Ride or die.
I’m just going to come out of the gate and say it: I love these movies. And not even in a guilty pleasure sort of way, I genuinely care about these movies despite their weird fixation with bald men and butt shots. I care about what happens no matter how ludicrous (or Ludacris) the movies get, I get involved in what the characters are going through, I actually got choked up when Dom gave the cross back to Letty- but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had been aware of the films since The Fast and the Furious came out in 2001 but I hadn’t seen any of them until 2011 when Fast Five came out and starting turning some heads. So I rented the first five films from Netflix and just tore through them- from The Fast and the Furious which is basically Point Break with cars, to 2 Fast 2 Furious which is basically Bad Boys 2 lite, Tokyo Drift which is basically the Karate Kid remake four years before it came out, and beyond- and people oh people believe me when I say these movies are just the best. I actually had to watch Fast Five twice before I could send it back.
With the first film right away I was taken aback by how much time was spent on these characters and the bonds of this underground culture of street racing. And at that time I hadn’t seen Point Break starring our Lord and savior Keanu Reeves so I didn’t catch the similarities, it was all fresh to me.
To see Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) go from strangers to friends to enemies to frenemies to brothers over the course of only two films (The Fast and the Furious and Fast & Furious) was impressive for a franchise where rappers and wrestlers make up 90% of the cast. Not to mention the relationships between Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster) as well as Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) that would become just as crucial.
Throw in Ludacris, Tyrese, Wonder Woman and Han and you’ve got a cast of characters I care about as much as any TV show I’ve spent years with and even more than most comic book movies.
And throw in The Rock while you’re at it for some extra sexual tension.
So people may come for the stunts, but they stay for- say it with me now- family.
And while I believe the latest films could probably pull back just a hair in the action, that’s never been a huge problem for me because of one key element: sincerity. Even though character arcs have gotten less realistic and more soap opera-y over the years, with characters coming back from the dead, amnesic friends turned enemies, vengeful super brothers, or even just the core crew going from “stealing DVD players in LA to heisting $100 million in Rio,” they still play it completely straight. These films get easier and easier to make fun of but the characters are treated with sincere affection and the actors play them with complete conviction, no matter how two-dimensional a couple of them may have been.
And of course you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I didn’t realize how much I gave a crap about not only his character but this whole franchise until I heard the news of Paul Walker’s accident. It was the first time I really broke down over the death of someone I didn’t know. But I felt like I lost someone important to me.
Even before Walker’s untimely passing, Brian was my favorite character in the franchise. Not only did he have possibly the strongest and most varied character arc, but his charisma brought him to life in a way that just another pretty boy might have failed at. He was cocky but still lovable, he struggled with rules and authority but still had the conviction of his own morals, and despite Dom becoming more and more like a superhero with mumbling one-liners and earthquake stomping powers, Brian always remained the most grounded and relatable character. He never pulled focus and was always where he was needed to be. Dom may be the face of the franchise, but Brian was always the heart.
And perhaps most importantly, he was the conduit through which we as the audience were welcomed into the Toretto family. He was the outsider that guided us through.
And I think a key element- and maybe this is my self-righteous liberalism showing- is the diversity in this family. With your white guy, your black guys, your Asian guys, your Samoan guy, your Statham guy, and Vin Diesel who’s just ethnically ambiguous enough that it’s okay for him to be the lead. Plus how many other multi-billion dollar franchises have female leads that are black, Brazilian, Spanish, Latina, and Israeli? Just be glad they’re not playing Ghostbusters, fans would go nuts.
I’m making a big deal about it but the films don’t, it’s just the way things are. Everyone is welcomed into this family. There’s plenty of well-rounded representation to go around.
All of this sentimentality however doesn’t detract from the reason people go to these movies in the first place: bitchin’ car chases, Dwayne Johnson rock-bottoming Jason Statham into a glass table, and flying headbutts.
Now the biggest criticism of these films is that they’re so over the top that they “insult the intelligence of the audience.” To those people I say I have a college degree in film and never have I felt insulted by well-crafted and exciting action scenes. It’s still possible to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all while still remaining fully engrossed. Never feel like you have to choose between guilty pleasure and genuine affection.
Sure, the filmmakers and actors know the action scenes are crazy and they strive to always be bigger and better, but they never do it half-assed. They never wink at the camera and snicker, “look at this tank on a highway, stupid right?” In fact the safe chase in Fast Five and the tank chase in Furious 6 remain all-timers for me.
And seriously, who cares that the runway in Furious 6 never ends when there’s a flying headbutt involved?
Despite how CG-heavy many of these sequences are like the tunnel chase in Fast & Furious or the building jump in Furious 7, most of the stunts are done more practically than you might realize. Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster were actually tossed off a rooftop in shanty town, they actually dragged a prop safe through the streets of Rio, they actually flipped a prop tank on a newly minted freeway, they actually launched cop cars through the air in London, etc, etc.
While audiences certainly aren’t sick of seeing Iron Man and Thor beat up robots and aliens (hell, neither am I), seeing human characters you care about put into tangible danger in stunts you can actually see happening is a winning combination.
And who can blame anyone for enjoying that? When Dom launched himself off the bridge and caught Letty mid-air at the end of the aforementioned tank chase, my theater erupted into cheers like I’ve never seen before. And who would want to take that away from anyone?
So what am I trying to say? Is it the expertly crafted action scenes? Is it the diversity? Is it family? Is it a combination of all three? Have I really cracked nothing here? Have I just rambled on for 1,300 words to tell you what you already know? Who knows? All I know for sure is that I genuinely love these films and I wanted to share that love with the world. And I’m sure that there are many people who only care about the action scenes, but I also know that there are many out there like me that care about it all and look forward to the films to come.
So whatever the reason may be, pop in a blu-ray of Fast Five, sit back, pop open a Corona, and enjoy the sincere nonsense that is this franchise.
And as a reward for being so good, here’s the flying headbutt for your enjoyment:
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