Fast and Furious franchise

REVIEW: The Fate of the Furious (2017)

My original review of The Fate and the Furious from when it was first released is here.

When Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) turns his back on his family and starts to work with mysterious cybercriminal Cipher (Charlize Theron), his family must team up with old foes in order to stop him before it’s too late.

Like the films that came before it, The Fate of the Furious really does make everything bigger and more ridiculous. The laws of physics and logic go completely out the window but if you are happy to see a bunch of unbelievable stunts with cars then The Fate of the Furious is a lot of fun.

There are some serious moments though in The Fate of the Furious, especially once you learn the reason why Dom has turned on his family. This does lead to some emotional moments though it does also lead to a character we’ve met before getting the rough end of the stick. It would have been nice if the film had found a way around that obstacle that wasn’t so common and unfortunate.

Jason Statham returns as Deckard Shaw but this time he’s forced to work with the people he tried to kill the last time they met. He presents a bit of a wildcard element in the team dynamic we’ve become accustomed to over the past few films. Statham’s banter with Dwayne Johnson (who plays Agent Luke Hobbs) is always fun and Statham almost manages to steal the whole film in one of the final action sequences.

With Dom being on the opposite side to his family, it gives Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) more of a lead role than she’s ever had before. She keeps the family together, leading the team and never losing faith in Dom. Rodriguez gives a great performance and, While Diesel certainly has his moments, she is really the heart of the film.

I have to mention the score composed by Brian Tyler. He has composed all but three of the Fast & Furious films and perhaps it’s because I’ve watched them so close together, but you notice that these films, and this team of characters has a theme. It’s something that’s noticeable in all of the big scenes, the heist in Fast Five for instance, and the finale of The Fate of the Furious as the team races across the ice. It really helps add to these films sense of identity and gives you an extra shot of adrenalin as when you hear it, you know something big is about to happen.

The Fate of the Furious is over-the-top but the cast and crew fully commit to the stunts that defy the laws of physics and that just makes it all the more fun and entertaining. 4/5.

REVIEW: Furious 7 (2015)

My original review of Furious 7 is here.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks to destroy Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their family in revenge for what happened to his brother in London. As he starts to pick them off one by one, Dom is approached by secret government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) who wants them to rescue a kidnapped hacker and in return will help them find Shaw before he finds them.

Furious 7 takes the action and the fights up to a whole new level for this franchise. Everything that is shown in the trailer – cars flying out of airplanes, Brian running across the top of a bus that’s falling off of a cliff, a car jumping between two skyscrapers – it’s all just a taste of the over-the-top yet thrilling spectacle that this film has to offer. Everything in Furious 7 is bigger and bolder, from the international locations to the stunts, but it never loses what is at the heart of this franchise – these characters and the fact they are indeed a family.

There’s a lot happening in Furious 7 in terms of villains and plot threads. While Shaw is set up as the main antagonist to begin with, there’s also terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) who is after the kidnapped hacker and their tech for the team to contend with. Luckily, the film speeds along and it has a good balance with these villains and the different obstacles Dom and his family have to face.

That is probably the best way to describe Furious 7; it knows what it is (almost ridiculous but always entertaining) and how to make all of its parts come together cohesively. There are the fights – the one between Shaw and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is brilliant – the car chases, the jokes, and the emotional character dynamics. Furious 7 never lets its foot off the gas but at the same time, you never feel like you’re missing anything.

Furious 7 is action-packed and it has a lot of emotional weight to it. It is the most perfect and respectful send of to Paul Walker and it wraps up Brian’s story so well. In lesser hands the sequence with flashbacks of Brian in the various films across the years could’ve felt cheesy. But here, it fits with the tone perfectly and it ends up being a wonderful tribute to Paul Walker and his time in this franchise. Honestly, the ending of Furious 7 leaves me speechless (and in tears) because it is handled so well. 5/5.

REVIEW: Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) needs help taking down a team of precision drivers led by criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), he turns to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their team. Following the revelation that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still alive and working with Shaw, Dom and his family will do anything to get her back.

There are high-octane thrills in Fast & Furious 6 with car chases around London (though it never really uses the city to it’s full potential and nearly everything there takes place at night), a tank causing chaos on a motorway in Spain, and a sequence where the team take on a plane.

There are also some brutal fist fights too as Rodriguez’s Letty takes on Gina Carano’s Riley (Hobbs’ right-hand woman) on the London Underground. It is amusing how their brutal and efficient fight is juxtaposed with Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Han’s (Sung Kang) unsuccessful fight against another one of Shaw’s team.

Though Letty is back she has amnesia so seeing her slowly reconnect with Dom and figure out who she is and where she fits in with this group of people who seems to know her is interesting. Rodriguez and Diesel still have a tonne of chemistry even if Letty isn’t the person Dom used to know. Also, credit to the writer as the Fast and Furious franchise really is getting better in its representation of and attitudes towards women. Elena (Elsa Pataky) and Dom had gotten together by the end of Fast Five and how she lets Dom go, and Letty’s reaction to her, is very mature on all sides.

There’s a whole subplot in Fast & Furious 6 that feels out of place. It involved Brian having to leave the team in order to investigate Shaw’s criminal connections and I achieves nothing in terms of furthering the plot. However, it is more of a character study as Brian attempts to atone for his part in Letty’s “demise” and her current situation.

As the series has grown and the team/family of heroes has expanded, it does mean that the villains don’t get much development. Evans tries his best to be a different kind of menacing to the ones Dom and his crew have encountered before, but it doesn’t really hold up bar one scene where he and Diesel have a standoff. Roman makes a comment that Shaw’s crew is like their evil twins but that’s all down to appearances rather than their skills or personalities as you never really get to know any of them.

Fast & Furious 6 is still fun and has bigger stunts than before, though it does have a somewhat convoluted plot. The emphasis is still on family though and on the whole the emotional beats land which is what you really want from this franchise. 3/5.

REVIEW: Fast Five (2011)

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) along with his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster and friend and former-FBI Agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are on the run and backed into a corner. After they cross paths with a powerful Brazilian drug lord in Rio, they call in old friends to pull off one last job to buy their freedom. But all the while federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is on their tail.

Following on from Fast & Furious, Fast Five continues the trend of stepping away from its street racing roots becoming a heist film and it’s all the better for it. It still has some great car racing action, but a lot of it either pushes forward the plot or is a nice character moment. It has all the usual heist tropes, but they come together with characters you’ve seen across the previous four films means which makes them extra fun and enjoyable.

Moulding characters into the roles of heist archetypes like the techy (Ludacris’s Tej), the quick talker (Tyrese Gibson’s Roman), and the social chameleon (Sung Kang’s Han) is handled really well and it feels like an extension of the characters we’ve already meant rather than a complete reinvention.

Having all these characters come together and become friends, some of which previously knew Dom before while some only knew Brian, fully cements the key theme of this franchise – family. It’s a theme that had been there from the start but really, it’s once this cast of actors and characters are finally together that you properly start to connect with that message.

Dwayne Johnson is a brilliant addition to the cast and he is a formidable foe for Walker’s Brian and Diesel’s Dom. Really, Hobbs is a combination of the two of them; he has the knowledge of the legal system of Brian, the physical strength of Dom, and is just as loyal to his team as the two of them are to their own family.

The action spectacle of Fast Five is top-notch too. There are foot chases through a favela, an opening set piece with a heist on a train, brutal fistfights, and then there’s the climax which sees a lot of destruction on the streets of Rio. All the action sequences are exciting, well-shot and easy to follow and above all, they are really fun.

Fast Five is a thrill ride from start to finish. The false starts, and not so great films that came before it, can be forgiven because this one is a fantastic blend of action, intrigue, fun and above all – likeable characters that are one big family. Fast Five really set the bar for what the rest of the franchise could be. 5/5.

REVIEW: Fast & Furious (2009)

When reinstated FBI Agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) crosses paths with fugitive Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) in Los Angeles, they reluctantly put aside past differences to take down a common enemy, a drug lord known only as Braga.

Fast & Furious sees the main four characters from the first film; Dom, Brian, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) return and work together. It is great to see these characters again and the cast still has great chemistry, however the story lets them down. The script is dull, the action sequences are, for the most part, uninspired, and there’s more brooding than fun.

In hindsight, Fast & Furious lays the character groundwork for future and better films in the franchise. But that doesn’t make Fast & Furious an enjoyable film to watch. There’s the odd good moment, like when Mia says to Brian; “Maybe you’re not the good guy pretending to be the bad guy. Maybe you’re the bad guy pretending to be the good guy.” But these few interesting character moments are hard to come by.

Fast & Furious is a lot more serious than its predecessors and losing that sense of fun makes the film, and the story, a lot more generic. There’s less straight out car races in Fast & Furious but more action sequences like shootouts and foot chases, though unfortunately the only exciting sequence is the one the film opens with. The opening and first act of the movie are the most interesting as it sets up these characters we already know and it’s exciting to see where they are going. Regrettably, once you know that, the plot is very predictable, and the film loses almost all momentum.

While it’s good to have Brian and Dom back together, there’s not enough thrills nor a compelling story to make Fast & Furious stand out in either the franchise, or as an action film. To be honest, the biggest problem of Fast & Furious is that two of the main action sequences, including the finale, are set in a poorly lit tunnel where choppy editing makes things hard to follow. There’s nothing thrilling about it. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

After getting caught street racing one too many times, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) has to move to Tokyo to stay with his father to avoid a jail sentence in America. There he meets Han (Sung Kang) who becomes Sean’s mentor and coaches him into becoming a major competitor in the world of drift racing.

Besides a cameo at the end, and the whole messed up timeline thing future films cause because of Han, Tokyo Drift is a film that can very much stand on its own in the franchise. It has new characters, a new setting, and a whole new style of racing not seen before in the franchise.

Having the racing style be drifting rather than a 10 second drag race, means the race and chases have a whole new feel compared to the previous films. Cars drive around like they’re on a slalom ski slope rather than the busy streets of Tokyo. The way the races are shot, along with a score that’s not so heavy on the techno beats, leads to some thrilling moments.

Considering how far this franchise of films goes in terms of having more female characters, and often ones that are just as capable and as layered as their male counterparts, it’s jarring to see in the opening five minutes of Tokyo Drift a teenage girl offering herself up as the prize for two young men to race for. It does leave a bad taste in your mouth and while there continues to be scantily clad girls, when a new female character is introduced in Neela (Nathalie Kelley) it is slowly revealed she’s not just a pretty face and has the most interesting backstory in the film.

Sean isn’t the most interesting of leads, and Black’s performance is not that great either (the guy doesn’t really know how to emote) but luckily Sean is surrounded by more interesting characters and actors who do better at delivering clichés-filled lines of dialogue than Black. Han is cool, calm and collected and is the kind of person who stays in the background to observe people. He forms a bond with Sean but that doesn’t stop him working with D.K. (Brian Tee), a young man connected to the Yakuza. It’s Black’s scenes with Kang and Kelley that make Sean feel more than a stand in for the audience as you get glimpses of what can almost be classed as chemistry between them.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift makes great use of the Tokyo cityscape, making night-time races look slick and the colours of the city lights, and the bright cars, pop. The first half of Tokyo Drift is a bit slow, but the second half is a thrill ride as things come to ahead between characters and stakes get higher. Tokyo Drift is a bit like the black sheep in the Fast and Furious family, and it’s one that has more resonance after the events of Fast & Furious 6/Furious 7, but it is still a good time. 3/5.

REVIEW: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

After getting busted for street racing, disgraced former cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is enlisted to bust dangerous criminal Carter Verone (Cole Hauser). Brian recruits his childhood friend and fellow street racer Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) to bring down Verone, and in the process earn their freedom.

2 Fast 2 Furious is the first film in the franchise without Vin Diesel and instead there’s the chemistry between Walker and Gibson that sees you through this film. Maybe Paul Walker just had natural charm and chemistry with everyone? Having Roman be a childhood friend of Brian’s means you get a bit more of his backstory, and as the two of them have known each other for so long, there’s easy camaraderie with each of them calling the other out on their antics when needed. The filmmakers did well not to try and replicate the Brian and Dom dynamic, and instead created a very different foil for Brain in Roman. Roman is loud, brash and kinda ridiculous but he’s a guy with a heart of gold under all that bluster and Gibson and Walker make the not-great bantering dialogue work.

Helping Brian and Roman on their mission is undercover agent Monica Fuentes (an underused Eva Mendes). She’s undercover working for Verone and the moments where the danger is truly apparent for her, Brian and Roman, you can see her calm façade start to crack. Other characters who help out Brian are his friends; garage owner Tej (Ludacris) and racer Suki (Devon Aoki). Suki is a character I’d love to make an appearance in another Fast & Furious film, she’s so cool, a great driver and says so much with just a look.

2 Fast 2 Furious has some good car chases but it’s a car decoy scene in the final act that really steals the show. It’s inventive and touches on the set pieces full of characters coming together, both minor ones and main ones, to help solve a problem that become more frequent in future films in the series.

2 Fast 2 Furious is fun, fast-paced and the car chases are sharper than those in the previous film. It sets up a great new character dynamic, and the sometimes-cheesy dialogue can be forgiven as it really is a fun film that’s perhaps more joyful than the first one as it refuses to take itself seriously. 3/5.