A Definitive Guide to the Fast and Furious Movies, Part 1

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As you may have guessed from the title of my blog, I’m a fan of the Fast and Furious movies.  So when my cousin Zack proposed a marathon, I accepted right away, especially since his only prior exposure to the series was having seen “about half” of Tokyo Drift.  I couldn’t wait to introduce him to the series, which would also allow me a chance to rethink my initial ranking.

The marathon took place over three nights, clocking in at nine hours and fifteen minutes.  Here are my rankings and reviews of the movies, along with Zack’s immediate reactions.

Note: Though the sixth and seventh movies were not part of this marathon, I’ve seen them recently enough (Furious 7 in theaters, Fast & Furious 6 since then) that I feel qualified to include them in the ranking.

9.  Torque

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Just kidding!  (Can you imagine?)

Released one year after 2 Fast 2 Furious, this motorcycle-centered rip-off serves as a reminder that making vehicular action movies is harder than it looks.  You know you’re in trouble when your movie’s Wikipedia plot summary provides more entertainment than the movie itself.  A couple of choice quotes:

“Junior says that he is sorry for not paying Henry back for whatever.”

“The partners aren’t paying attention and their black Hummer hits a construction pipe and flies into the air and lands upside down(they survived though).”

The only points of interest in this 80-minute trainwreck are the presence of then-unknown Adam Scott, and the shots it takes at the Fast and Furious series.  These digs at the multi-billion dollar franchise, including the droll “cars suck”, are the cinematic equivalent of a Bostonian ripping on New York: amusing, but also a little sad.

Torque occasionally reaches the so-bad-its-good heights promised by its soundtrack, but most of it consists of mind-numbing dialogue, headache-inducing CGI, and – most egregiously – way too many scenes without Jaime Pressly.

Why she wasn't nominated I'll never understand.
Why she wasn’t nominated I’ll never understand.

8.  Fast & Furious

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The last time I saw this movie was during its 2009 theatrical run, so Zack wasn’t the only one watching it with fresh eyes.  Boy, was I disappointed.

The convoluted plot has to do with Brian and Dom reuniting to solve Letty’s murder, which plunges them into the world of a Mexican drug lord.  But really, it’s not that important.

What should have been an awesome reunion of the first film’s cast is hamstrung by a series of poor creative choices.  For one thing, the movie is far too talky for its own good.  And I’m not talking about the easy banter between friends prominent in the other movies; Fast & Furious is full of endless scenes of angst-ridden dialogue.  This ponderous tone leads the fourth entry to commit the cardinal sin of a Fast and Furious movie: it’s boring.

To its credit, Fast & Furious does contain a couple of solid action sequences, but they only remind us how plodding the rest of the movie is.  And with only Dom, Brian, and Mia as the main characters, it lacks the group energy so essential to the other films.  History will look back on it as the slowest and least furious of the franchise.

Zack’s thoughts:  Great to see Dom and Brian back together; not as good as the first one. On the whole, it was decent and I was happy to see Dom back.

7. The Fate of the Furious

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Fate picks up where the last movie left off, with Dom and Letty enjoying life in Cuba  until Dom is unwillingly recruited as a pawn of the villainous hacker Cypher (Charlize Theron), who uses him to help enact whatever her evil plan is. It doesn’t really matter; the plot boils down to Dom bad, team good, team must save Dom (and the world, I guess). Thankfully the movie skips over the obligatory ‘reuniting the team’ sequence, since the prospect of getting the old gang back together loses its novelty after you’ve done it for four movies in a row. Instead it cuts to the typically insane chase, where Dom turns on his team and steals whatever McGuffin they were after.

What follows is hardly unpredictable, but it’s heartening to see that the filmmakers continue to make an effort to keep things fresh. Dom’s heel turn is a gimmick, but it’s the good kind of gimmick, one that keeps Fate from being a complete retread of Furious 7. And though the series regulars are as likable as ever, it’s the (relatively) new blood that keeps this one afloat: Statham, Russell, and especially Theron, clearly enjoying herself as she chews scenery by the mouthful.

But all the new actors and plot devices in the world can’t hide the fact that this is the series’ eighth movie, and the formula is starting to get a bit stale. Even the climactic submarine set piece, impressive as it is, feels like a plateau rather than an escalation. The franchise is finally showing its age, and like many old-timers, it could really use a Walker.

6.  2 Fast 2 Furious

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This 2003 sequel follows Brian going undercover for the FBI (again) in exchange for a clean record.  Along for the ride is his childhood pal Roman Pearce, who joins him in his mission to take down a Miami drug kingpin.

2 Fast displays several of the symptoms associated with sequel-itis: the return of only one actor from its predecessor, the artificially inflated stakes of the plot, and the (mostly) failed attempts to recapture the best parts of the original.

That being said, 2 Fast isn’t without its merits.  Tyrese Gibson is easily the movie’s strongest asset; his winning comedic energy makes it easy to see why he was brought back for Fast Five.  Cole Hauser’s menacing turn as the villain – whose preferred method of torture involves a rat, a bucket, and a blowtorch – is fun to watch as well.

The biggest disappointments of 2 Fast are its driving sequences, the worst of which are riddled with atrocious CGI.  Even the car-packed final chase is forgettable.  Still, 2 Fast is worth a watch for its colorful setting and gritty dialogue.  And let’s be honest: the stare-and-drive is just plain cool.

Zack’s thoughts:  Way worse than the first.  The dialogue got more cheesy, and it was way less complicated.  Pretty sequel-ish; I definitely missed Dom.  It felt like Point Break 2 without Swayze.

5.  Fast & Furious 6

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Fast & Furious 6 has the honor of being the first genuinely good movie in my ranking. The plot centers on the Fast Five crew’s attempt to stop a military chip from falling into the hands of a villain who will probably do something bad with it. Like Fast & Furious, the plot is irrelevant. Unlike Fast & Furious, it remains blessedly in the background, providing a framework on which to hang character interactions and vehicular set pieces.

Fast & Furious 6 is a well-oiled machine; its script, action sequences, and pacing are impressively directed by series veteran Justin Lin. But this efficiency comes with a downside: it leaves Fast & Furious 6 feeling overly mechanical at times. The familial heart at the center of 1, 5, and 7 is still present in this entry, but in a diminished capacity.

Regardless, Fast and Furious 6 is plenty of fun, and its ensemble cast and ridiculously entertaining action sequences make it an easy recommendation. This summer, you will believe that a Vin Diesel can fly.

In Part 2, I’ll be tackling the best movies of the series.  Stay tuned.

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