Fast & Furious [1-7] (Full Franchise Retrospective)

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Fast and Furious 7 took the box office by storm, and has quickly become the 4th highest grossing film of all time. Largely due to Paul Walkers untimely death, fans and newbies alike went to rush and see the film partly to see how they managed to complete a film with a missing key cast member, but also to pay tribute to a character they had followed for some 14 years. However, I was not in that group.

Not because I didn’t feel like I wanted to see it, but because I hadn’t seen any of them. At all. Ever. Quite how that was possible considering my other guilty pleasures in films I do not know, but I felt obliged to binge watch the 6 fast and furious’s (furiouses? furei – plural?) before venturing to the cinema to watch the testosterone fuelled, gear shift fest that was Fast and Furious 7.

Possible spoilers, both car and content related.

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The Fast & The Furious (2001)

This is the film that kicked it all off. Paul Walker is an undercover cop gets in too deep with Vin Diesel and his crew, sorry – family. They consisted of Jesse (Chad Lindberg), Leon (Johnny Strong), Vince (Matt Schulze) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), and they make their money, and their street cred by racing against rivals. Smashing around cities or race strips, living life a quarter-of-a-mile at a time, among a sea of scantily clad women blaring dated techno and Limp Bizkit out of their neon stereos with wheels. I was bored throughout most of this film. Flimsy plot, stupid ending, lousy acting and a script unbelievably cringeworthy. The races did nothing for me, it didn’t seem dangerous, I couldn’t work out why they were furious either? They seemed more curious than anything…

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2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

This time they’re not just furious, they’re too furious. Although again in this film, they almost seem too curious? Only this time, Vin Diesel isn’t in it and has been replaced by Tyrese Gibson who plays  Roman Pearce, a friend of Paul Walker from ‘way back’. The crew gets bigger adding Ludacris to the fray, who are all tasked with doing a job for sexy customs agent Eva Mendes.

Things naturally escalate, encountering dangerous drug-lords and typical tough guys, and it ends with a ridiculous stunt that defies all logic. There are your usual drag races, and again they do nothing for me. It became quickly apparent that as most cars in the US are automatic, the notion of a ‘stick shift’ must be quite novel and probably implies that cars can go faster when using them – otherwise why are there so many close ups of the gears shifting? It received two Razzie award nominations including Worst Remake or Sequel and Worst Excuse for an Actual Movie (All Concept/No Content), and it’s no surprise why. Truly shocking.

At this stage, I seriously questioned how 7 of these had even been made. Fast & Furious? Fast & Laborious is more fitting.

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The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

The third instalment, set in Tokyo, but set after ‘Furious 6’ that hadn’t even been made yet, and therefore just before ‘Furious 7’ that also hadn’t been made yet. However, none of the characters from the previous 2 films are in this one. It feels quite out of place, and you can tell. The plot is completely insane, the acting is hamfisted and the action is boring. Instead of cars going in straight lines, now it’s cars going slowly round corners in car parks. I genuinely thought about giving up this entire franchise at this point. By the end, I was Tokyo Drifting off.

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Fast & Furious (2009)

I plodded on regardless. Coming in 4th (chronologically 3rd), and dropping the ‘the’ was the definitely not confusingly named, ‘Fast & Furious’. In this one, we see the original crew reunited but immediately disbanded, and Vin Diesel then goes head to head with Paul Walker in a battle we had been waiting for. Their missions in this film are vastly different, one is still a cop and the other wants revenge – both after the same guy. Classic. They smash their cars about, grumble to each other and encounter some unsavoury characters once more – but it was a lot of fun. Perhaps it was easier to overlook how stupid this film was, after the sheer dross I had been served up previously. It was a breath of fresh air in comparison. I can even forgive the budget CGI when they smash through caves like a windows screensaver maze, I just didn’t care. I was happy that they were doing something that was slightly different, and hoped it was a sign of things to come.

This one felt like what the second one should have been.

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Fast Five (2011)

Finally, THE ROCK… HAS COME BACK… to save, this, franchise. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson arrives as DSS Agent Hobbs, a guy who is intent on stopping Vin Diesel and his motley crew which now consists of an amalgamation of the guys from FF1, FF2 and FF4. After an incredible opening scene, which wasn’t a drag race nor was a casual drive round a car park, we see a new Fast & Furious emerging. After which, The Rock begins injecting a much needed dose of intensity to the proceedings in an exciting tale of cat & mouse with Diesel, which reaches fever pitch when the two come face to face on multiple occasions. Less racing, more fighty, and Vin Diesel harps on about having a ‘family‘ many, many more times despite speaking like he has a mouth full of marbles. The film culminates in an intense police chase, destroying nearly an entire city in the process, the likes of which the franchise simply hadn’t seen before. It was stupid, it played outside of the realms of physical possibilities, and I loved it.

It felt like a turning point for the franchise and left me wanting more. Sure, the script isn’t that good, the characters still lack any real depth, and it’s stupid on so many levels – but it doesn’t care. It demonstrates great self-awareness, doesn’t take itself too seriously and if you can let go too, then you will have one hell of a ride.

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Furious 6 (2013)

Furious 6 picks up where 5 left off, with the same gang only this time fighting another bad guy rather than running from a good guy. The bad guy in this instance is Luke Evans, a typically British bad guy demonstrating ruthless aggression like all British people do. Keeping in line with the 2 previous instalments, the chase sequences are kept largely away from the ‘strip’ and instead we see intense, quick and exciting runs throughout London, among other locations. It built on the last one, and took it somewhere even more ridiculous, defying more laws of physics and creating a script even stupider than the last. It comes to a head in a devastating runway chase with a giant plane, which lasts over 25 minutes, meaning it must have taken place on the longest runway in the world. Complete rubbish, but nevertheless, I still had fun with it for that reason. It was the same reason I still laugh to this day when I picture Jason Statham flipping his car in Transporter 2 to pick off a bomb using a cranes hook. Don’t take it seriously, and just enjoy it.

Despite running far too long again, I still didn’t feel like we got to explore the evil villain, or any of the other characters as much as I would have liked. Unlike when The Rock stormed into FF5 and left a mark, this counterpart to the self-serving do-gooders just served a mere obstacle for the Toretto family, and added very little to the story. A small qualm with a largely enjoyable movie.

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Furious 7 (2015)

Which brings me finally, to Furious 7. This takes place after Tokyo Drift, bringing together all of the story-lines together for the first time. I’ve seen it all now; the highs and the lows, the family has grown despite certain characters being killed off, and now after a psychopathic Jason Statham turns up and starts throwing threats towards this family, the whole gang leaps back into action. High speed chases, stunts that makes the mind boggle (only 10% of the stunts required CGI?!) and comedic one-liners that are so predictable I’ve just become accustomed to it, it’s easily the most fun I’ve had in the franchise so far. The film has an extremely long runtime, but in light of what happened, and all the characters you need to include, it is an extraordinary achievement to make an action film this good.

The reviews and box office takings can be attributed largely to the unfortunate death of Walker, who as one of the lead characters leaves a hole to those close to him, but a hole also in the franchise, that will struggle to be filled should they decide on a Furious 8. I didn’t know how or what they had done with Paul Walkers character, and had successfully done everything in my power to keep whatever that was as an unknown. I advise you do the same.

After watching FF7 I felt like I had grown attached to the Fast and Furious family. I see the appeal, and I have enjoyed the last 3 in particular, but prior to that they were turgid pieces of trashy action that somehow kept getting sequels. That being said, I for one am glad that they persevered, that they essentially reinvented themselves and created this behemoth of an action movie franchise that does what others wish they could do. Part of the reason they can get away with so much nonsense is because of those first few films, it’s become a character trait, and as the budget and complexity has increased, they’ve kept the charm, the acceptable stupidity and never lost sight of what they were all about in the first place: just having fun.

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