5 Ways 'The Fast and the Furious' Is Better Than You Realize
In college, I hated the Fast And The Furious series. I had just been exposed to shit like Vampyr and The Hidden Fortress, and if your name wasn't Ingmar Bergman, well, I'll see if I can pen you into my schedule next month, jock. What's worse is that I'd never even seen one of them. I just assumed that because they were about car races, they were below my superior thinking level. "Some things are films and some things are movies," college Daniel said, shedding his dead skin and revealing his true, awful form.
It wasn't until Fast Five that I actually watched one, and I was hooked immediately. The blend of humor, action, and quick pacing left me enamored and writhing in celluloid-induced orgasm. And after watching the last one, I've come to the conclusion that Fast And The Furious is the greatest modern action franchise and represents a glorious future for the genre. Take my hand as we parachute in our cars from a plane together, and I'll tell you why.
They're Beautifully Sincere
There's nothing worse than movies that revel in their own cleverness. The minute a character in a horror film starts talking about what would happen if their current scenario was a horror film is the minute that I throw the DVD into a wall. Once a romantic comedy character states that what happens won't be like something out of a romance movie, I beg that Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn's dialogue is replaced by nothing but a mutual vomit of locusts. If your movie is ridiculous by nature, you have to take that ridiculousness, pull it close to your chest, and make out with it until the Wiz Khalifa remix is over.
Having your characters constantly trying to overrule the legitimacy of the plot rarely amounts to more than the screenwriter indirectly saying, "Yeah, I've seen a few movies in my day, and my brain is far too huge to make normal, stupid ones."
"Eat my dick, Syd Field! Now I am become death."
You almost expect the Fast And The Furious series to smirk at every explosion and flex in order to affirm to audiences that they know they look outlandish and that the audience isn't dumb for watching it. And while it does have Tyrese Gibson pleading with fate a few times to stop the eternal onslaught of tanks and helicopters in his life, it never goes beyond that. In pro wrestling, there's a thing called "kayfabe," which is basically defined as "You better act like this shit is real." The Fast And The Furious series maintains a variant of this, as each sequel is an open invitation to trump the action sequences in the last movie, and rarely ever does it out itself as being preposterous. The logic of physics and technology spikes every two hours in that universe, and the characters simply adjust to it.
Sure, that looks survivable.
"Oh, a device that lets you track anyone in the world in less than a minute? Better get to vroom-vrooming and boom-booming, then." They never turn to the viewers to let them know that they know better. It's extremely sincere about being ridiculous, and vice versa.
The emotional broad strokes of the franchise are about as wide as The Rock's trapezius muscles, and they're taken just as seriously as the stuff involving gear-shifting. It rarely amounts to more than "I love you, because you're my family," or "You hurt someone I like, so I'm going to hurt you now," but these themes are aggressively pursued in a way that's almost inspiring. Vin Diesel saying, "I don't have friends. I have family," is his "tears in rain" speech, and while it's easy to chuckle at that ...
"Awww, this poor caveman thinks he can have feelings too!"
... allowing yourself to get lost in it is way more gratifying. You can totally go into any movie in the Fast And The Furious heptalogy with the goal of providing an open-mic-worthy performance of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But it doesn't make much sense to do that when the cast of the film and the audience are having so much fun with it. It's not about "shutting your brain off." It's about giving yourself the chance to see if you enjoy it.
They Do Fantasy Match-Ups Really Well
The biggest problem with The Expendables movies is not that they're ineptly directed or written. The same goes for the Machete movies, or any horror production that feels the need to haphazardly cast every cult '80s actor with a pulse. It's that they're taking names and cramming them together with little care about how they should fit. They simply serve to get the adolescent fantasy of what Stallone would look like if he stood next to Jet Li out of the way, with no Part 2 to the plan. If I may reference spandex brawls again, it's kind of like the worst parts of a WrestleMania. It should be fucking huge, but it's not, because it's two names that have been put beside each other with no further thought added to it.
"Should we pretend to fight now?"
Do they fit together in the context of the story? Will they put on an exciting show? Half the time, in both wrestling and action movies, this is never addressed, because these two muscle guys are looking at each other, dammit! You're a moron. Enjoy what we give you.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Fast And The Furious series, which doesn't intend to capture the fleeting appeal of turning your cast into the character selection screen of Mortal Kombat 2, but manages to do well whenever it goes for "big fight" moments. The Rock looks like a first-grader's attempt to draw Vin Diesel, and their rivalry is based around a mix of respect and differing opinions on gun control. They're also two guys who, in real life, have managed to balance their "badass" personas with loves of, in The Rock's case, Instagram and lip-sync battles ...
... and in Vin Diesel's case, Dungeons & Dragons and cargo shorts renditions of "Drunk In Love."
So, naturally you want to see what happens if their testosterone levels hit critical mass, and the only way to relieve pressure would be to throw the other person into different objects.
The casting of Kurt Russell, Jason Statham, Tony Jaa, and Ronda "Fear Itself" Rousey also seems to be a more organic choice than "These people are famous for punching. We should hire them and give them nothing of significance to do besides looking famous." Nor does the series force Russell to reclaim the exact kind of role that he was best known for in the past. He's not in his 30s anymore.
Watching him try to out-action-star Diesel in 2015 would be soul-crushing and hopefully illegal in most countries. Instead, he's allowed to be a funny and charismatic presence, and when his moment to show off how fucking awesome he is comes up, it's not with a depressing Kurt Russell-looking stuntman diving over a crate and socking a terrorist. No, he pulls out guns and uses a special pair of glasses to see his enemies better, like a 64-year-old man fucking should.
The Cast Is Diverse
Now, I'm not saying that the cast of the Fast And The Furious series is perfect. It's not. And if the series does continue past Furious 7 with the same cast, I'd like to see more of Michelle Rodriguez's character, because she was out of bubblegum by the time she left the womb.
But it does make an effort, and it's rarely in one of those forced, conciliatory, "ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, INTERNET? THERE IS A BLACK GUY WITH LINES. NOW FUCK OFF" ways.
The most interesting character in the whole series is Han, as played by Sung Kang.
Han is not the most boisterous or the most clever. He's not given all of the punchlines or amazing fighting moves that are intended to compensate for a lack of character motivation. But he is the most likable and has a genuine story arc that goes deeper than a constant need to press pedals.
That's why ...
... they had Jason Statham's evil kicking man knock him off at the end of Fast & Furious 6. Who else, in the entire series, would have a death impactful enough to piss you off immediately? One whose demise would answer the question "Why do we want to see Statham get suplexed onto a car hood?"
There are often what I like to call "tech support" roles in action films, where two whimpering gnomes handle all of the computer and inadequacy stuff, while the main guy shakes his head at just how limp their pathetic dongs are. Tyrese Gibson and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges are made into what would be "tech support" guys under different circumstances, but they're only elevated by this position.
They're funny and able to handle things that are more complex, movie-wise, than "I hacked the code, but why won't things with boobs like me?" And if Universal wants to create a spinoff movie about those two characters doing literally anything, you can count me among the first people in line, and also the definitive first person in line to be humming "Get Back" to himself. That song is basically Ludacris whispering, "Go ahead, Daniel. You can do it!"
He is my fairy godmother.
That's only a few examples of how the Fast And The Furious series manages to escape the "handsome white guy knows how to computer hack/make satisfying sex love/spin-kick/do everything" trope. It's a true ensemble film, and not just a movie about one main white guy and a bunch of dudes that, if push came to shove, he could do without.
The Series Has A Consistent Tone
Fast And The Furious makes a big transition from being about street racing to something grander, usually involving heists and global chases. This escalation in scope allows for bigger stunts and a larger scale, but the tone remains similar throughout. There is never a radical reinvention where suddenly everything becomes serious again ...
Yep, there's still all of this stuff.
... as is prone to happen in most action series that last longer than two installments.
It's a problem that the James Bond, Die Hard, and even most superhero series have had. They reach a certain point when the mood of the whole thing radically shifts, usually accompanying more incredulous plotlines. And then, a few movies later, it shifts again, because the people behind these series are scrambling to fix what they think they fucked up by suddenly making things a bit more jokey. This often leaves you hating major portions of these series' histories. People love Daniel Craig but loathe 007 one shift back because Brosnan became this robot designed to quip about oral sex and piss off John Cleese.
"I bet that's not even his real name."
And this was after a shift from Timothy Dalton's scowling approach. You choose your favorite tone(s) and alienate the rest.
And while the plots have changed for the better, the tone of the Fast And The Furious movies hasn't really been altered. There have been no attempts to radically steer it in a more "fitting" direction, or any obvious changes that would lead you to believe that someone stood at the front of a table full of executives and announced, "Yes, we all love the shiny cars, but we need to focus on the grittiness and the crying." No one in power has ever felt the need to shamefully distance it from its past in order to attract the next wave of high-schoolers.
It's only been 14 years, but so far, the series has proved itself to be extremely adaptable while staying consistent. It started as the kind of action series that people make fun of (which is fitting, as the first two movies are the worst). And when it was faced with critics who demanded a little more postmodernity, it simply followed the model displayed by Vin Diesel's cars and ramped off of something, heading into the literal and figurative stratosphere.
It's Created Its Own Ridiculous Mythology (And It's Totally Accessible To First-Time Viewers)
There's a scene in Furious 7 that totally exemplifies the series' creation of mythology. At one point, Vin Diesel is hanging out with Kurt Russell, and Kurt Russell starts talking about how great Belgian beer is. It's euphoric to him and brings about enough personal ecstasy that he keeps a bunch of it in his military base, out in front of soldiers who are just trying to get some goddamn work done. I imagine that they keep busy solely so that Kurt won't bother them with another speech about his favorite alcohol.
After he's done expounding on the glory of his beer of choice, he offers some to Vin, who refuses his offer, because he's a Corona man. Kurt, having used a chess player mentality to remain a few steps ahead, brings out an iced bucket of Coronas with a Corona logo on it. He offers one to Vin, who accepts this with glee. It couldn't be more glaring product placement if Vin launched into song about how great Corona is, but how you also shouldn't drink and drive. I'm Vin Diesel, and I drink Corona. Please drink more Corona.
But it's also a callback to the multiple times that Vin and company have drunk Corona in the series. And it's funny to people who weren't aware of that, because of course Vin Diesel would listen to Kurt's detailed monologue about European booze, only to tell him that his heart yearns for bottles that he'll inevitably drop on a beach somewhere. That is world-building and history when it comes to the Fast And The Furious franchise, and it works. There are a lot of callbacks to earlier films, especially in the sixth and seventh movies, and they're usually, "Hey, remember when we did [insert ridiculous vehicle-themed stunt here]?" But you never have to rely on knowing about things that have happened prior to the current movie in order to enjoy it.
This scene explains the entire series!
I started with Fast Five, having already constructed a hilariously stupid vendetta against the whole series, and I never had a problem keeping up with it. I attribute this success to a system called "Paying Attention To The Fucking Movie."
It pays off to be a fan of these movies in the same way that it pays to know the history of the Marvel characters. While every movie can stand alone pretty easily, you get a different kind of satisfaction by being a Fast And The Furious nerd and knowing exactly what they're referring to when they talk about the time they went to a certain beautiful city and rampaged through its streets. And if you've never seen one, you're able to learn that stuff has happened before, but digging what you're viewing now is not specifically reliant on further knowledge. You can appreciate it on multiple levels, and no level is superior.
"Fast And The Furious nerd." This is truly a wonderful world.
Daniel has a blog.
For more from Daniel, check out 5 Famous Movies With Insane 'What If' Scenarios and 6 Classic Horror Films You See Differently in a New Audience .
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