“I live my life a quarter mile at a time.”
The Fast and Furious franchise is a mysterious and ludicrously implausible series. How the series went from an averagely reviewed ‘gritty’ street racing Point Break remake to a well reviewed and extremely popular action movie franchise is a question perhaps only God could answer. But I suppose the pieces are all there; a diverse cast of interesting characters, well directed action and old fashioned stunt work, and a committed and hard working cast and crew who share a real camaraderie. You only have to look at their reactions to the tragic and untimely death of series star Paul Walker to see that.
So with the eighth(!) film being released in a matter of days I thought I’d take a look at how the first seven films of the series stack up against each other. So grab a Corona and sound off in the comments below with your thoughts on this wonderfully insane series.
7. Fast & Furious
The fourth film in the series acts as a (very) soft reboot for the franchise. It re-introduces us to the franchise stalwarts Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Connor (Vin Diesel and Paul Walker) and starts us off on a new path towards the awesome and ridiculous direction of the later series. It was a sequel to the original film first and foremost. There were two films in between but only one starred Walker and Diesel didn’t appear at all, apart from his brief Tokyo Drift cameo. The aim of the fourth film was to bring the pair back together after the impromptu street race crash of the first film 8 years earlier (or 5 years in the film’s canon).
Fast & Furious is the the worst of the franchise, but it’s by no means a terrible film. Viewed in order it’s a an enjoyable action film, and 8 years after the first film it was a welcome one. The problem comes when you watch the subsequent films and realise just how safe they play it in this one. The action is fun but nearly all the stuff in the film is topped later on in the franchise. The cool on-foot chase with between Brian and the gangster? Topped in Fast Five. The fight between Dom and Brian? Topped in all the later films (especially the Hobbs vs. Deckard fight in 7). The street racing scene? The addition of the sat nav makes that scene pretty original, but the other films have had even better racing scenes.
Having said that the ending is very cool, especially the mid-chase car swap executed by Dom. And the beginning of the film with the oil hauling land train is a series highlight. So all in all a pretty fun film. The performances are as reliably enjoyable as ever and the cameo by Sung Kang as Han is a neat addition. The film might be the weakest in the franchise but there’s more than enough good stuff in it that you certainly shouldn’t skip it.
6. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
The third film in the series is also the most strange. The film makers decided to go in a different direction to the American street racing scene from the first two films and completely forget about any of the established characters. Back then the franchise wasn’t spearheaded by Vin Diesel so Tokyo Drift used to feel like the outlier in the franchise. Retconning in later movies has actually made Tokyo Drift one of the most essential films in the franchise but back in 2005 it felt like a fresh start. And how do you follow up the pairing of the supremely likeable Paul Walker and the electrifying Vin Diesel? With the stilted acting of Lucas Black and Lil’ Bow Wow of course. Having said that, Black may not have the talents of Walker or Diesel but he is still memorable. He seems like a nice guy (making it hard to believe his backstory as a ‘troublemaker’) and with his genuine earnestness he is just about able to carry the film.
Sung Kang as Han is undoubtedly the best character in the film. His death is pretty awesome too and strangely only gains impact once you’ve seen the sequel’s Rashomon style repeat of the scene. Justin Lin’s direction is pretty great too as he practices and perfects his style for the next 3 films. The race through the streets of Tokyo which culminates in Han’s death is the film’s standout scene. The drift through the crowd, where Lucas Black’s Sean Boswell shows how far his drifting has coming since the disastrous drift race through the multi-storey car park early in the film, is a particularly cool moment directed beautifully by Lin.
The film isn’t nearly as good as the subsequent sequels but there’s a lot to love in it. The plot is mainly pretty dull but the film shines with it’s side characters like Han and Sonny Chiba’s Yakuza Uncle Kamata. And the film is that rarest of franchise films; it actually improves with the sequels. Lin and Diesel later retroactively working the plot and characters of this almost forgettable film into the Furious canon was a inspired move. The film becomes essential to the series and certain scenes have added weight. And if the rumours of Black actually coming back for F8 are true, I for one am cautiously excited.
5. 2 Fast 2 Furious
The fact that 2 Fast 2 Furious is so high up might irk some fans; it’s almost certainly the “worst” film in the franchise. It’s also the one that probably has least impact on the overall franchise’s story. Sure this is where we are introduced to Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce and Ludacris’s Tej, but their reappearances in Fast Five act as good enough introductions, and it’s not like the lot of them ever really reference the events of 2 Fast. It’s a disappointment also because Vin Diesel doesn’t star. I’m a big fan of Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor but he really needs Diesel’s Dom to bounce off of especially at this early stage in the franchise. Having said that I do have a soft spot for the follow up film in the Furious franchise and most of this rests on the shoulders of the franchise’s best character; Gibson’s Roman Pearce.
You can see with the introduction of Roman, the series’ shift into having a more comedic tone. Fast and Furious wasn’t without it’s lighter moments but for the most part the David Ayer scripted film was a more realistic and hard edged take (and it being the only F&F film to be rated a 15 in the UK tells you something). Dom and Brian’s relation as both friends and enemies was the central conflict in the first film but 2 Fast 2 Furious goes for more of a light hearted approach. Roman and Brian used to friends but Brian’s law career pulled them apart. Despite this there is never really any real conflict between the two and more time is spent on Roman being his goofy self. Whether he’s doing a funny window washer routine to distract some goons or he’s shouting the films most quotable line, he’s nothing short of hilarious.
The action in 2 Fast isn’t as good as the later films and the villain (the wonderfully greasy Cole Hauser) isn’t particularly strong but as a whole it’s a lot of fun. Unlike the first film or Tokyo Drift the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and even when it does it’s funny either way. Even the scene where Sons of Anarchy’s Mark Boone Junior gets tortured by Hauser with a rat, a bucket and a blow torch is so out of left field that it becomes hilarious. The film flies by so it’s never boring and with Gibson and Walker at the helm it’s never fails to raise a smile.
4. The Fast and the Furious
The first film is still a great movie 16 years later and it’s surprisingly intense looking back. With it’s David Ayer script and yellow tinted Los Angeles setting it echoes brutal urban thrillers like Training Day as much as it does a film in the Fast and Furious canon. The action in the film is smaller compared to the later films as well. It was a good while before the real crazy stuff would happen but the first Furious film features more than enough action sequences to placate series fans. And although the film is grittier and the action more restrained, a film that features multiple quarter mile drag races taking taking minutes is not one I’d go as far to call realistic, so later franchise fans shouldn’t worry. Plus the series’ trademark theme of ‘family’ is up and running straight away in the first film and manages as much wonderfully over the top melodrama as the rest of the F&F entries.
The heart of the film is the relationship between Vin Diesel’s street smart, street racing outlaw Dom and Paul Walker’s Brian, the undercover cop trying to figure out who’s behind the recent spate of DVD player robberies (yeah, the stakes were much lower back then). The film begins with him looking into the LA street racing scene as possible culprits due to the high performance cars used in the robberies. As Brian infiltrates Dom’s gang he realises that they are much more than lowly thieves and begins to understand their adrenaline fuelled way of life. So pretty much just Point Break with street racing. Paul Walker’s entertainingly fresh faced out of his league rookie cop is basically just Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah. The comparisons go deeper though as Dom employs a similar cult of personality that Patrick Swayze’s Bohdi did, always being surrounded by his ‘family’ who talk about what a great guy he is. Although unlike Bohdi Dom is never less than a heroic figure. Even though we never really get a compelling reason why he commits crimes (he’s not some Robin Hood type figure, he seems to do it all for himself) Vin Diesels tremendous performance as Dom carries the film. The over the top melodramatic moments may have seemed cheesy on a first watch but after seeing where the series goes after this it’s hard not to be swept up in it’s earnestness
Frequent TV director Rob Cohen helms The Fast and Furious and brings some of the flair he used on shows like Miami Vice (Cohen directed series best episode ‘Evan’). The street racing scenes are particularly effective with the interior shots of the racer’s cars resembling the Millennium Falcon entering hyperspace more than an actual race. And although the supposedly 10 second races get dragged out a lot longer they are still fun and exciting. Cohen isn’t the best director the franchise had (that honour goes to Fast and Furious 7′s James Wan) but with him at the helm Fast and Furious is an explosive start to the series and lays the ground work for the series we all know and love.
3. Furious 6
Between the series reinvention in Fast 5 and the series peak of Furious 7, Furious 6 (or is that Fast and Furious 6?) can get lost in the shuffle a little bit. But that’d be a real shame because it’s still a fantastic action film that manages to push the series into crazier directions and also improve some things from it’s preceding films. The brilliant and ridiculously diverse cast all come back including Fast 5’s Hobbs, played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The action is ramped up even further too, including an insane set piece involving cars, a cargo plane, and the worlds longest runway. The film’s worth the price of admission for the mid-film tank chase alone, which is the franchises best action sequence to date.
The cast are all on top form again here, revitalised by both the commercial and critical success of Fast 5. Series leads Dom and Brian (Vin Diesel and Paul Walker) are still the central characters but Fast and Furious 6 gives the supporting characters more to do. After their introductions in 5 the side characters were back up to Dom and Brian, hanging back and letting those two handle the biggest set pieces. But now the supporting characters like Tyrese Gibson’s Roman and Gal Gadot’s Gisele have their own tailor made set pieces. Fast Five had similar scenes based around each character, Roman’s police station infiltration for example, but 6 increases further and some of them even steal the limelight from the franchises bromantic leads Brian and Dom. The fight between team family’s Han and Roman and evil henchman Jah is one of my favourite scenes in the film and there’s not a Walker or Diesel in sight. Franchise resuscitator Dwayne’ The Rock’ Johnson also pops back up, following his scene stealing turn in the previous film. Cleverly the film makers don’t overuse Johnson, which would have been understandable after the praise he received for the last film. They recognise the power in ‘less is more’ and instead save him for the most climatic moments. When he comes in during that awesome plane fight and delivers a beat down on Shaw and his goons side-by-side with Dom it’s all the more powerful because he’s been held back up until that point.
One if the best parts of Furious 6 is that contains a decent villain, the series’ best villain up to that point in fact, the fantastic Luke Evans as Owen Shaw. One thing that’s always stood out to me about this series before 6 is that it’s never had a compelling or even particularly interesting villain. 1 had Rick Yune as Johnny Tran but he was hardly in it. The conflict there arose out of the Dom vs Brian dynamic. 2 had an especially greasy Cole Hauser who was enjoyable, but not really for the right reasons. 3 had DK AKA Drift King (Brian Tee) and an sorely underused Sonny Chiba. 4 had John Ortiz’s Braga who was alright, and his re-appearance in 6 adds some more importance to the character, but again he was nothing special. 5’s villain, the always awesome Joaquim de Almeida, was a step in the right direction but again he wasn’t anyone who could compete with our heroes (although they had The Rock for that for the films first 2 thirds). Owen Shaw is the first that can and putting team family up against an enemy who can outmanoeuvre them creates an interesting dynamic. And it seems the film makers took this on board because for 7 they doubled down on the badass villain idea and cast the incomparable Jason Statham.
2. Fast Five
After the reasonable success of Fast and Furious the sequel needed to be bigger. The stunts, cast list, and running time all grew exponentially but how do you revive an ageing franchise such as this? I think Empire summed it up best, writing in their review that you ‘Drop The Rock on it.’ It’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who gives the franchise that extra kick to take it from a series of pretty successful action flicks to the the globe conquering, critically successful franchise that’s earned almost $4 billion worldwide.
Although even before Johnson appears in the film you know it’s going to be different. Brian, Dom, and Mia are on the run after the events of the last film and find sanctuary with Vince (not seen since F&F 1 back in 2001) in a Rio favela. The film doesn’t stay in this urban drama, City of God style too long but it’s an engaging way to start the film. The cast are all excellent in the film too, all knowing when a scene calls for sincerity or a touch of levity.Where as the latest movies (successfully) revel in how over-the-top they are and the previous films tried for a gritty ‘real’ approach, Five lands at a sweet spot somewhere in the middle. The change between Roman Pierce’s goofy quips for example, and a quiet thoughtful moment of mourning after a team member is killed, feels organic and surprisingly well written. The film is not exactly ‘deep’ but the series’ recurring theme of the importance of friends and family is surprisingly profound, in a silly over the top kind of way, and delivered so earnestly by the cast that it’s hard not to get swept up in it all. It’s also the first time the whole cast got together and straight away the chemistry is clear. The later films go even further but seeing characters like Dom and Roman (back for the first time since 2 Fast) interact is a joy.
4, 5, and 6 are a self contained trilogy in a way; Justin Lin’s contribution to the franchise (if we forget about the spin off; Tokyo Drift). And if that’s the case then Five is his Empire Strikes Back. Not only is it the best in the ‘trilogy’ but it’s the most personal of the Fast films. It could be down to the stripped down directing style of Five, which for a lot of it eschews Lin’s usual high intensity style, or maybe the great performances of the cast, but the relationships have never felt more real than in Five. And like ESB, Five is a surprisingly small affair, especially in comparison to 6 and 7. The globe-trotting doesn’t start until the next film, in Five the action is kept entirely to Rio. That’s not to say there isn’t any impressive set pieces though. The much hyped brawl between Vin Diesel and The Rock certainly doesn’t disappoint (although the Statham v Rock fight in 7 takes the crown for best fight in the series) and the climatic finale of Dom and Brian hauling a 10 ton safe between their cars while getting chased by the cops is going to go down in action movie history. Fast Five redefined the F&F franchise and for a while it was the best of the lot. Until 7 came along that is…
1. Furious 7
Furious 7 is the pinnacle of the Fast and Furious franchise and encapsulates what made the franchise so great. It’s the biggest of the films so far and manages to get in a set piece in locations as diverse as the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi, and back home to where it all started; the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Despite being the biggest of the Furious franchise, and containing the largest cast yet seen in the series, Furious 7 also manages to be genuinely emotional at times. It’s just unfortunate that this is out of necessity due to the tragic death of series lead Paul Walker. The finale of 7 see’s Diesel’s Dom and Walker’s Brian driving off into the sunset together in the cars that defined their roles; Dom in his charger and Brian in a white supra. It’s sounds cheesy, and boy is it, but it’s incredibly effective and could even summon a tear from the most casual of fans.
Like the rest of the series Furious 7 wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and is refreshingly earnest for a blockbuster franchise. Like the previous instalments it’s the idea of ‘family’ and the lengths you’d go to protect or avenge them, that runs through the film. And interestingly the film’s villain has similar reasons for wanting our heroes dead. Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw is after the gang after the explosive runway climax at the end of the previous film left his brother, Owen Shaw, badly scarred and in a coma. Similarly, ‘team family’ are after Deckard Shaw because it turns out, as shown both in Tokyo Drift in 2006 and in an updated post-credits scene in 2013’s Furious 6, it was Deckard Shaw who ran Han off the road during the chase with DK through the streets of Tokyo. This takes place at the beginning of 7 so where that places 7 in the overall canon is a mystery. Is 7 set in 2006 with Tokyo Drift? Or is Tokyo Drift set in 2015? Neither answer really works but just go with it as it allows the whole gang to have a personal reason to take down Shaw. Statham is as awesome as ever too, proving he can still kick ass with the best of them. And he’s back in 8 too. How the team will accept him as one of their own after he murdered Han and tried to kill them is anyone’s guess but hey, crazier things have happened in this franchise.
The whole cast is on the top of their game in Furious 7, most of all series leads Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Walker’s O’Connor is trying to adjust to family life with wife Mia (series original Jordana Brewster) which results in a hilarious gag of him dropping his kid off at school in a very pedestrian people carrier – a far cry from his skyline. Unfortunately Walker’s death is inescapable, and it does hang over the whole film. Despite this it’s still worth talking about how good a performance he delivers. Often compared to other unfairly maligned actors like Hayden Christiansen, Walker was unfairly criticised a lot of the time for his portrayal of Brian. And it’s true he doesn’t have much range, and it could just be the nostalgia of my growing up watching these films, but I’ve always thought he delivers a sincere and believable performance as the conflicted cop. Furious 7 is his best yet and his interaction with his new family is heart warming and unfortunately sad at the same time. I’m worried The Fate of The Furious will suffer from the lack of the out of his depth nice guy cop, Brian O’Connor.
The stunts in Furious 7 are some of the best seen in recent blockbuster cinema and that’s down to pretty much one thing; the director, James Wan. Previous series director Justin Lin (who directed 3 – 6 in the franchise) was a great action director, as Fast 5 and 6 show, but James Wan is in another league entirely. The opening fight scene between Hobbs and Shaw is one of the coolest and coherently directed fight scenes I’ve seen outside of modern Asian cinema like the Ip Man franchise or the Raid series. Wan even manages to work in the best ‘Rock Bottom‘ ever captured on film. The action scenes are funny too, something sorely lacking in a lot of blockbusters these days. The scene when Tej see’s the machine gun turret beginning to aim on his car so he hurriedly winds his windows up is hilarious. The film also see’s fights between Paul Walker and Tony Jaa, Jason Statham and Vin Diesel, and a standout shootout with the coolest man alive, Kurt Russell. I don’t yet know if 8 will top this, but with most of the cast returning (including Statham, this time working with the heroes) and with the fantastic Charlize Theron as the baddie there’s a pretty good chance they could.
Make sure to catch The Fate of the Furious in cinemas worldwide from this Friday!
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