A Definitive Guide to the Fast and Furious Movies, Part 2

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We’ve finally arrived at the cream of the Fast and Furious crop.  I think each of these next four movies is exceptional, and deciding their order was a real challenge.

4.  Furious 7

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Furious 7 improves on its predecessor across the board.  The plot has to do with the crew working freelance for a shady government agency, all the while dodging a criminal who wants to kill them for putting his brother in a coma.  Said criminal is played by a perfectly cast Jason Statham.  Additions to the cast like Statham and Kurt Russell as the agency’s head show a real desire to keep the series fresh after all these years.

And if you thought things couldn’t get any crazier than the extended runway chase at the end of 6, think again.  Furious 7 ups the ante with parachuting cars, an elaborate mountainside chase, and cars jumping between skyscrapers.  The movie is worth it for the giddiness inspired by these scenes alone.

Furious 7 is also the series’ most moving entry.  Brian’s struggle to adjust to family life is an intimate storyline that counterbalances the movie’s larger-than-life spectacle, and allows for some well-placed scenes of him and Dom discussing the inevitable end of their adrenaline-fueled lifestyle.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Furious 7 without mentioning the tragic death of Paul Walker, which necessitated changes to the storyline and filming process.  Thankfully, his exit is handled with sensitivity, culminating in an ending sequence that’s nothing short of heartbreaking.  Think you’ll make it without crying?  Forget about it, cuh.

3.  The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

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Now we come to the most divisive and hotly debated film of the franchise.  Tokyo Drift is a classic to some and a punch line to others.  I am unabashedly in the first group.

Tokyo Drift eschews any connection with the first two movies, focusing instead on an entirely new set of characters.  Our hero is Sean Boswell, a Southern teen who’s sent to live with his father in Japan after getting in trouble for a race-related crime (no, not that kind of race-related crime).  Soon after his arrival, he falls in with a group of kids who spend their nights drifting – a specialized form of street-racing.

Make no mistake: Tokyo Drift is a ridiculous movie.  It features a protagonist who makes Larry the Cable Guy seem subtle, a villain named DK (short for “drift king,” of course), and Lil’ Bow Wow as the second male lead.  But the movie knows it’s ridiculous, and invites the audience to laugh along with it.

Tokyo Drift provides a welcome change in scenery from its predecessor in more ways than one.  Tokyo is a fresh, exotic setting, and its neon-drenched streets are photographed beautifully.  Then there’s the drifting itself.  For my money, Tokyo Drift boasts the best racing sequences in the Fast and Furious series.  Watching cars tear down a desert straightaway or through the streets of L.A. can get old after a few movies.  But there’s something deeply satisfying about watching cars slide around turns with fluid ease, and director Justin Lin takes complete advantage of this fact.

In the end, Tokyo Drift is like its hillbilly hero: as ludicrous as it is fun to watch.

Zack’s thoughts:  A decent ending obscures a generally bad movie.  The lead actor is brutal, as is the lead villain.  Han’s decent.  I really miss Dom.  Not a good movie, very cringe-y.  The best part was when they mocked the lead character’s accent.

2.  Fast Five

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The second movie of what I’d call “the new series” (starting with Fast & Furious) is also the best.  It begins with Dom, Brian, and Mia on the run in Brazil, and ends with the gang plotting to steal millions from a corrupt Rio businessman.  Five also marks the introduction of Luke Hobbs (played by Dwayne Johnson), an ultra-macho government agent tasked with taking down our heroes.

Though Fast Five does take a while to get going, once it does, it refuses to let up.  Johnson is a welcome addition to the cast, his character an antagonist but not a bad guy.  The action sequences are excellently paced and provide plenty of variety: in addition to the expected car stunts, we’re treated to a favela foot chase, high-octane shootouts, and a brutally satisfying fight between Johnson and Diesel.

The highlight of Fast Five’s story is its heist subplot.  We’ve seen the franchise take on Point Break and The Karate Kid, so why not Ocean’s 11?  Any Fast and Furious fan will find it hard not to get excited once the job’s crew is introduced: a veritable supergroup of series-spanning characters including Roman, Tej, and Han.  This onscreen family makes Fast Five the reunion movie its predecessor should have been.

Fast Five is entertaining the whole way through, but its last half hour, in which the crew sets the heist in motion, is a series high-note.  The final chase through the streets of Rio may not be the largest of the franchise’s climactic set pieces, but it remains the best for its sheer inventiveness and kinetic energy.

Fast Five reminds us that a key source of the series’ staying power is its characters: that unconditionally loyal ragtag group of racers, who we’ve come to know over seven movies and fourteen years.  We want nothing more than to see them succeed, and the ending montage of their various victory celebrations, set to Don Omar’s infectious “Danza Kuduro,” is a moment of pure joy for Dom’s team and series fans alike.

Zack’s thoughts: Rio is a very good locale; it’s fun to see the gang together.  It’s pretty far gone from 1, but it was a fun ride.

1.  The Fast and the Furious

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The one that started it all.  Choosing between this and Fast Five for the number one spot wasn’t easy, but when it’s all said and done, I’ve got to give the edge to the original.

The Fast and the Furious tells the story of Brian O’Conner, an FBI agent tasked with infiltrating a street racing crew suspected of hijacking trucks.  It’s Point Break with cars, and it lives up admirably to that 90s classic.  And just as in Point Break, our undercover hero finds himself getting too close for comfort with the suspected criminal mastermind, in this case an ex-con named Dominic Toretto, who puts family above all else and preaches the gospel of street racing.

Though the plot is nothing new, The Fast and the Furious so excels in its execution that it succeeds on its own terms.  Like Brian, we’re drawn in by Dom’s brotherly charisma and the seductive pull of the high-speed life; our knowledge of the choice he’ll have to make keeps us riveted.  The Fast and the Furious is the only true stand-alone film in the series, and its story is the best by a quarter mile.

Thankfully, Fast has aged gracefully.  It’s endlessly quotable and entertaining from start to finish, with none of the lag that comes with the other entries’ beefier running times.  The racing sequences are not the series’ best, but they work thanks to their use of real cars over CGI, as well as a plausibility that the sequels would later throw out the window.  But the heart of the movie is the relationship between Dom and Brian, a bromance that burns with the flames of a thousand NOS engines.

Though the series has come a long way since its modest first entry, its simple premise and fresh-faced leads remain unequaled.  It’s a classic of the 2000s and a hell of a good time, as enjoyable for new viewers as it is for series veterans.  So call up the homies, crack open some Coronas, and enjoy.

Zack’s thoughts:  I don’t know why people bag on it; it completely delivered on the premise.  It didn’t have the lulls that other action movies go through.  Is the acting Oscar-worthy?  No.  But it left me entirely satisfied.

Well, that’s it for my ranking, hope you enjoyed it.  I might write another one of these for a different series, though it’ll probably have fewer movies than this one.

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