This week we have the release of Furious 7, the newest film in this crazy action film franchise. I decided I wanted to do an UPDATED write up on this series. Last time I only wrote about the first five, so I wanted to now include the sixth film and a few extra films along the way.
So, come along with me as I revisit this write up and this series. Once again….
Warning; I’m not going into the plots of each film. I’m under the assumption that you already seen the films, OR, you can look up the movies synopsis yourselves.
This isn’t even a full critique on each flick either. These are my general feelings on each on, and how each sequel leads from or steps away from the previous one.
So, lets start.
The Fast and The Furious: The first film was a mostly entertaining bit of fun for me. Yeah, it was a weaker version of Point Break, but a fun distraction nonetheless In the year between this and the OTHER car chase movie (the Gone in 60 Seconds remake staring Nic Cage), this was easily the more entertaining flick . Between the two, the story was a bit less frustrating in The Fast and The Furious then it was in Gone in 60 Seconds (i.e. no useless cops like in Gone in 60 Seconds)
The film mainly works for a few simple reasons. Rob Cohen’s fun and energetic directing (though this might have been his peak as a director since every film he’s made since hasn’t reach the level of competence or watch ability as it did in this first Fast and Furious.), and…well… Vin Diesel.
Diesel was already on his way to being a pretty big deal, especially after his star making portrayal as Riddick in Pitch Black ( and of course, he was the voice of The Iron Giant). The Fast and The Furious cemented his stardom. There’s good reason for that too. Vin owns in every scene. As ridiculous as this line is…
He sold it. Every time Diesel’s Dominic Toretto talked about how his friends are family (a theme that is very strong in this franchise), he plays it just right, and he somehow does it without it feeling incredibly forced and cheesy. Hell, the man had enough charisma, I even believed he had chemistry with Paul Walker.
Ah yes, Paul “Blank Slate” Walker. Man, did I use to really hate Paul Walker when I was younger. The way how people feel about Keanu Reeves, is the way how I used to feel about Walker. The man had no screen presence. I always thought he too young to play a cop, and every time I see him in this first movie I feel he’s still that high school football player kid pretending to be a cop.
In every way, Walker was the total opposite of Diesel…and somehow, that actually worked. Their opposites melded to actually be a somewhat appealing duo.
The film ends pretty openly. Toretto is given a chance to escape, thanks to the help of Walker’s Brian O’Conner. Its a surprisingly ambiguous ending, and it does leave room to play for another film, deciding on where they wanted to go.
Most obvious place would be to see how Toretto and O’Conner meet up again, to team up against a proper threat. Makes sense, especially since there wasn’t a strong villain in this film. There’s just one problem…..Diesel didn’t come back.
2 Fast 2 Furious: What happens when you have a sequel to a movie in which the most popular actor from the first one doesn’t want to come back? Do you continue? Strangely, sometimes yes (let me quickly remind you of Speed 2: Cruise Control…ok…now lets quickly forget about it) but it’s always a risk, and most of the time, it’s a risk that doesn’t work out.
Losing Diesel was a major blow to the second film (he left to star in xXx, which was directed by the first Fast and Furious film’s director Rob Cohen. Ironically, Diesel didn’t star in the sequel to xXx. He was replaced by Ice Cube). It’s especially interesting because for many people, the first film’s appeal was because of Vin and Pauls interaction. I mean, imagine if the second Lethal Weapon movie didn’t star Mel Gibson but kept Danny Glover? You almost want to know if it’s even worth making?
But, Universal Studios was willing to give it a shot.
This time out, they hired John Singleton to direct (who has exactly one great film in his resume, Boyz n the Hood.) Singleton does a decent job on the film, but his biggest problem is that he over does it in the CGI department. The first film was mostly practical stunts, thus adding to the excitement of the action. Here, Singleton’s use of spoty CGI lacks real punch, and it just felt like I was watching cinematics from a racing video game.
Directing the action was one thing, but Singleton had another job to do on this film, and that was to replace Vin Diesel. His answer? Make a brand new character and cast Tyrese Gibson, who he just worked with on the film Baby Boy.
Gibson plays Roman Pearce, a childhood friend of Brian O’Conner. There are some cosmetic similarities between Roman and Dominic. Both are bald, non-white guys with big personalities, but surprisingly, that’s it. It would have been easy to make Roman a weak version of Diesel, but instead, they created a character whose loud, brash and a giant braggart. Actually, Gibson is pretty good in this, giving an good amount of energy and humor in his part.
Like last time, the big personalities against the lack of personalities helps make this duo watchable. No, Walker didn’t get better this time. In fact, he’s a bit worse, mostly because they needed to rely on him a bit more in the films opening. O’Conner is still a blank slate of a character. I know nothing about the guy other then he was a cop. His attempts to be charming and cool under pressure just comes off flat. This film also tries to give O’Conner a bit more of a back story, as we find out about his rowdy criminal past as a kid when he used to hang with Roman.
UPDATED NOTE: We also get our first out of two short film prequels to this series. Available on the re-relase DVD of the first film, the short is literally called Turbo Charged Prelude to 2 Fast 2 Furious. It’s not really that turbo charged, but it is a neat little film as we get what feels like a Cliff Notes version of what happened to Brian between films. I’ll post the whole short here if you wanna see it. Also be on the look out for a young Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights) in this as well.
While I kinda dug that it had no dialogue and that it was stylized, it also felt REALLY cheap, which I’m sure it was. Anyways, back the REAL movie.
2 Fast 2 Furious also introduces two firsts for the film series.
ONE: The bizarre naming scheme for the each film. What exactly does 2 Fast 2 Furious mean? That the characters are TOO fast AND TOO furious? Maybe the assumption is that the marketing team though it would be cooler and hipper to make the title of the film sound like an awkward hip hop name.
TWO (TOO?): The film series first real villain. Sure the first film had Rick Yunes Johnny Tran, but he was more like a mild threat then a full on villain. Here, the film has Cole Hauser’s bad guy, the drug lord Carter Verone. Granted, he’s a mostly forgettable bad guy, but there is a straight up threat against our heroes. In all honesty, none of the villains in this series were of any note. Uppon revisiting Fast Five I literally forgot who the villain was until he popped up on screen.
How do we leave our heroes this time? Well, this film started with Brian O’Conner on the run from the cops since he let a known criminal free, but since he and Roman caught the bad guys, their records are clean (by the way, that happens a lot in this series. You’d think clearing a criminal record would be a long process, but in these movies clearing a record super easy to do.) Hell, the guys even stashed some bad guy money and declared a new life in Miami. Maybe even start a garage together. Awww, that’s nice.
So, you’d think that the next movie would take place in Miami, with the series now being the adventures of Brian and Roman. Right? Well, there’s a problem…Walker isn’t coming back for a third trip. He decided to work on other projects, and didn’t agree to come back.
The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift : So, what to do when your leads aren’t coming back? Do you stop making movies in this series? Of course not! You keep making them silly. So how?
Well, this is a case of a studio going into sequel-in-name-only territory. Mostly used in Horror franchise (See Halloween III: Season of the Witch…actually DO watch it. It’s a lot more fun then people remember it being despite its lack of Michael Myers.), it is a way to keep the brand name of a series going with out using it’s stars from the previous film. This time, instead of a movie about cops and robbers, this film is actually set in high school. A high school…in JAPAN.
Tokyo Drift added a very important element to the series….director Justin Lin. Lin made a splash with the indie film Better Luck Tomorrow and he followed it up with his first studio film Annapolis (interesting enough, that film starred Tyrese Gibson and Jordana Brewster, the cast members from the first two movies Fast and Furious films. This, unbeknownst to Lin, will come in handy later…)
What I liked about Lin’s work in this film was that he really went for a go for broke mentality to the style of the flick. Lin shot it as if he was making his first film. The film has as much fun shots and transitions that only a really excited first time director would do, and it works.
Like the first two films, this movie centers on another very charismatic lead teaming up with a actor whose performance has no charisma on screen…period.
Sung Kang’s Han (a direct nod to his character’s name in Lin’s first film Better Luck Tomorrow. Actually, Tokyo Drift also has another actor from Better Luck Tomorrow, Jason Tobin.) is pretty great. This cool, very likable guy really helped make this flick as watchable as it could. He brought so much charm in the role.
Sadly, the day that I could say that some one could come off WORSE then Paul Walker in the acting department, was a day I never thought would happen. Well, Lucas Black’s performance in Tokyo Drift was that bad. This is unfortunate,because, while I’ve only like Walker in one other film (Running Scared) I’ve enjoyed Lucas in other films. He was a great kid actor when he was in the film Sling Blade, to recently when he had a role in the Jackie Robinson film 42. In Tokyo Drift, I think Lucas was acting too much out of his comfort zone. He’s honestly not a strong lead, and every attempt to make him charming isn’t just flat, it’s awkward to watch. It doesn’t help that his leading lady,actress Nathalie Kelley, is just as bland and boring as him. How bland are they? Well, look at the example below…
The film is a strange mix. It does have all the street racing/criminal elements from the first film and yet it does have a dash of high school drama.
In all honesty, this film is just ok. A simple entertainment fluff. This could have been the end of the series. Maybe the next one would have focused on Lucas Black’s character, maybe they’d move on to another city with a new cast. If there would have been other Fast and Furious-in-name-only sequels, they mostly would have been straight to video. The fate of the series is pretty much set…that is…until….this scene…
As fun as that was, that was just a cameo. It doesn’t really mean that they would follow Diesel any more. If anything, this was a baton passing. Nothing more then that…. or so I thought.
Fast and Furious: What the hell is going on here??? This is where the series really defies against everything I thought movie franchise were suppose to go. All of a sudden, almost everyone’s back. Diesel, Walker, Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez.
What gets more interesting to me is the chronological order of this film.
The film surprised me when the opening scene shows Han from Tokyo Drift. It becomes apparent that this takes place before the third film.
The real fun for me about this movie was that, it does something that very few sequels could do. You see, this film could have easily been the ACTUAL second film, but since this turned out to be the fourth film, it became a beneficial thing. The film successfully brings back the tension between Dominic and Brian, which is much needed drama to propel the story. It forces them to learn to trust each other again. Had this been made so soon, it would have been contrived and tiresome, but since they haven’t see each other in years (and we as the audience hasn’t seen them interact in that same time) there is a bit more excitement in seeing them together again, something that wouldn’t be accomplish if this came after the first film.
2 UPDATED 2 NOTE: Here we have our second short film prelude. Titled Los Bandoleros, this film was written and directed by Dom himself, Vin Diesel. When I saw it the first time, I wasn’t that impressed with it. I felt it was pretty self indulgent, oddly paced and meandering. When I decided to revisit it again, I sorta changed my mind on it. While I do feel the directing is still self indulgent, I kinda dig that Vin decided to just do his own thing here. He wasn’t trying to make a film that would match the look of Fast and Furious, he wanted to created a totally separate piece that had it’s own feel and look. It also really neat to hang out with some these characters with out any action to get in the way. The character of Tego is really great in this, and his character is much more interesting in this more grounded short then what we saw in the final movies. This whole short oddly feels like the beginning of a low key, indie crime film except its the characters from Fast and Furious. In that regards, it actually kinda cool. If you wanna see it, CLICK HERE to watch it.
Two things got better this time out.
Lin’s directing got extremely more confident. When the action scenes are more set around practical stunts, Lin delivers by crafting some really exciting sequences (though he does loose me a bit with the mine tunnels scenes. Once again, spoty CGI ruins the show). I also dig the way that Lin directed this very ridiculous idea of Dominic being Car Sherlock Holmes in this scene…
The other big surprise? Paul Walker is actually watchable! His aging is really helping him, and finally, I believe him as Brian.
The film also continues the strange way they title these movies. Whoever thought that getting rid of “The” in front of Fast and Furious was one unimaginative person. (Updated Note: I found out that the unimaginative person was actually director Justin Lin. He saw the films as a mini-trilogy, and wanted the naming scheme for the series to reflect that. So, this being the first in the mini-trilogy, the movie would just be simply be Fast and Furious as the next two films be Fast Five and Furious 6. It sorta makes sense if you view it like that.).
This was a really fun film. At this point in time, I would have even said it was the best in the series. This film was also the first one to straight up leave us on a cliffhanger, which made me ask, “Where else could you go?”
Oh man, was I not ready to find out the answer.
Fast Five: Who would have thought that the Avengers Movies and the Fast and Furious films would have ANYTHING in common. Yet, they strangely do.
Both introduced several new characters in different films, and then have those characters show team up in a big film later.
We talked about that never happening in movies when we talked about The Avengers, yet here is The Fast and The Furious films beating The Avengers by one year.
It really is fun and exciting to see all the characters from the previous films interact with each other*, and somehow, Lin and his screenwriter Chris Morgan found a way to get everyone a moment to shine. It’s especially fun because this time, the film leaves the street racing world behind as a focus, and it’s now a straight up heist movie.
Lin’s directing is at his best here. All the lessons that he learned from making the last two films, he brought to this one. This is the movie where he becomes, essentially, the thinking man’s Michael Bay. The action is outstanding, yet the comedy works, the sentimentality works, the themes about family work, it somehow all works.
This film also hilariously breaks down conventions of the Fast and Furious series itself.
One sequence has Dominic and Brian needing to get some cars. So what do they do? They find a local street racing event to see if they can win some cars. What I though would happen was this: they find a street race, they challenge a driver, we get an excuse to watch another race action scene, and we see the guys win.
So what actually happens? Well, they do find a street race. They do challenge a driver…but instead we cut to them meeting up with the rest of the team, driving the cars they just won. We don’t see the race. Why? Because even the filmmakers don’t believe that you’re going to buy the idea of them loosing at that moment. So, lets just skip it. It’s kinda genius actually.
Actually the film’s one lone race scene was this one….
I am shocked that it works so well, because it isn’t just an excuse to do an action scene. It’s actually done based on…of all things…the characters. The characters need this fun release, and it’s certainly their way of loosening up.
The other great addition to Fast Five is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Agent Hobbs, the man who’s after our heroes.
Why? Watch this.
That man oozes badass, and he’s a perfect foil against Vin Diesel.
And the cliffhanger in this film?Well, I remember being in the theater and realizing they decided to play on the idea that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez’s character) is alive I howled with laughter. It’s ridiculous, but I loved it. It continues to bring the series closer to the soap opera route that it’s started to develop since the last film and I honestly really like that.
So ok, now that the our heroes are successful con men and pulled off a crazy heist, what kind of challenges do you throw at them now?
How about evil versions of them?
Fast and Furious 6 (aka Furious 6):
As it dawned on me that this series is not only still here, it also quickly hit me that I honestly really love it. So I was not prepared for how invested I got with the opening credit sequences that showcases EVERY film (Minus Tokyo Drift of course) in the series.It’s pretty great, and seeing the various scenes from the different films really shows how far the series as gone.
Now remember when I made the Avengers comparison above? Well, the Avengers do need some villains, as film critic Devin Faraci said in his review of this film, our heroes face off against what is pretty much their version of the Masters of Evil. Actually, it’s so clear they are suppose to be the evil versions of them that even Roman calls it out…
Granted, I still feel like the villains in this series is the weakest element. Luke Evans plays Owen Shaw, who’s sort of Dom’s opposite number on the bad guy version of our team. Evans is fine in the part, but Shaw is the kind of villain that OTHER characters tell you how evil and bad he is as oppose to really seeing how evil and bad he is. The rest of the evil team is decent but mostly forgettable
But hey, forget about the villains. Our heroes are still great to watch and it’s been fun seeing them mix up the parings this time. Han and Roman have a scene together. Tej and Hobs have a few good moments. The interactions and the humor our characters have together is still the reason we keep coming back to this series. They are just fun to watch.
This entry of is also the final film that Justin Lin will direct in this series, and he goes out with a bang. Lin is now at the top of his game with this one. The car chases are still top notch but he got even better with the hand to hand fight scenes. The fight scene between Gina Carano Vs Michelle Rodriguez and the 2 against one fight between Han, Roman and Joe Taslim (who was great in The Raid) is a great example of this…
Actually, the Han, Roman and Taslim fight kinda reminds me a lot of the finale of Lethal Weapon 4 in which it’s Murtagh and Riggs VS Jet Li. Two guys vs one guy and the two guys pretty damn sure they are gonna get their ass kicked.
But besides all this action, Justin Lin still finds a way to keep the pacing brisk, the humor funny and character based, and the “we are a family” element actually still work.
And with this film, we get our closure with the series. We’re back in LA, as our gang have a family BBQ that reflects one of the earlier scenes in the first movie. It’s a pretty nice way to close the series….but this series knows that it can’t JUST end. No, we get one more cliffhanger….
Oh shit! It’s the Transporter vs Toretto! Maybe Jason Statham will finally give us a really memorable villain? That’s the one element this series truly needs. ONE. GREAT. BAD GUY.
Now, I’ve been giving Justin Lin a LOT of credit for this series, but I don’t want to forget screenwriter Chris Morgan. Morgan has been the writer of the series since Tokyo Drift. Their collaboration on these movies has been pretty great in so much that they know exactly how to work this series. Morgan’s script doesn’t get too convoluted in plot, but surprisingly having the convoluted elements be the soap opera-ish drama works in the series favor. Chris Morgan is still the screenwriter for Furious 7 so if the new film still feels like it will fit in with other movies, then you can thank Morgan for that.
Right now, Fast Five is my favorite of the group, but I’m not gonna lie, my enjoyment comes from the fact that I’ve seen the other ones. I may not like every movie in this series, but they somehow made a really fun action film series unlike any other. Other franchises don’t get a second wind like this one, and a lot of it comes from how good Justin Lin became with this series.
While a part of me really does wish they end the series with Furious 7…. another part of me wants to see how much further they’re gonna take it. Maybe it’s not too late to take them to space.
*Though sadly, despite how 2 Fast 2 Furious ended, Roman and Brian didn’t stay in Miami and open their garage. I guess this couple couldn’t keep the flame alive, and that’s why Brian took the job as an FBI agent.
P.S. I might come back next week to update this ONE more time to include my thoughts on Furious 7. Check back here next week to see when I do that!
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