Over the weekend my friends and I decided to sit down and watch every film in the The Fast and the Furious franchise in one sitting starting at 8:40 am and ending at 12 midnight.
I had previously only seen the first one at a hellish sleepover in 2001 where I had a very different viewing experience to the other four prepubescent petrolheads present; they all loved it so much they decided to watch it AGAIN as soon as the credits rolled. I found it pretentious, under-acted and utterly, utterly boring. I never wanted to watch any of the other films again.
As the years went by, so came the sequels: the ‘hilariously’ named 2Fast2Furious, the seemingly disconnected Tokyo Drift (a choice cameo at the film’s end ties it together though) and the infuriatingly titled Fast And Furious. At no point did I want to watch any of these blatantly churned-out films.
The release of Fast Five (lazily released on our side of the Atlantic as The Fast and the Furious 5 because we’re not clever enough to associate things) changed everything. Suddenly The Rock was running alongside Vin Diesel, with phrases like ‘franchise Viagra’ describing his efforts. Apparently there were guns and action scenes and plots that didn’t ultimately boil down to illegal street racing or stolen DVD players. With the release of Fast & Furious 6, it was becoming clear that these newer ones were very different beasts.
Then Paul Walker tragically died and the release of Furious 7 (again given the easier title over here) suddenly became swept up in that awful morbid curiosity that all cinema-goers have when an actor dies; everybody was curious to see how they ever managed to finish filming when one of the main actors wasn’t present to complete his scenes. I needed to see what this was all about – to immerse myself in this world of illegal street-racing, of DVD player theft and of Corona Cerveza product placement. As fast and as furiously as possible.
Suffice to say, The Fast and the Furious isn’t nearly as boring as I remembered it. All of the scenes and dialogue that seemed pretentious in 2001 (“The tuna was crappy yesterday and it was crappy the day before that,”) suddenly seem laughable and hilarious now (“If we don’t take care of this quickly, the truckers are going to take matters into their own hands.”).
As many have pointed out before, it very much is just Point Break with cars instead of surfing/skydiving but the way they set up Walker’s Brian O’Conner (which, coincidentally is an Americanised spelling of my own brother’s name) as an LAPD cop is cleverer and a bit more of an actual twist than in the Keanu caper.
Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto is charming and smoulderingly sexy in a hulking bald action hero kind of way. In fact all of the characters are interesting enough and while the action is silly, there’s nothing that prevents it from being plausible as something that could have taken place in the real world of 2001. It breezes by in 90 fluffy minutes and it was an agreeable enough way to kickstart a sunny Saturday morning.
The Vinless 2Fast 2Furious is the definitive cheesier, sleazier, sillier sequel. Walker is this time joined by his ‘old friend from Barstow’, Tyrese Gibson (similar to how I was joined by my friend Tom at the start of this film) who serves much the same role as Vin, albeit with more wisecracks and glistening abdominal toplessness.
The colours are more vibrant, the fashions are louder and the cinematography is even more music videoish. Ultimately though, it’s a harmless enough sequel that shows the early signs that the producers were toying with remodelling the series into an all-purpose action franchise: the villain is a cookiecutter 80s action movie villain, complete with an empire built on cocaine, revenge and cigarcutters. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is a jar of Marmite amongst fans (Fasters? The Fans and the Furious?). Some (like me) view this installment as the nadir of the series almost entirely lacking in entertainment value, others see this black sheep as an interesting failure.
The absence of Diesel and Walker (protaganist Lucas Black is 21 playing a 17 year old, nothing new there except that he looks like he’s 34) allows the film to move away from machismo and the stereotypical “Punch it!!” style of action storytelling in favour of exploring the science and technique of racing as well as the idiosyncrasies of Eastern culture.
It’s fucking terrible though, I’m sorry. Lucas Black is one of the worst actors in a popular franchise with the viewer being so distracted by the babyfaced actor’s Southern drawl that it makes his performance unwatchable. And Bow Wow is no Vin Diesel in the charisma department (not a sentence you’d hear every day).
The fact that Fast & Furious has such a similar title to the first film probably suggests that the filmmakers were going for a back-to-basics approach and it shows.
Walker is again a figure of law enforcement (this time he’s with the FBI who apparently aren’t against hiring wildly corrupt excons) and Vinny D is back in the saddle, stealing this and that to fund his love of racing.
Perhaps it was the fatigue of having already watched nearly six hours of films, but I fell asleep for the entire second act of this one and I don’t think I missed much. Arguably the most forgettable of the series its only purpose appears to be getting the gang back together in time for the fifth film.
As has been said before everything changes with the fateful fifth film of the The Fast and the Furious franchise. Fast Five is Avengers Assemble meets Oceans Eleven. In order to steal a safe full of mob money conveniently located inside a Brazilian police station (because why not?), Toretto and O’Conner enlist the help of All the Guys from the Other Films including Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris (2Fast), Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious) and Sung Kang who plays the hilariously named ‘Han SeoulOh’ (of Tokyo Drift’s cast of characters).
But! In hot pursuit is Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who will stop at nothing to catch Toretto and his gang of miscreants. It’s a rollicking delight, a slick heist caper and within five minutes it was clear that this was the high water mark of the series. The return of Tyrese Gibson gives the series the (fuelpowered) injection of humour it had badly needed up until this point.
Slightly less successful is the ‘business as usual’ Fast and Furious 6 which furthers the ascent from illegal streetracing and DVD player robberies to globetrotting superheroics (the villainous Luke Evans actually alludes to this in the dialogue, God bless him).
Again the effects of beer and lethargy probably added to my disinterest, but there was a general feeling amongst my friends and I that this was a disappointing case of ‘more of the same’. It didn’t help that many action scenes were filmed at night and were difficult to make out.
Still though, our old friends Paul Walker and Vin Diesel do the jobs we expect of them, The Rock is a force of nature, Gibson is hilarious and Ludacris is oddly convincing as a computer hacker (he showed no evidence of this skill four films ago). Still miles better than the tepid third film and the forgettable fourth.
Furious 7 is when trivial concepts like sense, logic, and those pesky old laws of physics seem to slip softly through the fingers of director James Wan’s hands like grains of sand on a warm Summer’s day.
By no means does this hurt the entertainment value of the film, make no mistake Furious 7 was arguably the most entertained my friends and I were throughout this exhausting day.
Despite the obstacle presented by Walker’s death, the film’s two and a half hours (the longest of the bunch) speeds along thanks to a jawdroppingly silly plot. Toretto and his ‘team’ (the film has made peace with the fact that these humble street racers are now an A-Teamlike international task force) are recruited by CIA honcho Kurt Russell to find a stolen spy satellite called ‘God’s Eye’ (essentially the thing Morgan Freeman created at the end of The Dark Knight).
Meanwhile Jason Statham is taking revenge out on the different members of the team for a past transgression (and they even manage to paint over a continuity hiccup presented by an earlier film). Vin Diesel again sings the praises of Mexican pale lager (“I love Belgian beer, don’t you?” “I’m more of a Corona man.”), Paul Walker’s adoring wife from the first film urges him to go out and endanger his life yet again, the Rock lumbers around like a one man cavalry (literally there is a line in the film where he proclaims “Woman! I AM the cavalry!” with all the might and vigour of a general storming the beach at Normandy).
Like the previous two, the film calls back to the very first instalment, holding it up as if it was some sort of beloved classic that it had to live up to rather than just the middling foundation of a far more enjoyable series of Summer Sillies. It’s endearingly stupid much like most of the film. Of course the greatest achievement of 7 is how it never suffers from its need to cut to the back of a Paul Walker stand-in’s head. While it’s acceptably obvious in a number of scenes, it never truly hurts them and based on statements from some of the actors, there seems to have been a number of times where I didn’t even notice. In fact it’s rather a lovely tribute to Paul Walker from the cast, the writers and the filmmakers.
It’s hard to say whether or not I could advise anyone to watch every single film in the “The Fast and the Furious” franchise in just one day as I have done. Perhaps you’ll love Tyrese Gibson’s lovable lecherousness, perhaps Ludacris will convince you as both a racemaster and a computer hacker. Perhaps Paul Walker’s pedestrian performances will leave you cold or maybe like me, you’ll warm to him. Perhaps exhaustion will set in or you’ll run out of beer.
Regardless, no one can deny the consistent coolness of Vin Diesel and anyone who questions the action screen presence of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnston is a liar. Watching all of the films in such quick (or fast?) succession, I feel like I gained an odd affection for the films and the plastic characters that I wouldn’t have otherwise and I ended up enjoying the seventh film even more – its strange infatuation affair with the first film undoubtedly makes the superhero antics of the later films more poignant (in a hit-you-over-the-head sort of way) and while no one could ever argue the merits of Furious 7 as a piece of high art, it’s an honest film that knows what it is and doesn’t concern itself with the pretence of seriousness. More of that please.
Feature Image Credit www.granadatheater.com