The Blockbuster Franchise That Matters To Me

I have purchased literally thousands of comics and couldn’t care less about cars. Yet, here I am in my life unequivocally and unashamedly more excited for the next Fast & Furious film than I am the new Avengers movie.

This wasn’t supposed to be the case. I used to roll my eyes whenever Diesel, Walker and the rest of the Family roared back into theatres with their macho nonsense. In the winter of 2002 I caught up with The Fast and the Furious, the first of the now seven-part series, when my friends Charlie and Andrew brought it over. They thought it was pretty fun. I mocked it early and often.

This would be the case for eight years. 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift and the oddly titled fourth installment Fast & Furious were released and I ended up seeing them all, but never garnering any significant interest. I appreciated the difficulty of the stun-work and the like, but that’s about the same as pointing out the quality cinematography in a Michael Bay picture. Then Fast Five came out in 2010 and it all changed in a hurry.

I feel I can pinpoint the exact moment I became a believer. At roughly 30 minutes into Fast Five, Vin Diesel’s Dominic and Paul Walker’s Brian jump off their speeding car to a river far below; really far. As the two guys hang in the air, hundreds of yards above the water below them, it was utter ridiculousness. The Fast films had over-the-top moments before, including driving under a flaming semi that was flipping down the road. This time, it seemed to be part of a new ethos. The movie was still macho, but it was knowing too. Fast Five isn’t a satire by any means or a winking affair. It did seem to finally acknowledge its greatest strengths and weaknesses.

The series shed its posturing as a narrative with any type of edge and embraced a PG-13 warmth that, in theory, should be a death-knell. It’s one of the many mysteries of these movies. Just as its strange that a fifth outing is its best, becoming –relatively – more family-friendly, Fast got better. Plots no longer centered on undercover work with drug-dealers or criminals, ending in a car chase down the highway. Narratives now featured a rich ensemble of characters working together, using giant vaults as a weapon, battling tanks or using their powers combined to bring down a jumbo-jet. No longer hampered by its limited audience, the budget grew and the insanity did too, all with director Justin Lin constructing each set-piece like a mad-wizard.

That ensemble element is vital to my embracing of all things Fast. Where early installments relied relied on the acting range of the late Paul Walker, Fast Five and its sequel Fast & Furious 6 used him as the straight-man for a cast of kooks and toughs. Walker’s Brian became the nicest guy in the room, easily ragged on for this trait, though nevertheless reliable. The films no longer had to find their footing in Walker and Diesel shouting at one another, as we had the various characters introduced in other movies rounding out the crew, each with their own particular appeal.

Additionally, where many Hollywood blockbusters fail to have a single prominent minority or woman, Fast boasts a plethora. We aren’t getting the token black guy or tough chick. That sixth film has Michelle Rodriguez duking it out with Gina Carano, with Gail Gadot getting to shine in her own scenes. Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang get to hang together here, Ludacris and The Rock bantering there. None of this is forced; it’s a naturally diverse cinematic world that doesn’t waste time with world-building.

Which is odd, because these newer entries are so strong that it has turned me into a fan of the films I previously didn’t care for. I’m not in love with the initial four films by any means. I can sit with them and smile over the gags that end up playing out years later. It’s like 2 Fast 2 Furious is suddenly interesting because I appreciate how Walker and Tyrese’s bond develops, even if the movie itself still only works in fits and spurts.

So here I am, counting the day until Furious 7. Cars are about to parachute from the skies above. Statham is about to get into fisticuffs with Diesel. The Rock is going to be doused in body-oil. Crazy shit is going to occur. I can’t wait.

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