What a surprising series of films! Seriously, who would have thought back in 2001 that The Fast and The Furious would evolve into one of the biggest series from this past decade? I know that I wouldn’t have. This week, the latest installment, Fast & Furious 6, is released in theaters. As I’ve mentioned before, this is probably my most anticipated film of the summer (in fact, if things go right, I might have the chance to see it early), and if you were to have told me that a few short years ago, I would not believe you. Yet, here we are. So, what made me turn around a fall in love with these films? Why do these movies speak to audiences the way they have? Let’s take a look!
In the first of the series, The Fast and the Furious, we meet Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, our principle characters. I am just going to refer to the actor’s names, because it’s easier and who honestly remembers any of the names in this series? The film was a surprise hit, making over $200 million on a $30 million budget. How did this happen? Well, the film has something for everyone. You have the action of the street racing which was the big draw of the film. You have characters who, while still thin, have enough complexity to get viewers invested. You have the romance between Walker and Jordana Brewster. And, finally, you have the “honor among thieves” type of storytelling. You know Diesel is a “bad guy”, but the film humanizes him to the point that you do not want him to get caught. It is a story that is told a million times, but somehow always seems fresh. The thing that saves this movie is that all these elements simply work together. It all clicks. Granted, the film isn’t particularly good, but it is wildly entertaining, and sometimes that’s all you need.
Given its success, a sequel was in order, but this time there will be no Vin Diesel (he had a “I don’t do sequels” thing going on back then). As such, Paul Walker headed the hilariously awesomely titled 2 Fast 2 Furious in 2003. This film veers away from the tone of the first one into pure schlock. While it isn’t an out-and-out comedy, Tyrese Gibson’s presence amps up the humor. This was the first film in the series to really set the tone for rest of them: hire the criminal racing crew to take down a bad guy. This formula will later be repeated in the fourth, fifth, and sixth installments. While this film is kind of dumb, it is a fun dumb. You need to check your brain at the door and simply enjoy the ride. Apparently, movie-goers did too as the film was another huge summer hit. Surely, a third one was in order, but could they get Vin Diesel back?
Not really (just a cameo). And even Paul Walker bailed for the series third installment, The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. This film is very polarizing among fans of the series. People either love it or hate it. There is very little middle ground. I think part of the reason why this is is that the movie takes the series in a completely different direction. Tokyo Drift is, at its core, a coming-of-age film. New lead, Lucas Black, finds himself in the crazy strange world of Tokyo’s racing culture. This film almost feels like it originated as its own racing film, but they slapped Fast and Furious on it to give it brand recognition. This was also a strange film considering that it takes place in Tokyo, but it has some unexpected diversity in the cast. You have a white guy, a black guy, and an Australian.
While the film did not bomb at the box office outright, it wildly underperformed. I can see why people might have been turned off by the film. The previous entry was not as well-received by audiences and this entry did not have any of the previous actors involved. On the film side, this movie was the first to involve Justin Lin (director), Chris Morgan (writer), and Sung Kang (actor) with the franchise. All three have been highlights to the series and have stuck with it to the sixth entry.
For some reason, Universal felt that this series still had legs after the disappointment of Tokyo Drift. But, they were smart about what needed to be done. More of a direct sequel to the original film, they brought back the original cast in the lazily titled Fast & Furious. I am going to be honest in that I think this film is absolutely terrible – the worst of the series. It is stylish, but it has very little redeeming value. Apparently, I am in the minority as this film was a huge success, earning over $350 million. This is what was lacking from the previous two: all the original cast. It drew people back to the franchise. However, it was dogged in the reviews (rightly so). People might have liked this one, but if Universal wanted this franchise to have legs, they needed to up their game.
They did. 2011’s Fast Five was, by all accounts, awesome. Arguably, it was the most satisfying summer blockbuster of that year. It should not have been, but somehow was. Personally, I think this had a lot to do with the Rock, but it likely also had to do with the new direction it took the series in. While the cars/racing aspect was there, the film was primarily a heist caper. And, making this more amazing, the film naturally comes to this direction. It isn’t forced at all! AND the film utilizes characters from all of prior movies (with the notable exception of Lucas Black). It was like The Avengers before The Avengers. The result is a completely fun romp with enough characterization to make it worthwhile. It was also huge at the box office making nearly double of what Fast & Furious made and was the best reviewed of the series to that point. The series completely renewed itself.
So, now we get to Fast & Furious 6 (a somewhat disappointing title compared to the rest). It is already getting some good buzz, and if the momentum keeps, will be one of the biggest hits of the summer. The production team seemed to found what really works with this series for audiences and will continue doing that. Give the people what they want and all. It only took five previous films. How many series really get that many chances? Especially in today’s world? None. Fast and Furious is really the “little franchise that could”.
There is also already talk of a seventh entry (with a villain, reportedly teased in FF6, played by – well, I will not spoil the awesome) set for next year. That’s a quick turnaround and rumors are flying that the Rock and Justin Lin may not be a part of the production. That is slightly disappointing as their inclusion is what really got this series to where it’s at. But, I am not going to worry about that now. Right now, I am going to throw myself into the world of Fast and Furious so I can enjoy the upcoming sixth entry.
You should too!