This February, I watched all the Fast & Furious movies for the first time.1 It felt like a big hole in my pop cultural lexicon, right up there with my general James Bond ignorance and never having seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So I bought a boxset of films one to seven from CEX2 and borrowed the rest from the library,3 and got to work.
Monday, 7 February
The Fast and the Furious (2001) ★★★★
A strange little film, and certainly not one you would expect to launch a ten-part-and-counting blockbuster franchise. It’s a film where drag racing appears to operate as a John Wick-level parallel society: all of crime is enmeshed in the drag racing subculture, and nobody robs banks when you could rob something on wheels. It’s full of gratuitous male gazery to a degree I found sort of charming – no soulless, focus-group-tested, shrink-wrapped franchise launcher would have this many shots of women’s bums, and cinema is poorer for it.
The races have a kind of mind-bending flow to them – they press the button for NOS, and it’s like they go into warp speed, the world is a blur of colour around them. Like if Speed Racer was legible and didn’t make you throw up. (Made me like Speed Racer even less by comparison, if that’s possible.)
Paul Walker was by any measure quite a bad actor, and yet! There’s something about him. I enjoyed his performance as Brian in a way I can’t really quantify. Playing his being an undercover cop as a twist is really clever, structurally. It comes late enough that it’s a really exciting revelation but early enough that you get to really feel the conflict inside him, between being a cop trying to catch the guys robbing trucks – before the truckers take matters into their own hands! – and his connection to Dom (Vin Diesel) and the Toretto crew.
And, of course, more than anything: Brian and Dom are in love. They’re fucking starcrossed. There’s this connection and chemistry between them that’s sublimated into Brian’s relationship to Dom’s sister Mia. 80% of the plot is Brian going “it couldn’t be Dom, it couldn’t be, he would never” and his boss going “don’t let yourself be blinded by your affection… for his sister who you have zero chemistry with and with whom you mostly only talk about Dom.” When he tells Mia he’s a cop, it’s sort of flatly informational, like “Look, I’m a cop, okay,” and when he has to say it in front of Dom, it’s so heart-breaking. The ending, when Brian lets him go? “I owe you a ten-second car.” Ah. Ah! A love story.
Also, extremely funny from the present that their big scheme is stealing DVD players. Loved it.
Tuesday, 8 February
The Turbo Charged Prelude for 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) ★★
Pretty dull but unfortunately necessary to understand what’s going on in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Which is a compliment to neither.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) ★★
Not a good film, by any means, but an enjoyable one. Clearly conceived to have Vin Diesel in Tyrese’s role then hastily rewritten. Brian – who is a fugitive now, but the FBI need him because he’s so good at driving4 – is like, “I’ll do it (for the pardons or whatever), but I get to pick my partner.” And it’s tailor-made for a smash cut to Dom. But instead we meet Brian’s childhood friend Roman who: is under house arrest, is a great drag racer and felt betrayed about Brian being a cop. (Brian says he let Dom go because of his guilt for not stopping Roman’s arrest, but, uh, he’s lying, because I saw the first movie.)
It’s a dumber movie than the first one, which is both why it’s worse and it’s fun. It also looks much cheaper even though it wasn’t, so I can only imagine how much money John Singleton pocketed, embezzlement-wise. And good for him.
Thursday, 10 February
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) ★★★★★
A masterpiece, what the fuck. One of the really extraordinary things is how it doesn’t feel at all like one of those fake-sequel sequels – American Psycho 2, S. Darko, etc., etc. It’s a Fast and the Furious movie, absolutely, whatever that might mean. If the first one’s a Point Break, this one’s a classic sports movie. He’s an underdog outsider who takes on the champ. He has a learning-to-drift training montage. He has a mentor who takes him under his wing and a girl he falls in love with. They’re going to settle this with a loser-leaves-town race. He meets Dom, who sets up basically the whole rest of the series, and it ends with a Rocky III freezeframe. I loved this film dearly. My favourite so far. Excited that Justin Lin and Chris Morgan got to auteur this series from here on out. The racing is all so good. The character work is so good. Five stars.
Saturday, 12 February
Los Bandoleros (2009) ★★
A big pile of nothing, lol.
Sunday, 13 February
Fast & Furious (2009) ★★★★
If it seemed like maybe Brian and Dom are only in love in The Fast and The Furious because it’s a Point Break rip-off, this proved otherwise. Dom’s girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is dead, and Dom is out for revenge and Brian is out for justice within the law. Brian is a cop again, amazingly. I don’t know why the FBI would take him on but there you go. They need guys who are that good at driving. (When he’s getting ready to go undercover, his little smile when he sees all the impounded cars he has to choose from, ah. Sweetheart.)
I like that Dom and Brian never really talk about it, about anything, and their complex and changing feelings are sublimated into working on and talking about cars. Brian says he’s working on developing a moral code, and if the ending is anything to go by, the one he’s come up with has Dom at the centre, everything else is relative. He’s going to bust Dom out of prison. Throw his whole life away and go on the run, for Dom, again. Amazing.
Anyway, I loved this. Trust Justin Lin and Christ Morgan with, if not my life, then certainly with a car racing action film franchise. Incredible that this series is four for four on shots of two girls making out to show it’s a cool party.
And happy to see Han from Tokyo Drift again! Back from the grave. Glad Chris and Justin decided to make the Fast & Furious timeline unnecessarily complicated so this could take place before he died in Tokyo.
Tuesday, 15 February
Fast Five (2011) ★★★★★
I loved this. The first part of this feels like a western – Butch, Sundance and the girl on the run south of the border – and then it becomes a really quite excellent heist movie. And I love westerns and I love heist movies. They put the team together like Danny Ocean – or like Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven. Everyone comes back, and they all have a thing they’re good at that gets incorporated into the plan. It would have been so easy to ignore 2 Fast 2 Furious but nope: Tyrese is back as Roman, and so is Lucacris as Tej, reimagined as a tech guy. (Explained away beautifully by him telling Brian he “had a life before you knew me.”) Brian recruits them, and Dom gets Han and Gal Gadot and those two lads who are always bickering in Spanish. Mia is also there.
It’s got it all, including that moment where it seems like it’s all gone wrong then it turns out to have been always part of the plan. The Rock is really good, hot on their trail in a role that once you realise it was written for Tommy Lee Jones, you can’t unsee it. That he gives them a 24-hour head start at the end! Ah!
Plus it’s got a Rocky III ending where Dom and Brian race to prove whose the better driver once and for all. The “shot of two girls making out to show this is a cool party” days appear to be behind us, but there are still plenty of shots of women’s asses, thankfully.
Han saying he’ll get to Tokyo… eventually. And in the ultimate proof that the golden rule of Fast & Furious is everyone comes back: Letty is alive?!
Saturday, 19 February
Fast & Furious 6 (2013) ★★★★
Man, I had a full body reaction to the reveal that Jason Statham killed Han. Chris Morgan and Justin Lin are full “every Fast & Furious movie matters, nothing is filler and it all comes back” – and Tokyo Drift most of all. Tokyo Drift is the key to the whole series. It’s the sun around which it all revolves. This isn’t a top-tier Fast & Furious, but it’s really, really good. Letty’s alive and has amnesia. Amazing.
Sunday, 20 February
Tokyo Drifter (1966) ★★★★
You might claim this Japanese gangster movie has nothing to do with the Fast & Furious series, to which I would counter: it’s called Tokyo Drifter, though. (No drifting takes place.) But colours! Wipes! That one song over and over! Great movie.
Tuesday, 22 February
Furious 7 (2015) ★★★
The physics and stuff in this film are bananas, like, driving a car between three buildings type bananas. Yet it’s a sad film, full of all this death – “no more funerals,” Roman says, and Brian says, “Just one.” He means Shaw (Jason Statham), because he killed Han, but knowing that Paul Walker died during the making of this film, it stings.
The final tribute to Paul Walker is lovely. I like that Brian didn’t die, he’s just retiring to go be a dad. It feels like giving him a send-off that Paul Walker didn’t get to have. And that Brian and Dom have that final goodbye. The fork in the road and they go off in different directions. Vin Diesel’s narration, about how they both lived a quarter mile at a time and that’s what made them brothers. RIP Paul. Love ya.
Friday, 25 February
The Fate of the Furious (2017) ★★★
It seems like having Dom flip against the crew would be impossible because his whole thing is you never turn your back on family, to the point where I was wondering if he was being mind-controlled, so the reveal that Charlize Theron and her band of evil hackers (?) kidnapped the baby he only just learned he had, really works. It gives the film real stakes and conflict because Dom is so torn. And I was sincerely moved by Dom naming his son Brian in the end. Even if you think he’d name him after one of his dead friends.
This also nicely sets up the previously unimaginable Hobbs & Shaw spin-off. And Scott Eastwood really looks like his dad.
Saturday, 26 February
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) ★★★★★
This series was once about stealing DVD players. And now it’s about genetically engineered superhumans trying to steal a virus that melts your insides to use as a weapon of mass destruction for eugenics purposes. And the transition was so gradual I hardly noticed it happening.
I feel like I have to justify giving this such a good rating, because it is certainly one of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen. You truly cannot conceive of the scope of its dumbness, even grading on a Fast & Furious scale. But it’s a ton of fun! Big and dumb and genuinely pretty funny. Idris Elba is evil black Superman. Hobbs (The Rock) reconnects with his family in Samoa and they end up taking on an army with traditional Samoan weaponry. That he has his daughter’s soccer team do a haka before the match at the start of the film and leads a for-real haka when they go to battle at the end? That’s screenwriting, baby. Shaw’s mother (Helen Mirren) saying her dream is for Shaw and his sister to show up together to visit her in prison (then bust her out) and at the end of the movie they do just that. I don’t care for Ryan Reynolds generally but his minor role as Hobbs’s annoying co-worker is the best use of him in a while. Ditto Kevin Hart as the air marshal. Also, Rob Delaney is here as Shaw’s Ryan Reynolds, and I’m always happy when Rob Delaney shows up in something. And The Rock and Jason Statham have great chemistry, what can I say?
F9 (2021) ★
Okay, so: all of the Fast & Furious movies since Tokyo Drift have been written by Chris Morgan. All of the Fast & Furious movies from Tokyo Drift to Fast & Furious 6 were directed by Justin Lin. The post-Justin Lin movies are grand, but not as good as the ones he directed. (Except Hobbs & Shaw. I love Hobbs & Shaw.) So I went into this with a little trepidation but mostly hope – Chris Morgan is busy writing Hobbs & Shaw, sure, but Justin Lin is back! Well. It turns out Fast & Furious movies are a writer’s medium.
I want to complain about F9 being dumb, but Hobbs & Shaw is just as dumb and it’s wonderful. And yet. The ways this is dumb chafe because the film isn’t good. They drive across a rickety rope bridge that is literally falling. There’s so many times they drive in ways that don’t just bend physics but abandon it altogether. It’s crazy. And I don’t mean them going into space, by the way. Them going into space is the closest thing to saving this piece of shit.
I sometimes imagine Chris Morgan seeing The Fast and The Furious, a pretty simple Point Break rip-off but with cars instead of surfing, and going, “I’m going to build a whole world out of this” – and then watching 2 Fast 2 Furious and going, “okay, that’s okay, I can work this in.” Every Fast & Furious movie matters, every character will come back, everything will pay off. Everyone who thinks you can skip Tokyo Drift can suck it because Tokyo Drift is the most important film ever made. But F9 takes a giant shit on the previous movies, and Tokyo Drift most of all.
Because it turns out that Han is alive. (He also looks terrible, but that’s not his fault.) I would respect this if they gave a satisfying explanation, some mad scheme that swapped him out at the last second without anyone noticing. But they just say Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) did it. Cool? Worse, during the events of Tokyo Drift, Han apparently had this whole off-screen story where he was stealing a weapon for Mr. Nobody and ended up adopting a little girl when her parents were killed. This makes no sense. It doesn’t even make some kind of emotional sense for the character. It’s fucking stupid. The weapon Han was supposed to steal is F9’s McGuffin, by the way, and it’s basically the mother boxes from Justice League.
It also turns out that Dom and Mia have a brother, played by John Cena. The casting of John Cena is strange in itself – what races were the parents in this family? – but the worst part is that it totally fucks Dom’s backstory.
In The Fast and The Furious, way back in 2001 (or 7 February, depending on how you look at it), Dom tells Brian why he went to prison. His dad, who he adored, was a racing driver. Another driver clipped him during a race, and he was killed on the track. “I watched my dad burn to death,” Dom told Brian, “I remembered hearing him scream. But the people that were there said he had died before the tanks blew. They said it was me who was screaming.” A while later, he bumped into the guy who clipped his dad and caused him to crash into a wall, and Dom beat him half to death with a wrench. He went to prison for five years and got a lifetime ban from the racetrack.
And in F9, we see what happened. Which is that Dom’s never-before-mentioned brother rigged the car so it would explode. I think he says it was because his dad was crooked and he was helping him throw the race, but throwing a car race is easy – just slow down – so, uh, what? Dom found this out while he was in prison, and when he got out the two of them had a loser-leaves-town race that Dom won. None of this makes any sense, of course, but it also hugely undermines not just The Fast and The Furious, but Dom’s whole character. Mr. “You Never Turn Your Back on Family” did exactly that. His relationship with Brian was clearly a lot more superficial than it seemed because he told him the uncomplicated story of what happened, the cleaned-up version for strangers. It doesn’t even make sense in the relationship between the brothers as written in F9. John Cena talks about all he ever wanted was to get out of his brother’s shadow, but Dom went to prison and then became a DVD player thief. Seems like a pretty easy shadow to get out of.
They bring back Mia for this one, instead of her being retired by the beach with Brian and their kids. But that makes the once-sweet Brian being alive kind of strange. In the eighth one, they mention Brian once, just for Letty to say we’re leaving Brian and Mia out of this. In this, he’s taking care of Dom’s son off-screen, since Mia is here. Okay. But at the end, the whole crew is having dinner together, and there’s one empty chair. I thought they’d leave it there: a small reminder of the man who’s been lost. But then Brian’s blue Skyline pulls up in the driveway. They don’t CGI in Paul Walker – thank God – but it’s still a bit ghoulish. It lacks a certain grace, and makes me worry for possible CGI Paul Walker in the future.
Also this movie had, like, zero shots of girls’ asses. What are we here for?
1. I may or may not have seen all or part of Tokyo Drift when it came out, but I have so little memory that it doesn’t really count.
2. Not sponsored, no matter how many times I mention them on our podcast.
3. Not sponsored, but also, shoutout to libraries!
4. All crime is driving-related in this universe.