This weekend sees the sixth (!) film in the "Fast and Furious" franchise, "Fast and Furious 6" (or, according to director Justin Lin, just "Furious Six") race into theaters. Once thought of as a kind of also-ran franchise in the Universal canon, it has quickly become one of the studio’s most important properties, with each subsequent film getting bigger and more bombastic (if not genuinely better). Sure, these movies might not be high art but they are consistently entertaining in a way that few Hollywood franchises are, full of muscle cars and beautiful women and tough guys who pummel each other just for the heck of it. We’ve already run our official review of "Fast & Furious 6," but in the spirit of the series, we thought we would run down every entry in the entire franchise, from worst to best. So put on your tiniest muscle shirt, grab that energy drink, and buckle up.
6. "2 Fast 2 Furious" (John Singleton, 2003)
Already it seemed like the franchise was running out of
gas, when John Singleton took over for Rob Cohen (the original film had
revitalized his flagging career), and Vin Diesel instead chose the
tent-pole non-starter "XXX" (about an extreme sports-loving
secret agent) over the sequel. This entry swapped Southern California
for Miami and saw Singleton, already an underappreciated stylist, go
fucking HAM. The original’s over-the-top stylistic flourishes like the
zooming-through-the-engine shots are nothing compared to what Singleton
employs – single tracking shots that zoom between each car, shots of
just the drivers’ eyes (a cue quoted verbatim from old episodes of "Speed Racer"),
and the "warp speed" gag from the first movie pushed to delirious,
almost psychedelic heights. All of this has the cumulative effect of
leaving the whole thing feel more like "Mario Kart" than "Vanishing Point."
The elasticity of the physical "Fast and Furious" universe was being
pushed further, with an opening sequence involving a group of racers
jumping across a drawbridge that is being raised. The fun of "2 Fast 2
Furious" is somewhat undermined by the lack of original cast members and
original plotting (thieves are replaced by drug runners and that’s
about the only difference in terms of narrative), feeling the most like
an unnecessary cash grab in a film series designed to feel like
unnecessary cash grabs. Perhaps the
movie is most notable for introducing the characters played by Tyrese
and Ludacris, who would become major players in subsequent films and
intrinsic pieces of the "Fast and Furious" mythology (as it were).
5. "Fast & Furious" (Justin Lin, 2009)
Unfortunately, the first film to reunite the original
"Fast and the Furious" cast (the title was shortened and an ampersand
added, presumably for variety’s sake?) is also one of the more
awkward entries, a weird in-between movie that’s got to set up a bunch
of things and find a way to reunite the characters in an organic way, but
instead comes across about as subtly as two super-charged cars smashing into
each other going 100 miles per hour. Dominic Toretto’s lover, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is murdered (or so it seems),
which leads him back into the United States to try and solve the murder
and get revenge. The best part of "Fast and Furious" is a prologue set
in the Dominic Republic with Dom and his crew hijacking a fuel tanker
that’s like something out of one of the "Mad Max" movies. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) is hunting a drug boss
that has a connection to Letty’s murder – do you think these old
friends and rivals will cross paths? Possibly while performing some
illegal street racing? While Justin Lin shows much of the same ingenuity
and exuberance that was present in "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo
Drift" (the GPS-aided race is a really nice touch), this kind of
narrative, a holdover from the first two films, feels like it has hit a
patch of rough road, leading to the abrupt (and wholly welcome) tonal
shift of "Fast Five." Even though the events of "Fast & Furious"
ripple out into the other parts of Lin’s little mini-trilogy, it’s
probably the least essential entry, besides the second installment.
4. "The Fast and the Furious" (Rob Cohen, 2001)
Well, this is the one that started it all. For better or worse. The title was borrowed from an old American International Pictures B-movie and the plot was lifted wholesale from "Point Break,"
with a plucky cop (Paul Walker, with frosted-tips farm-boy good looks
and limited acting ability) going undercover to bust some criminals who
take part in underground street racing (led by Vin Diesel, equal
parts charisma and muscles). Until ‘Tokyo Drift,’ this is the entry that
was most engaged with the culture behind the illegal streetracing,
which lends a certain amount of realism to a movie otherwise defined by
huge leaps in logic and gang members that wouldn’t be out of place in
some millennial remake of "The Warriors." It was based, in part, on a Vibe article called "Racer X" by Ken Li
that chronicled illegal street-racing in New York City. So far none of
the movies have been based, in part or whole, in the Big Apple. Compared to the other movies, it’s pretty leisurely paced (director Rob
Cohen is fond of long, glacial establishing shots that sometimes
aimlessly survey an entire city), and way more comic book-y than you
probably remember (there are moments where the world outside literally
bends around the car like they’re going into warp drive). It is also
hopelessly dated– yes, that’s a Limp Bizkit song on the soundtrack, and
Ja Rule in the cast, and at one point Jordana Brewster flirts while seductively sipping a Snapple.
The almost painfully awful script allows for some philosophical
pontificating on the part of Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, with things like,
"it don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile – winning’s winning"
and "I live my life a quarter mile at a time." Deep stuff. But of course
the thing that really matters are the races – this is easily the most
race-centered entry in the entire franchise, with the most memorable
moment probably be the sequence involving an eighteen-wheel truck and a
jellybean-sized sports car zipping underneath it. In this moment, the
physical reality of the "Fast and Furious" franchise, where actual
physics is only loosely considered, was born.
3. "Furious Six" (Justin Lin, 2013)
Picking up where "Fast Five" left off, "Furious Six" (and that is
the intended title, as far as Justin Lin is concerned) is even more
wildly over-the-top, yet still deeply concerned with the notions of
family and togetherness reinforced by the last film. It’s an interesting
interplay that Lin has come up with – trying to deepen the emotional
stakes while raising the bar on the action sequences – and "Furious Six"
mostly purrs like a kitten (what? We’re running low on car metaphors).
Instead of Rio, the gang reassembles in London, in order to help Hobbs
(Johnson) track down ruthless villain Shaw (Luke Evans), who
uses street racing to pull elaborate, potentially dangerous jobs (he’s
assembling a bomb or something). One of the wheelmen assisting Shaw is
actually Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who seemingly died a couple of
movies ago. (But not really!) While "Furious Six" doesn’t quite leave
the impression "Fast Five" did, it’s still wonderfully entertaining and
has a bittersweet edge, as well, since you can feel that Lin’s trilogy is coming to a close (complete with montage-y title sequence — the director’s departing for greener pastures, with James Wan taking over next time). There are
two action sequences that are probably better than anything in the
entire franchise – one involves a tank and a chase on an elevated
highway; the other (which Lin told us he had been planning since 2009)
involves a plane. That’s all we’ll say. Walker continues to be a drab
buzz-kill with his sub-plot, which sees a couple of "Fast & Furious" characters returning for no reason, and proves to be a low-point. But for the most part, "Furious Six" is a blast, with
Lin ballooning the cast with actors from two of the best action movies
in recent memory – "Haywire" (Gina Carano) and "The Raid" (Joe Taslim). It just would have been nice to find a place for Eva Mendes‘
character, who appeared in the post-credits bumper during "Fast Five"
but sadly doesn’t return. Maybe most impressive is the fact that
"Furious Six" makes amends for the weird chronology of the series (Sung
Kang, a character both introduced and killed in the third movie, has
been alive and well in four on). Goodbye Justin Lin. Nobody revved our
engines quite like you did.
2. "Fast Five" (Justin Lin, 2001)
"Fast & Furious" showed some signs of engine trouble,
so director Justin Lin took it into the shop and dramatically retooled
the entire franchise. "Fast Five" shifts into high gear and is wholly
unlike any other entry in series – it picks up fifteen seconds after the
last film ended, with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) getting bussed to
prison, and subsequently rescued by his partners-in-crime (which now
include Paul Walker’s former goodie two-shoes Brian O’Connor).
The fact that the previous film ended on a cliffhanger tells you that at
least Lin had confidence in his inner-series trilogy-building, and
"Fast Five" takes things even further – instead of a cops-and-robbers
story, it’s an all-out heist film, with a number of satellite characters
from earlier entries in the series (Ludacris, Tyrese, Matt Schulze, even Sung Kang from ‘Tokyo Drift’) and, most impressively, a new heavy in the form of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson‘s
Diplomatic Security Service agent Hobbs (because honestly there weren’t
enough ethnically nebulous beefcakes in this series already). Our
characters, now fugitives from the law, are hiding out in Rio de
Janeiro. Old habits die hard, of course, and after a botched job
involving stealing cars from a moving train (one of the most breathless
action sequences in a movie overstuffed with them), they’re slowly
pulled into a scheme to rob a bank from a corrupt businessman, which
turns the movie into a kind of "Ocean’s Eleven"-with-muscle cars.
It was kind of a dodgy gamble, but one that is pulled off incredibly
well, with virtuoso set piece after virtuoso set piece, culminating in a
climax where they drag a bank vault down the crowded streets of Rio de Janeiro (just typing that sentence made me feel really awesome and manly).
Thematically, "Fast Five" reinforces the notion that the series has
always been about family and it’s a testament to Lin’s skill as a
director (and Chris Morgan‘s nimble script) that he was able to
pull together all of the threads from the franchise into one concise
package, all while fundamentally altering the series’ DNA.
1. "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" (Justin Lin, 2006)
After the tepid response to initial sequel "2 Fast 2 Furious,"
it looked like the franchise had all but been marked for the scrap
heap, with a "spin-off" movie, divorced from the previous films’
continuity and respective casts, and saddled with an unwieldy title,
seemingly one step above direct-to-video sequels-in-name-only like "American Pie: Band Camp."
In truth, ‘Tokyo Drift,’ freed from the cops-and-criminals conventions
of the original two films and emboldened by a stylistic adventurousness,
ended up the highlight of the entire franchise and maybe the only truly
"great" movie in the series. One of the best decisions in a movie made
almost exclusively of them was having the movie centered around high
school kids instead of boring young adult types, which lends the whole
thing an "American Graffiti"-with-yakuza-bosses vibe. The plot concerns a troubled high school kid (Lucas Black,
continuing the series’ tradition of bland-as-milk white guy leading
men), who is prone to dangerous street racing and given a choice: he can
either go to juvenile hall, or be shipped off to live with his absentee
father in Japan. He chooses the latter. The audience, like the
character, is introduced to the underground world of "drifting" – a
Tokyo phenomenon where the cars are driven incredibly fast and then the
emergency brake is pulled, causing the car to seize and "drift" around
tight corners (unlike in America, there isn’t a whole lot of room to
race cars in Japan). Director Justin Lin, who had grown weary of the
increasingly computer-generated nature of the previous films, decided to
do as much of the movie with real cars as he possibly could, with only
minor computer-generated embellishments (like the moment the camera gets
behind the bumper of a car and the wall of a parking garage, to
dramatize just how close they come). Lin had a clear vision for
where the franchise would need to go and how it would get there, and he
executes it brilliantly – everything from the choice of music (the theme
song is done by Japanese art-rap stars Teriyaki Boyz), to the casting (Sonny Chiba
shows up as a yakuza boss), to the races, which seem like something of
an afterthought. That’s not a knock – it’s just that everything else
about "Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift" is so vibrant and alive that even
cars going 100 miles-per-hour down crowded Japanese streets can’t quite
compete. The fact that Diesel makes a
cameo at the end proved that the franchise was, indeed, still very much
viable – and what’s more, it was about to hit its nitrous booster and really kick into high gear, at least as far as box office goes.
Thankfully just because Justin Lin (who is sort of like the David Yates of the "Fast and Furious" franchise) has left doesn’t mean that the series is over – next summer will see the release of "Fast and Furious 7," this time helmed by "Saw" director James Wan (who we understand wants to bring a seventies chase movie vibe to the project). It’s got a big-time action star as the villain (we can’t reveal who, just yet – remember to stay through the credits to find out) and a series of international locales. Ladies and gentlemen… start your engines! The seventh installment vrooms into theaters July 11th, 2014.