Once upon a time, in the far off year of 2001, there came a film called “The Fast and the Furious” that was a crappy little movie about street racers robbing trucks. It was a simple time. Six sequels later, these same characters have acquired martial arts training, developed the physical resilience of the Avengers, and have found a way for their cars to break the laws of physics itself. And then something weird happened: the serious became good.
Here we are with Vin Diesel returning to his star making turn as Dom Torreto (a name more absurd than the actor’s stage name) as he leads his team of Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, The Rock, and the late Paul Walker to fight the villain of the last movie’s big, bad brother, Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham). Shaw is a one-man, super spy, killing machine who’s out for blood against the Fast and Furious crew for putting his brother in a coma.
Of course Shaw is so much of a badass that he successfully kills Hahn (providing a different perspective on the character’s death in Tokyo Drift) and almost kills Toretto and his sister at the same time. Seeing his team being hunted by this ultra badass who can literally track them down anywhere on the face of the Earth, Toretto is approached by legendary actor, Kurt Russell, enjoying himself playing a super spy. Russell’s character tells Toretto of a device called the God’s Eye, a program letting the use find anyone in the world in a matter of minutes…including Shaw.
So they make a deal: get the God’s Eye for Kurt Russell’s spy organization and Toretto can use it to track Shaw down. Not like it matters, because as was already established, Shaw can track Toretto and his crew without any device and causes an untold amount of grief for them in their various insane and bizarre stunts.
As you can see, the story is naturally stupid. But you knew that, so what makes this film fun as opposed to say the Transformers bullshit we put up year after year? We’re here to get our character building on. The strength of the series has never been the writing, but rather the chemistry and relationships between these varied multicultural thieves with hearts of gold. From film to film, the witty banter between Dom, Tej, Letty, Brian, Roman, Hobbs, and newcomer, Ramsey (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) has only increased with fleshed out character arcs.
Yeah that’s right, I’m praising the Fast and Furious movies for doing something pretty much every bloated, depressing, and nonsensical YA adaptation has completely failed to do: give me a reason to give a shit. That’s really all you need to keep an audience invested in a movie series no matter what out-of-field crap you pull (like having Iggy Izalea make a cameo appearance I mean Jebas Freaking Christmas).
Or more peculiarly, having your characters suplex physics, break it’s spine, then use it to play jump-rope. The big draw for the movie involves stunts where cars are parachuting and a car hops from skyscraper to skyscraper for God’s sake. And as loud and insane as these stunts are, I was laughing hard at the ridiculousness of it…but I was still having tons of fun. The Fast and Furious series has dropped any pretense of reality and designates drivers of souped-up super cars as super heroes who can literally break freaking concrete with a foot stomp (not a joke).
But as silly as the action gets, the humor never lets up either. And it help that some actors spout their one-liner with such deadpan bravado to really sell you action heroes that looked ripped out from classic 80s films. And maybe that’s why audiences (myself included) dig these movies: they’re pretty much successors to the B-Movies Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Norris would make back in their heydays.
Only this series has been amped up with the marvels of modern filmmaking, new stunt choreography, and the diverse cast. I seriously can’t stress enough that the cast is what really sells this movie. I mean how many times this year alone will you a set of protagonists and only one of them is white…and sadly no longer with us.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Paul Walker. Having died midway through shooting (in a crash, no less), several scenes in the film feature his brothers basically wearing a computer-generated mask of the departed actor. I admittedly was a bit more conscious of several scenes with Walker remaining curiously silent in the background while his costars bantered. Nonetheless, the computer-generated mask worked astonishingly well, that I had to look really hard to see if it wouldn’t work but was happily proven wrong.
But the end of the film, neatly wraps up Paul Walker’s character’s story in a surprisingly touching way. I wouldn’t even go as far as to say I started getting misty-eyed at the treatment he was given. It was sappy and cheesy as hell…but for a series that reveled in absurdity and cheesy one-liners, it felt “right.” It felt wonderful, and you even buy Vin Diesel in his constant deep-grizzled-macho-whisper lamenting the loss of his “brother.”
For all the constant references that this series has made to these characters being a “family,” despite coming from different backgrounds and races, you feel that they are. After 15 years of watching these characters grow, it’s hard not to get attached to them. And it’s even harder not to feel the loss when real-life gets in the way.
This film was a ton of fun, and capped off with such a lovely ending that it’s hard for me not to recommend to people. If you followed this band of misfits over the years, you’ll get a kick out of it. If you haven’t…well, you can start with the first, skip to the fourth and watch on from there (3 is worthless and 2 is only entertaining if you envision Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson as lovers…roll with it). So the only rating I can give is a very enthusiastic…
P.S.: Thanks for the memories, Paul