Saga Review: The Fast and the Furious

Oh dear, what have I got myself into now?

So, The Fast and the Furious was a niche film that really hit the culture of street racing on the head; it had average-to-good character driven elements and excellent stunt and vehicle work for a single film. So naturally Hollywood had to milk it to the point of lunacy, and as a fan of the first film I figured I’d see what’s going on with this newly made franchise.

We are about to dive into nitrous oxide fueled mayhem, where the women never wear more than four pieces of clothes after sundown, where the beats are so fat they can’t fit onto public transport, and where Paul Walker’s legs appear to have a life of their own…

(What, is it just me who noticed that? Seriously, all of his fight scenes his legs are flying all over the place, hell even when he’s lying on the ground they are flopping about. He even tries to strangle, strangle Vin Diesel with them at one point…!

Anyway.)


The Fast and the Furious
(2001)

The surprisingly humble beginnings (by comparison) of what is now a six film series, The Fast and the Furious was a hit for bringing a new lease of life to the racing film.

An undercover cop, Brian O’Conner, must discover who is to blame for goods trucks being hi-jacked and stolen by drivers in high performance street cars. He puts himself into the urban culture of street racing where he meets Dominic Toretto and his team. Brian falls for Dominic’s sister, Mia, in the process and threatens his investigation and his life.

The film is quite a brainless piece of entertainment, its story is predictable, it follows an undercover cop who starts to sympathize with his targets, and the characters are written spontaneously to fit the demands of the plot. You gotta love the opening dialogue: “I like the tuna here,” “Nobody likes the tuna here!” Plus, Paul Walker really is a bland actor.

But, that isn’t why we watch the film. The Fast and the Furious does have some great car racing scenes and director Rob Cohen can shoot the cars and make them look great. What is most appealing is the physicality of the stunts and the racing; there’s no CGI tomfoolery here, and there is a simplicity about the film that makes it worth watching. You don’t need to suspend your disbelief, the plot doesn’t shovel many excuses for racing into your face.

It is a neat, nitrous oxide powered glamour film. It doesn’t say much, and it will probably age badly over time (and get a remake) but it is a must for every petrol-head and car racing fan out there


2 Fast 2 Furious
(2003)

This is the cheesy, twisted wreckage of carbon fiber, bad acting, bikinis and awful acting that I imagine a lot of people think the first film is like.

Brian O’Conner, GAP store mannequin Paul Walker, is now a former cop on the verge of arrest, but to avoid consequences he teams up with an old college friend, Tyrese Gibson, to help the police stop a drug dealer. This… somehow involves car racing.

So, unlike the first film, the childishly named 2 Fast 2 Furious (whoever came up with that deserves a punch to the stomach) removes any sense of worth and just goes straight for the ham and cheese. Tyrese Gibson’s “acting” is totally overboard, he has to be high on something during filming, he’s acting like a human Jar Jar Binks. Next to him is Paul Walker, the least interesting element of the first film.

The plot is… I don’t even know. It bounces around between police business to shoved in car chases. At least The Fast and the Furious had a sense of community; a family unit that has racing at its heart, here, we get Walker and Gibson strutting into parties going “Aw man, check this out, bro!” at all the cars/car parts/girls in bikinis. Several times, and virtually shot-by-shot repeats! Utterly vapid screenplay. Plus, the sets and interior design work are horrendous! I know its set in Miami, but most of it is so gaudy with bright colours I swear I’m looking at some VIP section of McDonalds.

But as we all know, surely the car action is the reason for being here? Well the film starts much like the first, only now we have the cardboard standee Walker pretending he’s king of the hill, which is embarrassing. The girl drives the pink car, the boy drives the blue car, etc, making it feel like a game of Mario Kart (not to mention the CGI tinkered stunts).
Later in the movie we have Tyrese doing his best to eat the scenery during car chases (and nobody here seems to realise that their racing opponents cannot hear their street trash talk during the race…) which definitely ruins any sense of excitement. The soundtrack is nowhere near as effective either.

My brain was turned off so completely that I lost interest in what was happening. There was a freaky moment where the villain puts a rat in a bucket on a fat guy’s stomach and proceeds to blowtorch the bucket though, that got my attention.
Yeah, that was a thing.

You want a good analogy of this film? This is the film equivalent of that moment when you are walking along the pavement, when suddenly a car flies past you and its driver shouts at you something like: “FFFWwweeeerhghgh Aggfhh!!”
It is fast, you have no idea what possessed the person to do it, and it’s instantly forgettable.


The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
(2006)

Branching away from any original cast members of the first two films, thankfully, Tokyo Drift provides a refreshingly new look to the franchise.

Tokyo Drift is possibly my favourite of the series, or at least its up there with the first film; it only has a few problems that can be swept under the “It’s Fast and the Furious, what do you expect” carpet.
The story follows American “teenager” Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) whose reckless driving lands him prison time, but to avoid this he moves in with his father in Tokyo. He attempts to move on a dangerous rival’s girl, and must become a competitor in the street racing’s drifting scene.

I say “teenager” as that’s what IMDB says, and he does go to school in the movie… but honestly, he’s the oldest teen I’ve ever seen. Along with every other “teen” in this movie!
While I talk negatives, the majority of the film is set in Tokyo yet 95% of the dialogue is English and Sean has a knack of meeting every foreigner in the city. I don’t mind this so much, but I fully expect all of the Japanese characters to speak Japanese, especially when Sean isn’t present!

But, unlike 2 Fast 2 Furious (choke) this film actually cares for its characters and their personalities (as Sean says early on: “It’s not about the ride, it’s about the rider”) from Sean’s fish-out-of-water acceptance, to his mentor Han’s closet of skeletons. The villain isn’t ridiculous either, his uncle is part of the Yakuza and he has a serious “king of a little hill” problem.
Again unlike 2 Fast 2 Furious (gag) the cars have never looked better, sleek and refined and the drifting action is spectacular, especially when synchronized. Plus, no CGI, just skilled professional drivers, making the film worth seeing solely for the racing.

There’s no stupid Tyrese Gibson mugging at the camera, no rats in buckets, no CGI, just an entertaining (albeit poorly localized) flick featuring excellent car racing and professional stunts.


Fast and Furious
(2009)

It is back to the beginning, back to familiar faces and a surprisingly serious tone for the series.
But we still get a stupid naming committee. Yeah, Fast and Furious isn’t at all confusing when looking back at the series, is it the first, second, third film? Who knows! What’s wrong calling it The Fast and the Furious 4?

To make things more unnecessarily complicated, Fast and Furious is a prequel/sequel, taking place after the first film but before the third film (so it should technically be No.1.5) due to Sung Kang’s character Han returning to the series. Whether it acknowledges the second film or not is ambiguous.

When running from the law begins to get to him, Dominic (Vin Diesel) is looking for revenge after a drug dealer kills his partner Letty. At the same time, the FBI is looking for the same man, spearheading the operation is a reinstated Brian O’Conner. Naturally, the way they must infiltrate this heroin ring is through the dealer’s love for performance car racing.
I’m happy to see the return of the moodier tone; this feels like a direct sequel to the first film rather than a spin-off or a parody. A lot of the film is set at night with deep shadows. They even made Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner bearable! His character is rejected from the others since the first film and he starts out as more of an anti-hero lawman.
I was quite surprised at the apparent restraint at glorifying the cars themselves; the camera seems to linger less over them as the film ploughes through its exposition and story. Of course that could just be me desensitized to it … I have watched four of these films now! It still has the usual trappings, don’t worry.

It is ultimately a solid story and a decent sequel to the first film, if you liked The Fast and the Furious you shouldn’t have any problem with this. This does make the series more traditional (persistent narrative) which is a shame; the reason I enjoy Tokyo Drift so much was that it offered a new direction for the franchise, an anthology franchise about driving, following different characters each time. But that’s not the way to make money, but as it stands, this is good too.


Fast Five
(2011)

Fast Five, more like… Ocean’s Eleven?

Well that was disappointing, and when a Fast and Furious film disappoints, that’s pretty bad.

Brian O’Conner is on the side of the thieves now as the film picks up where the last left off with him, Mia and others rescuing Dominic from prison. Now they all have the law’s worst, most ruthless officer hunting them down… The Rock, I mean… Dwayne Johnson… I mean the The Rock… never mind.
To finally get away from the law and live free, the team must assemble all of their allies from previous films into a group to rob from the richest Brazilian drug cartel leader.

The potential for ridiculous amounts of car racing and chasing could never be higher; the franchise’s deliberate step to make things before Tokyo Drift and having all noteworthy characters involved in a heist has to pay off. Well, that does mean we get Tyrese Gibson again…….. But on top of that, it really doesn’t work.

The Fast and the Furious has now officially stepped over the line from being relatively easy going, entertaining racer films, to becoming a never-ending series of “serious business”. The series has literally forgotten about the cars and instead feels we like the characters enough now to base the entire focus on them (to the point of having Brian and Mia about to have a child…)

That isn’t an overstatement either, asides an opening act train heist, the film takes an hour, an hour, to get into what the series is good at. Street racing. But we don’t even see the race, we just get a cheeky cut away since Brian and Dom are obviously going to win it.
The assembled team spend most of their time sitting around chatting and being their individual selves from other films (Avengers Assemble, this ain’t) and nothing gets done. Most of the film appears to gear towards the two big, burly bald men (Diesel and Johnson) fighting each other… which… I don’t care for, where is the… y’know, car racing?

The finale is fun to watch as well as ridiculous, and the Ocean’s Eleven reference earlier is not unfounded (seems like any film can get away with twists like that nowadays) but it takes so long to get there it doesn’t feel particularly tense. This is the first film in the series to go over the two hour runtime, and it did not need it!

It isn’t precisely a bad film, but it has lost its identity as a niche piece of entertainment and instead settles into generic action movie zone. Sad really, but when you try to stretch “street racing” into multiple films, it’ll happen.

And no, it isn’t as bad as the second one.

We’ve fallen a long way from simply boosting cars…

CIA agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) returns and asks aid of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew in taking down a ex-military mercenary who plans to steal a microchip capable of ruining an entire country.

Following on from the previous installment Fast Five, director Justin Lin hasn’t let up his intention to give this series some sort of conviction. Most of the characters return (the film even begins with a montage of all the previous films) yet for all of its efforts to make a malleable universe, we are still dealing with the most uninteresting, good-looking people.
For example, Tyrese Gibson just eats stuff and laughs, while my favourite character Han still just talks about “going to Tokyo”, it is actually getting insulting now; these films only exist as prequels to the third film so they can include him yet his only characteristic is “I want to go to Tokyo”.

Even Michelle Rodriguez returns (due to fan outcry) yet the writers couldn’t think of any better excuse to bring her back than the tired “selective amnesia” fall back; she doesn’t remember the love of her life, but she can still drive and tune a car. Don’t even talk to me about the villain… I have no idea what his motivations really were, and he was never threatening when up against Diesel and Johnson…

The film does do some things right compared to the deplorable Fast Five. Some things. The chase sequences here are better, specifically the chase through London and a race between Dom and Letty. But for every good race there’s a over-the-top, nonsensical scenario. The crew face off against a tank. Yes, a tank. Why? Because the villain needs the microchip that is (for no good reason) stored inside the tank, inside an armoured transport.
Or the final encounter that involves a carrier plane… and the longest runway in the world!

The film isn’t terrible, but it certainly isn’t good either. I have no idea why it is praised as highly as it is, but it can only be for the action sequences, fight sequences alone, which are at times impressively far-fetched. The dialogue is terrible too; all of Dwayne Johnson’s lines are metaphorical nonsense: “To catch a wolf, you need wolves. Let’s go hunting!”

The series is a nonsense now.

So that’s the series as it stands today!
Over all, there are some goodness in the series, at least for a brainless, urban sub-cultural trip. The racing can be intense, the stunts can be genuine, and the characters bland but watchable, it is just a matter of dodging the less-than-perfect entries.

I hope you have enjoyed this rather B-movie-esque Saga Review, it isn’t up there with Star Trek or Bond… but that’s the way things are sometimes!

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