBI agent despite his blatantly criminal actions in the first two films. This is the first film in the franchise that actually feels like a decent action flick though the plot is still plot hole riddled insanity. This is where the people at the helm of the franchise start really figuring out what works by reuniting a few of the characters from the first films, a path they follow into the fifth movie.
Fast Five (2011) – Five movies in and the franchise is finally starting to hit its stride. Don’t get me wrong; the plot is filled with plot holes you could drive a GTO through, and most of the performances chew the scenery. But the action that defines these movies finally has a voice the watcher understands and connects with. In Fast Five, characters from all four previous movies are brought in and teamed up to take down a villain. They’re both helped and hindered by CIA Agent Luke Hobbs, aka Dwayne “The Rock” Johnston.
Fast & Furious 6 (2013) – This film is not available on Netflix (at least in Canada) at this time but given that the other five are all here one can assume it will eventually be available. The chemistry between the crew from Fast Five is so good that the producers bring them back again. This time, Dwayne is their partner the whole way through instead of hunting them. Trying to explain this plot to a rationale human being is like trying to explain a black hole to a squirrel; they’re just never going to understand. Still, the action is great and the main characters mesh well. And the end credits scene ties everything back to Tokyo Drift while introducing a new playmate to the crew to face off against in the upcoming seventh film.
These movies aren’t exactly the most thought provoking films nor are they particularly good, especially if you’re looking for a coherent plot or a believable dialogue that people actually say. But as the series goes on, it accepts what it is and owns the action, which is at least respectable. And the recent iterations are definitely a vast improvement over the originals.
A big part of that growth is due to Justin Lin being the director and Chris Morgan being the credited screenwriter for the third through sixth films. The consistency of the writing and directing combined with a cast that has had time to mature and gel make the later films worth watching. The action, though over-the-top and mindless, is still highly enjoyable, energetic, and engaging. It also helps that an ongoing story started developing in Tokyo Drift which has continued through to the seventh film.
Unfortunately, Justin Lin won’t be returning for the seventh movie due out in 2015, thought Chris Morgan is. And Paul Walker, the lead of five out of the six current films, tragically passed away while the new movie was being shot though not on set. Reportedly, he had finished shooting the dramatic scenes and his real life brothers are stepping in as body doubles for the driving/action scenes. This film also marks the return of Sean Boswell, the lead character in Tokyo Drift. Kurt Russell and Thai action superstar Tony Jaa are also joining the cast this time around.
Though the Fast & Furious won’t be winning any Academy Awards for acting or writing, it has morphed into a palatable action franchise worth watching on lazy evening with a bowl of popcorn.
Just don’t pull at the plot holes too much or everything falls apart. Watching these movies is like a game of Jenga.