There is almost something humbling about the first batch of The Fast and the Furious movies, if one can ever use the word humble when talking about an action movie franchise that relies on increasingly preposterous action sequences, Vin Diesel extolling the virtues of “family”, and as many fast cars as a frame of film can handle.
Beginning in 2001 with what was essentially Point Break with cars and street racing, not to mention a lot of bottles of Corona beer, the first three films that began that The Fast and the Furious cycle feel like they set in stone everything that one thinks about when they hear the title of the franchise and yet are anomalous to where the series would eventually go.
It’s not very often franchises in Hollywood go for nearly two decades with a frequent production and release pattern either, at least not ones that wouldn’t be classified as a cinematic universe, with Marvel Studios’ output recently hitting up the calendar with a decade long run, and James Bond pretty much running consecutively for fifty years, and only doing so with one or two major gaps brought about due to MGMs financial problems.
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Ever since 2001, The Fast and The Furious has been a frequent presence in multiplexes, and while there was a law of diminishing returns that was apparent during its first batch of sequels, it’s development away from being a street racing franchise to a more action-oriented one with heist overtones in its fifth film has seen it turn into a major player in the realm of Hollywood blockbusters, with billion-dollar grosses, an adoring audience, and infiltrating the pop-cultural sphere with many doing their impression of Vin Diesel’s pronouncement of the word “family”.
Directed by Rob Cohen, the first film of the series features many of the hallmarks that would become inherent in future instalments but it also feels anomalous to what would come after. Essentially a variation of the Point Break theme in that it deals with an undercover cop, cooly choreographed stunt-oriented criminal activity (instead of surfing and sky diving, it’s street racing), a complex bromance between an undercover cop and the criminal he’s after, the film is basically a better Point Break remake than the actual Point Break remake.
Inspired by an article in Vibe Magazine and released into cinemas a year after Gone in Sixty Seconds, a Jerry Bruckheimer produced remake of the 1974 film of the same name, The Fast and the Furious, despite the Point Break similarities and coming so soon after the Bruckheimer/Nicholas Cage blockbuster, felt fresh and innovative compared to that film. Backed by its young up and coming cast, cementing the career of both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker after the two having played supporting roles for several movies, and Diesel in particular gaining praise for his work in Saving Private Ryan, while Michelle Rodriguez came to the movie after making her critically acclaimed break out role in Karyn Kusama’s Girlfight.
With its $207 million box office gross against its budget of $38 million, a sequel was all but assured, but without Diesel and director Cohen, who opted to make wannabe Bond rival xXx, with Diesel also opting to play his Pitch Black character Riddick in an attempt to turn that character into a franchise as well via The Chronicles of Riddick, the late, great Boyz in the Hood director John Singleton came in with Paul Walker being the only returning cast member from the original film.
A stand-alone sequel with very little in the way of story ties to the first film, despite being released in a crowded 2003 summer that also included the eagerly awaited and massively hyped The Matrix Reloaded and the critically acclaimed X-Men 2, 2 Fast 2 Furious would outgross the first film and would be the highest grossing instalment of the series until 2009’s Fast & Furious.
Although enjoyable with great buddy chemistry between Walker and Gibson, and well-staged action by Singleton, the film has become the least appreciated and most forgotten about part of the franchise, and admittedly although it lacks some of the freshness of the first film, its slick approach to action was enjoyable in a disengage the brain type of way.
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While two years had passed between the first two films, it would be three years before the franchise would return to cinemas with the most fascinating approach to the series and with a film that many would point to as its nadir but which would have a long-lasting impact on the series going forward.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift would premiere in cinemas in 2006, would be the first of the series to take place outside of America, bar a few opening scenes; would have none of the cast from the first two films, bar one cameo appearance at the end of the film; and be directed by Justin Lin and written by Chris Morgan, who despite delivering the most critically panned film of the series, would go on to be its most influential creative hands going forward.
Essentially a teen racing film set in Tokyo, this third film would centre around Sean Boswell, played by Lucas Black, who moves to Tokyo to live with his father after getting into trouble street racing back home, and ends up falling into the street racing subculture there.
The script would be far from the best of any action film from 2006, and the film feels generally rudderless having to rely on characters that aren’t Dominic Torretto or Brian O’Connor. It has the feel of something that has had the Fast and the Furious name slapped on to it in order to bring in a bigger audience. It would prove far from memorable and would gross considerably less than the first two films, with a $158 million worldwide, and pretty much be savaged by critics.
Having said that, it would boast some of the best racing sequences of the series thus far, and being filmed in a 2:39-1 widescreen ratio meant that it would also be the best looking film of the series thus far. Despite the low box office gross, a fourth film would premiere in 2009, this time with the original cast coming back, with Lin directing and Morgan back on scripting duties.
It would very much get the series back on track and when that team would return for a fifth film, it would prove to be a massive success, and surprisingly lead the series to become a major Hollywood player.
We’ll be continuing our Movie Rewind of The Fast and the Furious series over the next two weeks.