19 December 2013

Undisputed: The Fastest, Most Furious Franchise

There's a good amount of Fast and Furious talk as of late, whether it be from the tragic death of Paul Walker, its sixth's installment's recent release on Blu Ray, or a constant stream of play of the first four films on TNT. I am regularly astounded by this movie series' existence, and transition from a knuckleheaded joke to barely above a direct-to-DVD release status to a global phenomenon, the cream of the crop of Summer Blockbusters. What the hell?

The Fast and the Furious (2001) remains that indelible part of Vin Diesel's early century oeuvre, right along with Pitch Black (2000) and xXx (2002), these sort of "extreme" takes for the X Games generation. It was an extreme time, dude. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) was treated nearly as an uncanon sequel, and still enjoys that status, save for its introductions of Tej Parker (Ludacris) and Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). While the first film had a pretty cool undercover street racing cop running with bad dudes that turned out to be antiheros-angle, the second is basically a buddy cop movie with cars.
Tokyo Drift also featured the best music, largely thanks to "My Life Be Like"

By The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), no one gave a shit. Seven years on, though, it could very well be considered the best film in the whole franchise, or at least the most interesting from a narrative standpoint. You surely know by now, but the chronological order of the films is 1-2-4-5-6-3-7. It's fairly well documented through commentary tracks and interviews that director and writer Justin Lin didn't really plan on anything else after Tokyo Drift. Looking back on it, though, their tie-ins are brilliant.

First, Diesel's appearance at the end of the movie validates Tokyo Drift tremendously within the franchise. When he says he "rode with Han," you don't really know what that means. What's astounding is that they crafted three more films to demonstrate that period. In particular, re-watching Tokyo Drift, there's an interesting little monologue as Han Seoul-Oh (still the greatest name in this franchise, period) talks to Sean Boswell (still the worst name in this franchise, played by Lucas Black). The whole vid is here, but let's look at a few lines:

Sean: "So how'd you end up over here, anyway?"
Han:"You know those old Westerns where the cowboys make a run for the border? This is my Mexico."
Sean:"Why'd you let me race with your car? You knew I was going to wreck it."
Han: "Why not?"
Sean: "Cause it's a lot of money!"
Han: "I have money. It's trust and character I need around me. Who you choose to be around you lets you know who you are. One car in exchange for knowing what a man's made of? That's a price I can live with."

All of Han's lines here directly relate to Fasts 4 - 6. He's running both because of the pursuit of Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and because of (SPOILER) his disillusionment after Gisele (Gal Gadot)'s death in Furious 6 (2013). He has money from the haul in Fast Five (2011). His final words about trust and character are references to "The Family" that Diesel formed, the tight brotherhood of trust between the heist gang.

More than Han's foreshadowing (or callbacks to past events that happened in their world that we didn't know about yet), Tokyo Drift was also made much more compelling thanks to the ending of Furious 6, where we find out that Han's death was no accident. The Mercedes that crashed into him while running from Takashi was fucking Jason Statham, the brother of the dude Han helped kill in Furious 6 (Owen Shaw). See, from a narrative standpoint, what happened (retcon, of course), is that another movie's plot is literally crashing into this movie and killing characters.

While Han's death is a big deal in Tokyo Drift, it's a holdover from Furious 6. Tokyo Drift is otherwise very insular. There's racing, but not really the good cop / dirty cop elements that Brian O'Connor pumps into literally each of the other five movies. It's basically a straight forward story until this big moment. Therefore, the events of a film made seven years later directly intersects and interferes with this movie, while also setting up the seventh installment. It may be sort of forced and hackneyed after the fact, but I can't think of another franchise that would be so bold.

And that's part of what makes Fast special. It has nothing to lose. What? It's going to make a movie more coldly received than Tokyo Drift was when it first came out? Screw you, they'll make that the most integral cornerstone of their franchise. With Paul Walker's passing the franchise's future is in jeopardy, though. His role has been diminished enough that it can be successful without him (he really didn't do anything important in Furious 6), but would it really be right?
Finally the dream pairing of Wonder Woman and Han Solo

Sometime in the period between 2006 and 2009 I think everyone in the world caught up with these characters and some kind of love grew for them. In many ways you could even consider Fast Five to be the predecessor to The Avengers (2012) - it's a big team-up movie! Take the most popular characters introduced at various points in the previous four films and mash them together - with no source material or imbecilic fanboys to appease, Justin Lin was also free to make whatever the hell he wanted. By moving away from a dirty street racing flick into more of a global thriller / caper movie, it also opened the audience up a ton. By the time Furious 6 comes around, all you have to introduce is a tank, a plane, and a couple huge guys headbutting each other and that's one of the biggest movies of the year. Boom.

I'm not sure where this franchise can go. Especially whether or not Paul "Angel" Walker or Dwayne "Hercules" Johnson get many scenes in Fasterest + Furiousest 7 (2014). Its redemption, handling of Han, purposeful or not foreshadowing and growth of prestige among franchises is unparalleled. Forget superheros, all I need is Vin Diesel blasting his way across bridges and awkwardly hosting cookouts. Seriously though, you know on some level he thought he was going to pull of going out with both Letty and that Brazilian chick at the same time. You can kind of see that look of disappointment on his face when he realizes he's not going to get to do both of them. Poor guy.

I would buy Furious 6 on Blu Ray now - I mean, what better Christmas present is there ever? We can all still mourn Paul Walker, in a month where we lost Nelson Mandela and Peter O'Toole, he's the most important. I'm still waiting to see Neela, Bow Wow, Buffalo Bill, that Black Guy who gave them missions in 2 Fast, Suki, and Ja Rule to appear in Furious 7. A Man can dream.

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