The release of the fourth The Fast and the Furious film would see some interesting developments with the series, but ones that would cement the franchise into a viable Hollywood brand and see the series make a surprise turn into a major commodity in a franchise obsessed film industry.
While the fourth film of the series wasn’t exactly a record breaker in terms of box office grosses, it did see an upturn after the lower grosses of Tokyo Drift, but clearly not wanting to abandon the franchise, Universal and series’ production company Original Film opted to bring back director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan, but also managed to bring back the core cast of the first film, which by 2009 everyone still agreed was pretty much the best instalment of the series.
While Paul Walker had come back for 2 Fast 2 Furious, Diesel had made a highly publicised jump to xXx and an attempt to turn his Pitch Black character Riddick into a star of his franchise. He had made a cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift, but 2009’s Fast & Furious marked the first sequel in which he starred, and which would also mark a comeback to the series for Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner, as well as Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.
On top of returning cast members, the series would begin to turn away from being one about street racing; fast cars would still play a big part, but beginning with the fourth film, and even further into Fast Five, the series would recalibrate itself into one with stories and themes that were more involved in heists and espionage.
Fast & Furious was met with somewhat sniffy reviews in 2009 but it was 2011 that things would take a surprising turn. Following on from the fourth film’s cliffhanger involving Brian O’Conner and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) attempting to break Dominic Toretto from a prison transport bus, the series made a geographic leap to Brazil, centred on a money heist involving a vault with $100 million in cash and basically threw in a supporting cast made up of a ‘who’s who’ of supporting characters from previous movies including Tyrese Gibson, Gal Gadot and Sung Kang, with a scene at the end making clear how the series had adjusted its timeline to bring Han back from the dead but who still had a fateful encounter ahead of him in Tokyo.
READ MORE: US Box Office Report – News
The most pivotal performance of the movie would be from series newcomer Dwayne Johnson. Coming in to capture Toretto and O’Conner due to the events of the previous film, the wrestler formerly known as The Rock walked into the series delivering a wrath of God-like performance and practically stealing the show.
More amazingly, audiences couldn’t get enough and with a massive $625 million worldwide gross at the box office, it beat previous entries by a considerable margin, surprising box office analysts and critics at the same time. Critic reviews were also favourable in a way that they hadn’t been before, although there was some justifiable criticism of the way the movie treated its female characters, which had already been a problem in the series before and would be again in Fast & Furious 6.
Fast & Furious had killed off Rodriguez’s character Letty in order to kick start a plot line to return Torreto to the series (in what was pretty much the ‘woman in refrigerator’ trope) and while future Wonder Woman Gal Gadot made a considerable impression, her return appearance in the fifth film was somewhat lacklustre and sometimes felt as if she was only there to look good in a swimsuit that functioned as a means to get the primary villain’s hand print. Brewster’s character, meanwhile, sits the majority of the action on the sidelines by being pregnant with O’Conner’s child.
Problems aside, the film would deliver spectacular action in spades, and its final car chase sequence was the single best action sequence the series had delivered. It also meant expectations were actually high for the sixth film in the series, which made its way into cinemas two years later. Pretty much everyone would return, but it would be the last of the series, to date, to be directed by Lin.
Following on from the post credit tease at the end of Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6 would see the team put together by Toretto and O’Connor return when they are recruited by Hobbes to take on new antagonist Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and an amnesiac Letty, a returning Rodriguez. Once again the film had a more international flavour, this time London playing a major role in proceedings, and once again it was a massive financial success, not only grossing more than Fast Five but also becoming Universal Pictures’ second most successful film release at that time.
READ MORE: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Review
With high octane action, a regular cast line up and a release pattern of a new film every two years, the series had managed to become a major player at a time when the Marvel Studios model of a shared cinematic universe was becoming a type of IP that other studios were trying to emulate. From its first three films that stood alone from each other, aside from certain characters either as the lead actor or in a cameo appearance, the Fast and the Furious series managed to reconfigure itself with the return of its original central cast into a high octane, ongoing soap opera, made up of ongoing characters, shocking deaths and reveals, and characters returning with amnesia.
It had managed to brilliantly not only change from a street racing series to a more straightforward action one, but from 2009 to 2013 turned itself into a surprisingly major Hollywood player. The only way was to keep going up, which it was about to do, reaching new commercial heights with its seventh entry – but it was about to do so under very tragic circumstances.
We’ll be concluding our Movie Rewind of The Fast and the Furious series later this week.