“I don’t have friends, I got family.” With those words, Domenic Toretto establishes an ethos that defines the Fast and the Furious Cinematic Universe or F&FCU. While it lacks the long reach of the Star Wars Canon or the budgets of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I will argue in this post that the F&FCU is actually the superior cinematic universe. While this might sound like a flypaper take designed to trap irate Doctor Strange fans, it’s something I honestly believe. Also, none of this matters, so let’s have some fun.
While the MCU now covers more than 30 films and (maybe) various television shows, the F&FCU is a relatively small ten films with one spinoff (Hobbs & Shaw) and two short films. You could watch all of this in a a long weekend with friends if wanted to as opposed to, say, everything in the modern Star Wars Canon.
I’m not only going to tell you why you should watch these films, stick around for an argument for the order I’d watch the films in if you find my points persuasive. I’m also going to add one film to the F&FCU that most people don’t think of as a Fast And Furious film but, in many ways, also captures one of the strengths of the series.
Crack open a Corona, we’re doing this.
The Fast And Furious Movies Are Extremely Movies, Which Makes Them Extremely Fun
People get upset when you talk about the MCU or the various Star Wars projects because, while there’s a shared storyline, they can be very different things. For example: people are super mad online at the moment that Jack Black showed up in The Mandalorian, since I guess every show needs to be Andor now (not everything needs to be Andor, even if Andor rules). How do you square Wanda Vision, Eternals, Ant Man, and Agents of Shield? You don’t. While they share a base of characters, each show or film is a reflection of the individual creators.
I find that when people have a disdain for the Fast And Furious movies it’s a general sense that the movies are dumb, vapid entertainment. This isn’t (entirely) true! I also find that most people have only maybe seen the first film or, perhaps, random clips of other movies on planes. One of the strengths of the MCU and parts of the Star Wars universe is that they’re designed to make you feel smarter/cooler by picking up small references to other films. There isn’t a lot of that in the F&FCU films, but they do have an overarching story and watching them randomly can cause you to miss the evolution of the characters and storylines.
Still, you can watch any F&FCU film and have fun because, at its heart, any Fast And The Furious film only takes itself so seriously. They are not deeply nourishing films and they don’t pretend to be. Most of the MCU and later Star Wars films are the same way, and yet there’s this huge pretension around them. I think this attitude does them a disservice and is largely not deserved (I’ll grant that Rogue One is worthy of the attention). Even my favorite MCU film, Thor: Ragnarok, is still an action movie meant primarily to provide about two hours of entertainment.
Every single Fast And Furious film is an enjoyable romp with amazing cameos (Helen Mirren!), wild cars, stellar practical stunts, occasionally inspired writing, and a consistent ideological message. The actors may take their parts seriously (ahem, Vin Diesel), but the movies are enjoyable because they never ask you to do anything other than enjoy them.
The F&FCU Presents A Remarkably Coherent Take On Diversity
Ok, they’re not serious films. This doesn’t mean they aren’t important. I’m not even the first to defend these movies. Critic Wesley Morris was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for writing about the F&FCU and won! You should read his essay on the topic, which centers around the idea that the F&FCU presents a truly post-racial universe in a way almost no other film series has:
Go on and laugh your Benetton, Kumbaya, Kashi, quinoa laugh, but it’s true: The most progressive force in Hollywood today is the “Fast and Furious” movies. They’re loud, ludicrous, and visually incoherent. They’re also the last bunch of movies you’d expect to see in the same sentence as “incredibly important.” But they are—if only because they feature race as a fact of life as opposed to a social problem or an occasion for self-congratulation. (And this doesn’t even account for the gay tension between the male leads, and the occasional crypto-lesbian make-out.)
The fifth installment, “Fast Five,” comes out Friday, and unlike most movies that feature actors of different races, the mixing is neither superficial nor topical. It has been increasingly thorough as the series goes on—and mostly unacknowledged.
It’s important that films address social issues and the role race plays in society, certainly, deserves frequent scrutiny. The F&FCU is loud about, well, everything, and yet does achieve something wonderful in the way it can feature an enormously diverse cast so quietly.
This extends beyond race to gender, as well, with no real distinctions being made between men and women with regards to their ability to:
- Drive cars fast
- Take punches
- Shoot guns
- Jump off of things
The four traits I just described are the most cherished in the F&FCU, of course, and, Michele Rodriguez’s Letty, arguably can take a punch better than Ludacris’s Tej. Gal Gadot’s Gisele can easily outshoot Tyrese’s Roman.
The Fast And Furious Films Have The Best Cameos
There’s a sort of winky, fourth-wall breaking aspect to a lot of cameos in a lot of series. The James Bond films are probably the worst at this (Oh, look, it’s Richard Branson), but the MCU does this with Stan Lee (funny the first six times!), and, for some reason every storm trooper in a Star Wars movie has to be someone famous. It’s a fine schtick, I guess, even if it tends to lose its punch over time.
Actors who pop up in the Fast And Furious films earn their damn paychecks.
Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody
Kurt Russell is cool. The sunglasses-wearing-secret-agent-boss is a huge trope in spy movies (which is what the later films become) and, yet, the CIA boss Mr. Nobody as played by Russell manages to subvert the expectations a touch with his laid back cool. Plus, he enjoys a nice Belgian beer. He shows up in Furious 7 and kinda never leaves, mostly because he’s extremely great.
Hellen Mirren as Magdalene “Queenie” Shaw
There’s a great The Onion bit about the five-year old screenwriter of the fifth Fast and Furious movie, with the implication being that all the movies are just VROOM VROOM and BIG EXPLOSION. That’s not completely wrong. Those are the two things promised in every F&FCU film. At the same time, the twists and turns are real. This is well represented by Hellen Mirren’s “Queenie,” the matriarch of a crime family that includes Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw and his supercharged siblings. Holy shit is she fantastic. There’s no phoning it in. Here’s a clip of her robbing a jewelry store opening and then running off in a damn Noble M600! Just the way she says “Dominic Tor-ehto” in her cockney accent is worth the price of admission.
Zachary Ty Bryan as the Jock Kid
Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is, in my opinion, the best sequel, and it doesn’t hurt that the older kid from Home Improvement plays a high school jerk. It’s extremely Friday Night Lights and it works extremely well as a prologue to a movie premised on the extremely southern Lucas Black moving to Japan and befriending Lil’ Bow Wow to race against the nephew of some yakuza. What a weird sentence.
Ronda Rousey as a Bodyguard
The Furious 7 fight between UFC champ Ronda Rousey and Michelle Rodriguez is an all-timer. It’s not an exactly difficult part for Rousey to play, but it’s still a lot of fun to watch. When she drawls out “You ain’t that charming bitch” it’s worth a real big laugh in the theater.
Other famous cameos include Minka Kelly, Iggy Azalea, Rita Ora (who?), and Keiichi Tsuchiya. Even Gina Carano shows up as someone you think is good but is actually terrible (what a shock…).
The Cars Are Exceptional
I think the series tends to be painted by the first film, which is the one I think almost everyone has seen. The cars in that film tend towards NOPI Nationals-era JDM (Supras, Civics, S2ks), with a healthy dose of American Muscle (SVT Lightning and Dodge Charger). While those types of cars continue to appear in later films, there’s a remarkably diverse set of vehicles across the series.
[Editor’s Note: Okay, I snuck in that one from here. Sorry, Matt. – JT]
Here’s a list of some random prominent cars: 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, Ford Escort MK1 RS1600, Jensen Interceptor, WRX STi GH, Alfa Romeo Giulietta 940, Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, Eagle Speedster, Ferrari FXX, 1972 Dodge Charger Daytona. Wait, they’re not random at all, those are the featured cars in just one film (Fast and Furious 6)!
Did I mention they shoot a Pontiac Fiero into space?
There are characters and there are characters. I’m talking about the Harry Lime of Orson Welles, the Mags Bennett of beloved character actress Margot Martindale, and the Harry Caul of Gene Hackman. I’ll add Han Lue (aka Han Seoul-Oh) of these films, portrayed sympathetically by Sung Kang, to this list. This isn’t to denigrate any of the other performances, but there is something special about Kang’s Han that makes the films rewarding to watch.
First of all, Kang is a legit and delightful car person. I’ve had the chance to talk cars with him on a couple of occasions and he’s inquisitive and warm. I highly recommend this write-up from Kristen Lee over at The Drive if you want to learn more about Kang.
He first shows up in a non-F&FCU film as Han in director Justin Lin’s excellent “Better Luck Tomorrow” as a petty criminal whose crimes start to spiral out of control. I’d argue, actually, that this is an F&FCU film as both Lin and Kang have both said it’s the same Han.
Han is the perfect foil to Vin Diesel’s Dom, who always seems to be carrying a classic Dodge Charger on his shoulders. Han, by comparison, is relaxed and approachable, constantly snacking on chips. His story arc with Gisele is also one of the more surprising and enjoyable subplots in any series.
Some Of The Writing/Directing Is Actually Good
I know this is going to be hard to believe, but the writing and directing in the film, while inconsistent, occasionally reaches pretty great heights. I mentioned Harry Lime on purpose, because there’s a great scene with Han in Tokyo Drift that’s kind of the ideological inverse of Lime’s similar speech in The Third Man. In fact, I wonder if that isn’t a reference?
I’d also argue, in Furious 7, the Paul Walker speech where he tries to explain his feelings about his quieter life as a dad by saying “I miss the bullets” is also excellent dialogue.
The directors are also quite good. There’s Justin Lin, who also directed all of your favorite episodes of Community. There’s the John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) and F. Gary Gray (Both Friday and the TLC “Waterfalls” video).
One of the places where I think the directing excels is in the balancing of practical and CGI stunts. Check out this chase:
There’s definitely some CGI in there, but you get a nice mix of both. It’s like this throughout the series, blending the real and the virtual.
There Are Exceptional Villains
There’s an argument to be made that the baddies are more fun than the do-gooders, though most of the characters in these films exist on a pretty wide continuum. It’s easy to forget antagonists like Mose Jakande (played by Djimon Hounsou) and Brixton Lore (played by Idris Elba) because they exist in the same universe as Sonny Chiba’s stellar Kamata (in Tokyo Drift), Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw, and freakin’ Academy Award winner Charlize Theron as Cipher.
Honestly, Charlize Theron and her crazy haircuts are worth of their own post at some point in the future.
They Aren’t Perfect But, Again, Who Cares
The MCU, especially post-Endgame, is just exhausting. Star Wars fans have mostly ruined Star Wars and are somehow more factionalized than the world the films created. The F&FCU is extremely flawed, in ways that are sometimes even worse than either of the other universes. For instance:
- A lot of people are probably dead as collateral damage, which is rarely remarked on.
- The series goes from B-movie crime spree to extreme/dark thriller to over-the-top spy movies too quickly, with little transition.
- While the stunts are fun to watch, they’re often comically unrealistic even by movie standards.
- Because of a weird charter issue, the actual release order of the films does not match the chronological order, which means you have to accept some huge anachronisms.
You know what the best part about any F&FCU film is? I ain’t gotta mute my tweets because I’m tired of people complaining about it. The weird ret-cons, the infinitely long runways, and 900-gear shifters are part of the silly universe and fans seem to be able to accept that without getting all bent out of shape.
How You Should Watch The Films
Fast X is coming out next month so now is as good a time as any to catch up on the films. Here’s the order I’d watch with a little explanation for what to expect when you watch them. This is watching them in the chronological order:
Better Luck Tomorrow – “Better Luck Tomorrow” only includes Han and, because Han is in high school, seems to pre-date the original “The Fast and the Furious.” If there’s one overarching message of the film series it’s not that you’ve got to help friends, it’s that you’re responsible for your actions and your actions will always find you. In this way, “BLT” is a fitting prequel.
The Fast And The Furious – This is the original and, probably, the best. This is where you learn who all the main characters are and you get the best tuna-related jokes.
Turbo-Charged Prelude – No, not that kind of Prelude. This short film tries to explain how we go from the Vin Diesel-led movie to a film where Ludacris, Tyrese and Paul Walker jet around Florida for Eva Mendes. It also has Minka Kelly in it. This was back when the films tried to make sense of things. You can watch the whole thing above.
2 Fast 2 Furious – Some would argue that this is the worst film in the franchise. I would not. It has a lot of silly car fun and you get Tyrese saying “Ejecto Seat Cuz” as well as the introduction of Ludacris and Tyrese (the Rosencrans and Guildenstern of the series).
Los Bandoleros – Here’s another weird one. You would think that Fast and Furious 3: Tokyo Drift would be the next film. It’s not. In the F&FCU universe you have to wait a while. Instead, you get this short film directed and written by Vin Diesel. A lot of it’s in Spanish and it sets up the events of Fast & Furious (the fourth film). I have terrible news for you: It’s kinda good. We also get introduced to Tego and Don Omaro.
Fast & Furious – This is where the films transition from fun crime films to darker and grittier. This is, in my opinion, the actual worst film in the series. It’s fine to watch and we get introduced to Gal Gadot’s Gisele. It is tonally off a little bit.
Fast Five – Great car chases. Bank vaults. And, of course, The Rock. The showdown between The Rock’s Agent Hobbs and Vin Diesel’s Toretto are legendary. We’re still in the gritty era and it is, I think, the best of those films.
Fast & Furious 6 (Up to the credit sequence) – Who names these things? Great cars. Great bad guy (Luke Evans). You have to pause before you get to the credits.
Tokyo Drift – This is no longer a controversial argument, but aside from the original film, Tokyo Drift has the most fun and heart in the entire series. It’s my favorite of the films, even if it’s not the best.
Fast & Furious 6 Credit Sequence – I guess it’s a huge spoiler to explain why you have to do this so I won’t, so just trust me. This is where we meet Jason Statham who is, like he is in everything, freakin’ great.
Furious 7 – The OG Statham movie and where we, sadly, have to say good by to Paul Walker’s character (RIP Paul Walker).
The Fate of the Furious – This is the first of the superhero/superspy film period and we get, as a reward, Charlize Theron as the perfect bad guy. Also Kurt Russell shows up.
Fast And Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw – More of Helen Mirren’s kids show up, which means more of Helen Mirren. Yippee!
F9 – Pushing the racial ambiguity of Vin Diesel and the series to the limit, we get John Cena as Dom’s long lost brother. We also get flying cars, Charlize Theron again, and more Helen Mirren. Also… Space Fiero.
Fast X – Coming to theaters next month with, and I’m not joking about this, Jason Momoa on a motorcycle, Brie Larson, and even Rita Moreno.
[Editor’s Note: I can’t sit through these fucking movies. I can’t not be exasperated by the way all the main characters seem to be able to take several pianos to the face without flinching or just accept it when they drive a Lykan Hypersport with shit brakes from one skyscraper to another through the air or not dry heave a little bit every time whatshisname says “fambly.”
I can’t just take scenes shot like this as fine:
… and now a shot-reverse-shot of characters standing shoulder-to-shoulder gazing in opposite directions. And that gives you unintentional forced-perspective.— Todd Vaziri (@tvaziri) April 1, 2021
In screen space, it looks like they're making eye contact, which is super-powerful to our brains. pic.twitter.com/KaiJr3F15b
But, what Matt has done is make me feel like a bit of a pompous asshole who should just relax and eat some fucking candy, sometimes, so in that sense, Matt, I think you’ve done your job here. Good work? – JT]
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Excuse me, a 1972 Dodge Charger Daytona? I don’t think so. The Daytona was 1969 only. That mistake is as disappointing as the fact that the script in Fast Five had the characters talking about the wheelbase of the GT40 they were stealing and driving off of the moving train and getting it wrong at 107 inches (see the Fast Five wiki), when in reality it’s only 95. I mean, it just takes you out of the suspension of disbelief that has not been otherwise lost from the fact that they’re driving it off a moving train at speed, just like I now have to doubt the whole foundation of the writer’s assembly of facts since he doesn’t know what year the Daytona was built.
It was already in the glass, not in the jar.
I just wish they’d make a movie more like the first one, based on real people, real cars, street racing, and just car culture in general. No need to have Ludacris be unexplicably a super hacker, no FBI, no building jumps… just people like you would find into cars in any place in the country, driving cars like you’d find in any part of the country. That would be great. Idk what the drama could be…. maybe just competing in autocross, or a drag strip? But like… fuck… if they made one grounded in real life it could be so awesome.
All three Movie franchises suck. F&F franchise sucks because they are terrible movies, with off the wall stunts and bad acting. Marvel and Star Wars both suck because Disney ruined them.
Yeah, Rogue One and Andor are the only ones I think are well done.
COUNTERPOINT: These films are terrible.
I’ll consider your argument. But, it is based on the assumption that Star Wars and Marvel are the best 2 competing “universes.” I would say the John Wick-i-verse is the best for its originality, commitment to action, a few sweet cars, and dogs. Who doesn’t like dogs.
Great write-up. Couldn’t agree more. These movies are for people who like to have stupid fun. If you take yourself seriously at all, the F&F series is not for you.
I’d argue 2F2F is the best movie in the franchise.
And Hobbs and Shaw is pretty much its own franchise with nothing to tie it in to the main movies.
Also: if I want to watch a car movie that makes sense, I’d just go watch Matt Damon be Carroll Shelby. That’s far more entertaining than any other car movie people suggest watching for “something that makes sense”.
Here’s a story about F&F, race, class, and lying.
I grew up in a poor Latino neighborhood in North Jersey where people hooked up old civics with sound systems that made your chest thump at the laundry. Stock was a bad word. We all dreamt of having a fingerprint like the loud exhaust pipes that buzzed around my neighborhood.
So when I saw the the first F&F movie I was already obsessed with cars. The movie felt like an extension of the fantasies being played out by people who lived around the block from me. I saw it with friends from my neighborhood. It was actually one the last times we would really hang out like that.
Fast forward a year and a half and it’s spring of my freshman year at private school I got a scholarship to. I’m in a circle with other newcomers, a white boy and and Indian boy, talking about cars. They’re talking about their family’s cars and what they expect to get when they can drive. I take the bus to school and my family owns 1 barely working Chevy Corsica that’s about the same age as me.
I decide to lie. I make up a story about being at street races with “my family” and enjoying the excitement as cars jumped off the line. I was describing this scene from the movie.
In retrospect, I don’t think they believed me.
Yeah but they did it with stolen parts. Just like the fast furious really should be premature ejaculation. These are equivalent of sandler movies.
Obligatory Patrick H Willems video on why the Fast franchise is great. Fun watch!
You were supposed to publish this on April 1st you fool! The first one wasn’t even good, it was Point Break with cars and Brian was no Johnny Utah.
I watched the first 6 just because I had plenty of free time and could waste it watching bad movies but now that my time is more limited there is no way in hell I’m committing any more viewing time to this franchise. I can’t believe they’re up to 10 movies now. I guess it’s only a matter of time before we get a F&F/Expendables crossover since both franchises continue even though I have no idea why.
I adore really stupid movies. Vapid action escapism nurses me in times of stress. Maximum Overdrive, The Running Man, etc, I’m totally down with. One of my most prized movie possessions is Wild Zero, where a Japanese punk band saves the world from a zombie invasion with the power of their rock and roll (and flinging guitar picks and bifurcating a UFO with the neck of a guitar). After hearing for years that these movies were dumb fun, I really tried… I tried two of them (I can’t remember which ones) and whoo boy, I just couldn’t. I don’t think it was possible for me to find the right balance of sincerity and irony to enjoy them.
I like all three universes.
I went to art school and like wine and beautiful cars, but I guess I’ll try and give F&FCU a shot then. Thanks for explaining all this to someone like me (thumbs up emoji)
You really have to turn off your brain during these movies. They are really entertaining, but if you go into this franchise expecting great dialogue, amazing storytelling… you will be disappointed. However if you see the movies for what they are, you will enjoy them. The only one that I didn’t like was the 9th one. It feels like it really jumped the shark, in a franchise full of shark jumping.
To help relate to your fondness of wine, these movies are the MD20/20, Night Train, 4LOKOs, Wild Irish Rose of the film world: you know you shouldn’t partake because they suck, you partake anyway (and maybe enjoy the ride while its happening), and then you regret that decision when its over. Afterwards you vow to never go thru that again, a new movie in the series comes out and against your better judgement you do it again.
Well said, Matt! I agree, what’s the difference between the spectacle of some car jumping between skyscrapers and yet another MCU CGI-fest of a battle where the rules that were established earlier in the movie are completely ignored?
I was probably the right age for the first F&F, being in early high school and already obsessed with Gran Turismo and older car movies like The Blues Brothers.
I’ve found F&F to be a great social leveller for people who aren’t in the car ‘scene’ to be able to relate with, from here in Australia to over I’m Europe and even over in Japan when I was over there in 2019.
I’ve literally made a friendship because a younger bloke sought me out at a petrol station with my R34 Skyline GTT and we quoted the first movie back and forth.
Yes they are silly movies, the world get serious enough already. If it makes it easier, imagine the more unrealistic scenes as someone poorly recounting it later at the pub.
I’ve had plenty of chats with half-pissed people in pubs claiming their bone-stock economy car beat a HSV/FPV/Evo/etc at the lights or in some other fantastical street-race scenario.
Yeah, another one! I’ve always enjoyed these, although I didn’t care as much for the first one after it first came out because, like a lot of people at the time, I was taking it too seriously. Got to give some credit to my cousin though. He was rather young then and said it was the best movie he had ever watched, and he figured it was going to be a “way bigger thing”. I rolled my eyes at the time, but… damn, that prediction turned out to be an understatement if nothing else.
The fifth film, “Ocean’s 11 with Cars”, will always be my favorite, simply because of its location. I’ve never saw a Dodge Charger even once in Rio de Janeiro, but that doesn’t matter – my wife is from that area and from being there myself a number of times, I’m guessing the cast and crew had an absolute blast filming there.
Those short-film “explainers” are something new to me. Thanks for the inclusion – they’ll be fun to check out later.
Great write up! That said, I think a chance may have been missed for some great banter with the acronym. Furious Unlimited Cinematic-Universe would’ve been a solid choice. Take the following exchange for example: “What? You think the MCU is actually better!? No, no way, FUC-U, it’s FUC-U all the way.”