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Extra Fast and Ultra Furious

April 8, 2015

I’m one of those peeps who wasn’t into the Fast and Furious thing when it first started. The first one didn’t really do much for me at the time. I didn’t need a Point Break redux, especially with the whole street racing thing added to the mix. I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t jive with me. That applied even more so to the second one, since I didn’t even bother with seeing it in the theater.

All of that started to change once I saw Tokyo Drift. I still wasn’t digging on the racing culture stuff, but the way the drifting scenes were filmed in that thing was pretty damn beautiful. It worked on a purely aesthetic and visceral level, and it warmed me to the concept as a whole. So long as Fast and Furious looked this good I  figured I could roll with it. And yeah, I rolled with it for the fourth one, and I didn’t like it nearly as much as Drift. A bit too self serious for this sort of thing.

So yeah, when Fast Five came along, I wasn’t expecting much since the only one I really dug was Drift. And damn, that movie ended up being something of a religious experience.

It’s like the Fast and the Furious movies were infected with some sort of alien virus that slowly mutates the host into something wholly unlike its original form. They started off as this grounded small time crime thing with car fetishism running through it. The first three movies stuck to that concept, changing up the locale and vibe but keeping that core intact– different but the same– the host still thinks it’s the same old thing. Then the changes started becoming a bit more noticeable with the fourth installment. The stakes were upped and things started to veer away from that core. If these movies were infected with said virus, the fourth one would be the moment where the fever broke out and it was obvious that something was “wrong.”

Fast Five is where that alien shows its true nature and you start laying eggs and growing tentacles from every orifice.

Yeah, it still had the fast cars and the bikini girls and meathead mechanics, but it was also just as much in the vein of an Ocean’s 11 heist movie as it was anything else. Cars weren’t the goal, they were just a tool to do things. It’s no longer human, it’s just using that human husk to do things.  And soon after that all semblance of control is gone and you’re hauling vaults down the street and chasing down planes and fighting Tony Jaa in an 18-wheeler in the Caucuses.

That sort of mutation is necessary for a thing to keep existing for so long– be it an animal or some goofy action movie franchise. In order for true longevity to be achieved in pop culture, the property/franchise/character/whatever has to change in order to maintain peeps’ attention. The best thing to look to is the James Bond franchise. The core elements are always there, for better or for worse, but each Bond movie is a reaction to current trends. Each new actor playing Bond brings a new vibe to the series, and the creators react accordingly. The thing even changes during the span of an actor’s stint as Bond. Dr. No and Thunderball are totally different beasts, as the series morphed from that free-form cool to crazed yet meticulous undersea action epic. Moore’s Bond movies ranged from blacksploitation riffs (Live and Let Die) to sci-fi trends (Moonraker) to more grounded reactions to said sci-fi trends (For Your Eyes Only).

Now that these Fast and Furious movies have mutated, I can look back and appreciate its original form all the better. The goofiness and earnestness is earned now that the series has had a chance to metamorphize like this. It’s a wholly unintentional transformation– more a retcon than some deliberate, calculated thing– but it’s just as fascinating. The whole thread about family and loyalty is simple and dorky, but I can’t help but appreciate it even if it ain’t my thing. Seeing it play out for so long, it feels more like someone honestly holding their heart on its sleeve rather than some hackneyed cliche worthy of derision. I’m not gonna say “it’s all about the characters” or anything like that, because I’d be lying, but by becoming different things have attained familiarity in a way that just being consistently familiar would never achieve.

So yeah, Fast and Furious is a strange beast as a whole, but how’s this new one?

Let’s start with a handy little sequel comparison thing:

5 > 6 > 7 > 3 > 1 > 2 > 4

With all of the craziness surrounding this movie’s production that you’ve likely read more than enough times, 7’s biggest problem is that it climaxes way too early. The most impressive setpiece  in the movie (and arguably in the entire series) happens to be the movie’s first big setpiece. It’s the one where the gang parachutes onto a remote mountain highway while in their cars and rescue someone being held in an 18-wheeler. It uses MMO-like tactics (Ludacris is the tank) to bust open the big bad boss vehicle. Said vehicle has armor-piercing gatling guns in its underbelly. Vin Diesel drives a crazy hybrid muscle car/armored ATV called The Demon Love Child. There’s an cliff-side rescue almost as beautiful as the Diesel/Rodriguez leap of faith rescue from 6. TONY JAA is there. Quite frankly, save for some too close for comfort cameras in the Jaa/Walker fist fight, it’s a perfect action sequence. It isn’t just the sort of thing you end a movie with– it’s the sort of thing worthy of ending a career. You go out on this sort of thing. Instead, it happens maybe 30 minutes into the movie, and the rest of the thing feels more like a denouement than a build-up to the actual finale. 6 had a similar issue, but its biggest scene (the tank one with the aforementioned leap of faith) was second to last rather than first, so it wasn’t as big of a pacing thing. So yeah, brilliant action scene, totally wrong placement.

I have a few other beefs with the movie. Anyone who isn’t Vin Diesel is kinda wasted. Especially the supporting cast. I know the dude’s busy making a bunch of other movies, but we don’t need Dwayne Johnson acting as a bookend. He needs to be right up there as far as screen time goes. If you’re gonna get bona-fide asskickers like Jaa and Ronda Rousey, give them more to do. 5 and 6 did a better job of doing the whole ensemble thing, while this just didn’t have the same feel. All this makes the movie kinda fall in line with peeps’ criticisms about these movies being nothing but limp narratives existing only to string together setpieces. That’s never really been an accurate assessment of most of the Fast and Furious movies, but this is the entry where said critique seems the most legit. Again, I blame it on the strange circumstances, but it does take everything down a notch.

That said, this thing’s still pretty damn awesome.

While I don’t think he was even remotely used to his fullest potential, I really dig how Jason Statham’s character is portrayed. He’s pretty much a slasher movie monster, appearing out of nowhere in pursuit of the heroes when dramatically appropriate. There’s no rhyme or reason behind how he gets about– much is made about how remote that stretch of road in the Caucuses happens to be, yet he just swings on by like it’s an afternoon drive– but that totally plays into how he’s supposed to be this ex-government spook who scares the shit out of other spooks. He’s a force of nature– or better yet a super villain— and that totally plays into the overall change in tone this entry takes.

Other people have said it and I agree: In a lot of ways The Fast and The Furious has mutated into a super hero movie. To be specific, it’s very much in the vein of the Marvel movies– it’s a bunch of goofy, earnest, flawed peeps trying to do the right thing while performing ridiculous physical feats that’d kill a normal human. The world needs to be saved, but that world-saving is contextualized into the “family” saving itself.

It’s basically The Avengers if it were actually legitimately good.

And given the whole mutation thing, that current form makes perfect sense. James Bond borrowed from the Bourne movies and the Nolan Batman movies with the past couple of installments, and said reaction makes sense given their proximity. It totally makes sense for this new Fast and Furious to react to the Marvel boom, since this one went into production about a year after The Avengers– smack dab in the middle of all of that hype and build-up. And since said trend is even more popular now, it makes 7 all the more timely.

Yeah, it may not be the best entry in the series, but it’s hitting that zeitgeist shit even more perfectly than Fast Five. It’s exactly what peeps want right now.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 10, 2015 9:55 AM

    So what you’re saying is, if 4 is the Facehugging, then the Rock is what burst out of the chest in 5.

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