“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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