Inside Cinema

Fast & Furious: How It Became a Franchise

June 13, 2013 - 2:01 am   |   by
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[Note: This piece includes spoilers for all six films in the Fast & Furious series – you’ve been warned!]

The Fast & Furious movies are a combination of fast cars, diverse casts and simple plotlines that add up to a guilty pleasure. 

None of the Fast & Furious movies are classic by any stretch but there’s something undeniable about the level of entertainment they provide to the audience.  When the original The Fast and The Furious came out in 2001, not much was expected of it.  The cast was largely unknown and the idea rather simple.  But the movie became a franchise, with some sputtering along the way.

The Fast and The Furious introduces Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto as a likable bad boy, a street racer under suspicion of hijacking trucks.  The world of street racing in Los Angeles is brought to life by director Rob Cohen and a great team of stunt people.  Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner is the undercover cop who falls for Jordana Brewster’s Mia, Dom’s younger sister, a storyline that continues through subsequent installments.  Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty is Dom’s jealous girlfriend and a real sparkplug, a preview of more action heroine to come in the series. 

The storyline had been done before but not quite in this type of action rush.  The Fast and The Furious pauses enough to explore the characters, even down to Chad Lindberg’s nervous mechanic Jesse and Matt Schulze’s tough Vince.  The movie establishes the world of street racing and its participants along with action and humor.  Somehow it works.

  The Fast and the Furious   2 Fast 2 Furious   The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) not so much.  Dom Toretto is presumably still on the run as the story follows Brian O’Conner to Miami where he hooks up with Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce against Cole Hauser’s intense baddie Carter Verone.  Gibson adds some much needed humor to the movie and director John Singleton and the stunt team do good work but it doesn’t quite gel.  The movie becomes too cartoonish and not as entertaining as the original movie.  Only Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as Tej seem to be having any fun.  There are weird scenes like Verone forcing a rat to chew on Mark Boone Junior’s police officer.  Not a bad movie but a low point in the series. 

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) is the oddball entry in the franchise missing all the key characters from the first two movies (save one cameo by Diesel) and chronologically taking place after the sixth movie!  Lucas Black plays Sean Boswell, an American teenager forced to live in Tokyo to avoid a jail sentence in the U.S.  The movie adheres to the stranger in a strange land formula and a twist on the type of racing, drifting, to be different enough.

Director Justin Lin adds his style to the series and changes the dynamic for future installments.  In some ways, Tokyo Drift works well enough and also introduces Sung Kang as Han to the series.  Oddly enough, his character perishes in a spectacular fire crash only to reemerge in the next three movies.  Fast & Furious 6 (2013) links the events of this movie to tie up the storyline.

  Fast & Furious   Fast Five   Fast & Furious 6

Okay back to Dom.  Fast & Furious (2009) essentially goes back to the original movie to see how the gang is doing.  At the beginning, O’Conner is back with the FBI and Toretto still in hiding.  When Letty is apparently killed, Toretto goes on a revenge vendetta that takes the movie into a darkness the series has not seen before or since.  This fourth film is surprisingly bleak at times and guilty of overusing CGI effects.  Missing is the real action, fun and humor that has helped define the franchise even with the addition of Gal Gadot’s Gisele, the team of Don Omar and Tego Calderon, and bringing Kang’s Han from Tokyo Drift.  The story meanders along and one wonders why the FBI puts up with O’Conner’s decisions.  It feels like everything is on auto pilot here.

Fast Five (2011) revives the franchise in many respects by remembering what made it worked in the first place: better action (less CGI), more humor and improved character interplay.  By bringing everybody from all previous entries, save Lucas Black and Michelle Rodriguez, Fast Five has fun with characters bickering and teasing each other while planning a big heist and outrunning police and federal agents.  This is a fun ride filled with action pieces, particularly the big bank heist at the end of the movie, and characters who ultimately like each other.  Adding Dwayne Johnson as FBI agent Luke Hobbs is another inspired choice. Johnson’s mano-a-mano with Diesel is a highlight.  Sure, it’s all ridiculous at times but who cares.  The formula works because of the cast, humor and stunts.  A brief scene halfway through the end credits of Fast Five bridges it to the next movie as the audience finds out that Letty isn’t dead after all.  Bam! 

Fast & Furious 6 picks up with the arrival of Brian and Mia’s baby and the return of Letty, now working for Luke Evans’ villain Shaw.  Against Shaw, Hobbs needs Toretto and his team.  There are some clever bits like the way Shaw can shut down vehicles using technology.  Hobbs has a new partner, Gina Carano’s Riley, who has a couple of fights with Rodriguez’s Letty.  What this franchise does well is understand that they have a natural performer in Dwayne Johnson and what better way to increase the stake than by having him fight an even bigger guy than The Rock!

Two major action sequences are exciting and over the top at the same time: one involving a tank on a freeway and another involving a bunch of cars and a big airplane.  This is what The Fast and The Furious is all about, action well done and entertaining if preposterous too.  The bantering among the cast is also amusing and keeps things light. 

The sixth film ties up a storyline by going back to the events of Tokyo Drift and explaining who killed Han, setting up the seventh movie to be released in 2014.  The reveal of Jason Statham as Ian Shaw, the brother of the now deceased villain from Fast & Furious 6 guarantees that this franchise will continue to entertain for years to come.  Because in the end, this series is like having a fast food meal that you just have to have once in a while.  It is what it is.  Fun, silly, entertaining.

- Mario Boucher

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