Reliving the Past: ‘The Fast and the Furious’ Franchise
Identity is sometimes hard to establish in one movie. Some of the individual The Fast and the Furious movies don’t struggle with an identity like the franchise does as a whole. Over the course of 12 years, the franchise has struggled with a consistent setting, cast, and genre. However, like some movies, these inconsistencies can be justified in the name of entertainment. Does entertainment value make up for the other shortcomings? I guess that’s a question based on personality.
With Fast & Furious 6 coming out this weekend, I’ve compiled an abbreviated review of the whole franchise…
Way back in 2001, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker teamed up to be kind-of friends, kind-of enemies in the street-racing action drama. Taking place in Los Angeles, LAPD officer Brian O’Connor (Walker) goes undercover to take down some truck thieves. He gets in cahoots with Dominic Teretto (Diesel) and his crew – made up partially of his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). Along the way, O’Connor falls for Mia.
The first movie is generally regarded as one of the better movies in the franchise. It sets up the characters and creates some pretty cool visuals. At this point, it was still uncertain whether the movie (or franchise as you’ll see) cared more about street-racing or thieving.
Before I rewatched all The Fast and the Furious movies, I remembered really liking 2 Fast 2 Furious. Sure it has a really stupid name (the dumbest is still to come), but I remembered liking it. Unfortunately, the second film didn’t hold up in retrospect. In fact, it may be the weakest in my opinion.
Based on the events that ended the first movie, O’Connor finds himself forced to run from L.A. to Miami. This is the beginning of the whirlwind setting-hopping the franchise goes through.
In Miami, the franchise introduces a couple semi-regular members, including Roman Pearce (Tyrese) and Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges). O’Connor and Pearce partner up to help clean their records. Their mission becomes taking down Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), an Argentinian druglord.
The problem is 2 Fast 2 Furious tries everything and anything to incorporate racing into the story. It’s a lot less heist-y and the visuals somehow seem faker even with two years of technological advances.
If enough movies are made in a franchise, there is bound to be the “outcast.” When rewatching The Evil Dead franchise, it wasn’t hard to see why Army of Darkness stood out compared to the others. In The Fast and Furious franchise, The Fast the Furious: Tokyo Drift is the outcast. Most (including me) would say this is not for the better.
Hopping overseas to Tokyo, a completely new set of characters emerge. Led by Lucas Black (Friday Night Lights), playing a troubled American teen named Sean sent to live with his military father, it somehow has a dumber premise.
Sean spends the entire movie a) trying to fit in with his new peers and b) trying to defeat the “Drift King” (played by Brian Tee). It eventually climaxes in a ridiculous win-and-I’ll-leave top-of-the-mountain race.
The best part is the last-minute cameo which ultimately links Tokyo Drift to the rest of the franchise. Chronologically, it is the last film in the series due to Han Seoul-Oh’s (Sung Kang) involvement in the subsequent stories.
Apparently, all you have to do is take out the “the’s” and add an ampersand to create a new title. Fast & Furious probably does this for a better reason because of the tagline: “New Model. Original Parts.”
Taking place in Southern California (ala the first film) and Mexico and returning Diesel and Walker to the forefront of the franchise, Fast & Furious at least tries to establish an identity. Sure, it is still cars-for-cars-sake and ridiculous action sequences (including hidden caves to pass from the U.S. to Mexico), but I find it at least a little more enjoyable than the second and third movies.
Back working with the police, O’Connor again finds himself teaming up with Toretto. Apparently, Dom hadn’t learned his lesson. This time their target is Arturo Braga (John Ortiz), a below-the-border drug dealer.
At this point, it’s my opinion the franchise started to realize its identity. The fourth installment didn’t really try to be anything more than just plain entertainment. They started trimming the fat, meaning they stopped using things overly trite, and went full-throttle with the action.
If Fast & Furious is where they finally started realizing their identity, Fast Five is where they put it all together for an entire film. It helps that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson joined the series, but I care more about the emphasis on action (and action that is “good”) and the step back from street-racing. There are still plenty of car parts, but it’s less about fitting as much of it in as possible.
Fast Five travels south to Rio de Janeiro and reunites (again) plenty of characters from the earlier movies, including Tyrese, Ludacris, Matt Schulze (playing Vince), and Eva Mendes (playing Monica). This time around, the crew tries to clear their names after a botched train job. In Brazil, they try to avoid Diplomatic Security Service agent Hobbs (“The Rock”) and pull off the heist-of-all-heists to finally provide them with the money to escape forever.
Justin Lin, director of the series since Tokyo Drift, finally seems to nail down the action. While it still has the touches that make it a Fast and the Furious movie, it is the most enjoyable in terms of action. In the scope of franchise, this is about all you could hope for.
When looking back at The Fast and the Furious franchise, it’s hard to laugh at someone who truly adores these movies. They aren’t critical beasts, but there are moments that seem to make the franchise completely worth it. This might be a nicer way of saying they are perfect movies to play in the background while you’re busy doing other things. However, if you don’t watch out, you’ll be sucked into watching the whole franchise.
Fast & Furious 6 releases this Memorial Day weekend, go check it out if you have a chance!