Dan M., Here….
I saw The Fast and The Furious when I was 14 or 15. As someone who grew up watching Point Break on VHS and other 80s/90s action movies it was right in my wheel house. I have never been a car guy but I still remember that summer talking with my friends about Honda Civics, Nos, and spoilers that we’d all be getting when we turned 16. The first movie is a step by step remake of Point Break, right down to letting the “bad guy” go at the end with “I owe you a 10 second car” instead of “Vaya Con Dios.” It stared two relatively unknowns in Paul Walker and Vin Diesel who will never be confused with Daniel Day Lewis but were born to play these parts. Ultimately was a fun summer popcorn movie that no one thought they’d hear from again, let alone turn into an almost 4 billion dollar franchise.
I hated 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift (more on this later) they did absolutely nothing for me and they were bad sequels. Even in high school I have a yearbook quote about wishing people wouldn’t spend money on Fast and Furious movies and would see Lord of the Rings and stuff. I was completely against this franchise in every way possible until I got my job at the movie theater. I didn’t have to pay for movies so I saw almost everything and gave some movies a chance I would have never caught on TNT 5 years after their release. Which brings me to Fast & Furious (the 4th one) in 2009, I remember we had like 4 prints of the movie and working in projection you got to screen movies to make sure they played correctly so I sat down to watch this one. It was loud, obnoxious, but a ton of fun. The plot is not really the point here but Dom (Vin Diesel) is stealing fuel trucks in South America and his team including Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) has to split up to avoid police. Letty ends up working with the FBI & Brian (Paul Walker) and she gets killed by a drug dealer. Dom comes to the scene of her death days after it’s over, looks at the skid marks, touches the ground, and tastes the fuel residue and like an Indian tracker from an old western he recreates her entire death in his head. If I had a glass in the theatre the first time I saw that I would’ve toasted the hell out of whoever wrote it and kept it in the film. It is so bad that the pendulum swings back to good. I surrendered to the series at that moment and said “Ok, my worst case scenario is a scene like that WON’T be in the next one.”
Cut to 2011 with Fast Five which brought back almost all the various crew members from the previous 4 in some capacity and added The Rock. If you add The Rock to your movie it instantly becomes better and will make more money. I’d argue that Fast Five is one of the top 5 action movies of the last 10 years. The action sequences are incredible in this film. From the opening prison bus breakout, to the train heist and hilarious drive off the cliff but land in water so we’re safe moment, to the unmatched Ocean’s 11 meets Mad Max finale with the safe heist through downtown Rio, it is a masterpiece of action set pieces. It also introduced most people to Gal Gadot who now plays Wonder Woman. The Rock walked on set with shirts 8 sizes too small, baby oil rubbed on his arms, shouting things like “We never, ever, let them get into cars.” The Rock and Vin Diesel “rivalry” culminating with them joining forces and having the Point Break “See you soon” scene was a blast. If I enjoyed Fast and Furious (#4) then I’d have to say I loved Fast Five. It was also when the franchise realized they were essentially making super hero movies with cars and added a mid-credits scene revealing Michelle Rodriguez (who died in #4) was alive.
Fast and Furious 6 had some giant expectations because Fast Five was a legitimately good movie (77% on Rotten Tomatoes) and really sparked the possibility of a great franchise. In the 6th installment we got to meet Owen Shaw who was played by Gaston, I mean Luke Evans and his band of alternate universe fast and furious crew. Everyone had the dark version of themselves to fight in this one and it was done in such a winking way to the audience that I admire the effort. We had an amnesia plot that would probably get moved to the C-story on a soap opera but was the “glue” of the film as Dom tried to get Letty to remember him. In between all of that we had several great fight scenes and a tank chase scene on a bridge with arguably the most laugh out loud moment in the series. Vin Diesel catches Michelle Rodriguez by jumping off his car that was going 80mph, catching her, and landing on the windshield of a parked car with absolutely no injuries. Suck it Superman! I think I cackled when it happened in the theater. The runway scene has been dissected enough but the finale featured a runway that was about 17 miles long at least. Like I said, the series goes for broke and I kind of respect that it doesn’t care how dumb it gets if it leads to a great action set piece. Gal Gadot died in this one to go off and be Wonder Woman and because no matter how insane the plot is, they made her a character so you sort of cared when she died. They also made Han’s death have meaning when they revealed in a credits scene that his death from Tokyo Drift took place AFTER Fast 6. That is the strength of the series, they all do unbelievable, impossible, dumb things but you care about the characters.
Nowhere was that strength more evident than in Furious 7 after the death of Paul Walker. They had to go back and rewrite, rework, and reshoot the movie in order to make it work without Paul’s character which is a pretty steep ask considering he and Vin Diesel are the co-main actors in the films. There were some highlights; the skydiving cars and Abu Dhabi scene come to mind. Plus the typical laugh out loud moments like when The Rock flexed to break the cast off his broken arm so he could carry a gatling gun while saying, “Daddy’s got to go to work.” But in the end the movie was kind of a mess despite introducing Kurt Russell and Jason Statham as franchise regulars. The finale of Furious 7 is the strongest part of the franchise and may be the best on screen send off for an actor ever. I watch these movies and they’re big dumb plots, great action, and fun characters but I never once expected to be moved. If you haven’t seen the final scenes where Paul Walker (his brother with a digital face) it is touching. They have Brian (Walker’s character) playing on the beach with his family and the rest of the cast watching and talking about how he has a family now, time to hang ‘em up. Then Vin Diesel goes to drive away and Paul Walker meets him at a red light, instead of racing they drive down a high way side by side until Paul Walker smiles and takes an exit as Vin Diesel keeps driving. I was sad and touched when I watched it live and then I was like “Whoa. This is a movie about cars, chicks, and explosions and they handled that incredibly well.” I really think the cast enjoys working together and the Walker loss still hasn’t been fully realized yet.
So as we approach The Fate of the Furious next week which along with Kurt Russell and Jason Statham adds two Oscar winners in, Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron I have to wonder what it is about this franchise that attracts all these talented people. I can’t think of any other word than “fun”. Fun is a dirty word online with movies because it is often used to describe forgettable or useless films but that isn’t what I mean. I think the cast and crew have fun making the movie and it translates to the viewer’s experience. If working on Fast & Furious films sucked why are stars lobbying to be in it? It must be a blast. I used to (still do) think my taste is higher in quality but over the years I’ve learned that sometimes with movies if you walk out of the theater happy, if you were entertained, if you laughed, if you rolled your eyes, if you cringed at a piece of dialogue, if you marveled at a stunt, but walked out with a smile on your face and something to talk about then that is a win. That is a good experience. That is fun. I have tried to be ”cool guy” with movies but this Franchise won me over and now I will always be along for the ride.