When I tell people I’m really into the Fast and the Furious movies, I usually get a bewildered look, followed by people asking if I mean that I’m into them ironically. When I inform people that I don’t really buy into liking things ironically, the baffled looks get even worse. Maybe this isn’t as true after Fast Five walked away with a whole boat-full of money in 2011, but I’ve been on board since Tokyo Drift and I’ve been waiting for a good excuse to talk about what I like about this most-unfairly-maligned and under-watched of modern cinematic franchises.
So welcome to Raging Rapidity, the season of Serious About Series where I get down on Vin Diesel and Paul Walker and the gang of street racers, cops, thieves, and other sundry ne’er-do-wells. This is not just to crack wise about how dumb Paul Walker is in general, but also to try to explain exactly why I’m so into this series and why I’ll be the first in line for Fast Six whenever it decides to come out this year.
Strap in, put on some sunglasses, and get ready to let those who are fast and those who are furious drift their way into your heart, one last job and one last quarter mile at a time.
Fast Five (2011)
Fast Five is majestic. It’s hard to put it into context if you haven’t seen the movies, but I’m operating under the assumption that anyone who has read these probably has, so I’m going to grant that you know. After the floundering and moderate successes of prior movies, Fast Five picks up literally right where Fast & Furious left off with a whole new level of ridiculous.
By now you know the score: Paul Walker and Mia spring Dom from prison and all them go on the lam to Brazil, where they try to put their past behind them but have to keep pulling jobs in order to make ends meet and say ahead of the law. Running afoul of the drug dealer that controls seemingly the entire country, suddenly team Dom & Paul are getting heat not just from this guy and his private army, but the US Federal Government who sends in their star agent Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to lay the smack down on their candy asses in grand Rock fashion.
The whole thing spirals into a convoluted plot that finally throws all vestiges of being a race movie out the window in favor of a straight up heist plot. In fact, the movie seems to relish gleefully ripping off the Ocean’s Eleven formula right down to the getting-a-team-together montage and ridiculous 11th hour twist where they reveal that they’ve been a step ahead of the audience the whole time—just instead of it involving Matt Damon, it involves driving cars and doing really dumb things with them.
Which sounds like I’m selling it short, but I can’t stress enough just how well this formula works for them. Especially since the getting-the-team-together moment involves pulling in people from literally every prior movie, including people who seemingly barely mattered or in some instances should really be dead (like Han, because of course Han is still alive. And thank god for that, too). It’s so many people that instead of my normal jokey graph I’m going to include a real legitimate reference sheet at the bottom so you can play along at home and go “Really? That person was from a previous movie?”
And all this is on top of a movie that gives up the bad CG for really solid practical stunts, including some very real car wrecks, some very dumb fight scenes, and a final setpiece involving dragging a (admittedly probably not real, but it’s hard to tell) bank vault through the streets tethered to two cars like a flail. It’s very stupid in the very specific way that movies that put entertainment first and logic second can attain through verve and gall, which Fast Five totes about in excess, slung in bursting bags of machismo over each shoulder.
Which isn’t to say that Fast Five trades simply on being stupid. That sense of abandon is what gives it a lot of its charm, but the point I want to drive home at the end of this general summary of what I think about the film applies not just to this movie, but the whole franchise. Fast Five is not just a good action movie, it’s the fifth entry in an evolving action franchise that consistently is improving in quality and isn’t based on a book, a toy, a comic, or a video game. Fast Five is, in many ways, pure cinema. You can’t have a car book. You can’t make street racing and heisting into a series of action figures.
The things that make the Fast and the Furious great as a franchise are inherently cinematic: the oversized personalities, the shifting tones and styles, the delight in seeing actors crop up in cameos and age into and out of their characters, and the relentless pursuit of big action setpieces that carry on the legacy of 80s and 90s action films far better than Michael Bay’s bank of computers will ever be able to accomplish. They aren’t the most cerebral movies in the world, but making good popcorn entertainment that is original and not bland corporate product is seemingly a lost art. So anyone who would sniff at these movies and still complain about the lack of original films while they line up to see yet another superhero summer film? Fuck those people. They’re the problem. Elitism has no place in movie watching.
That’s the joy of movies: they are the most democratic of art forms, because everybody can watch nearly every movie available at any time. My point is this: if you’ve gone this far and haven’t watched these movies, what is wrong with you? If you’re against any movie with explosions and energy, then fine. Taste is taste. But if you dutifully line up for your Avengers or Transformers or even god-forsaken Battleship and haven’t cracked a Fast and Furious movie yet? Re-evaluate your priorities and start back up your Netflix disc plan. You have a whole lot of good fun to experience, and just in time for the sequel that is undoubtedly going to be a spectacle to behold.
Unintentionally Funny Bullshit, Bro
This movie is fully aware of itself, so calling anything unintential would be selling the whole movie short. The winner for ridiculous nonsense comes at the very end of the movie, though, after the heroes have won and had another montage about how they spent the ridiculous amounts of money they stole. The credits run for a few minutes, before the movie drops us back into a credits stinger: the Rock is busy being a supercop (but not Jackie Chan’s Supercop) when Eva Mendes walks in reminding us that she was in one of these movies before.
Before we can think too hard about that, she drops a file on his desk, and talks about someone pulling heists in Europe. The Rock is too busy pining over the escaped Dom, but then she insists. Flipping through it, he lands on a picture. “Do you believe in ghosts?” Eva Mendes asks, as it reveals the picture to be of Letty! That’s right, she’s supposedly not dead! And she’s somehow off running another heist gang? Which must make her a villain, right?! WHO KNOWS?! FAST AND FURIOUS SIX IS OUT IN MERE WEEKS!1!
I’m No Expert, But Cars Probably Don’t Do That
There isn’t a bunch of car stuff in this movie, honestly, but there is that final scene involving a safe that probably actually couldn’t actually happen from a sheer physics and weight perspective. But math is boring, and I’m not going to look up some article Slashfilm undoubtedly posted in 2011 about how impossible that safe stuff is, because I don’t give a single shit about what is real and what isn’t. Instead, let’s talk about cliffs and driving off of them.
Early on in the movie Dom is driving a car next to a speeding train Paul Walker is on, as Paul Walker hangs on a truck that is stuck in the train (don’t ask), hanging out over the side watching as the train rushes towards a truss bridge that will undoubtedly squash him like the blue-eyed bug he is. He leaps into Dom’s waiting convertible just in time, only for the two of them to sail that car right over a cliff into a river in the gorge below. The two of them look at each other and then leap out of the car, splashing into the water in a moment of pure buddy comedy hijinks.
The thing is, while I’m not an expert about cars I’m an expert about MythBusters, and they did an episode where they pointed out that falling from the height of bridges and the like into water would undoubtedly kill you because hitting water at that speed is just as bad as hitting a solid surface. So what should have happened is Dom and Paul Walker should have had their knees shoved up into their shoulders as the rest of them turned into a bloody paste inside a skin bag. Ah, who am I fooling? These are the movies: anything can happen.
The Slashfic Award for Best Homoerotic Moment (presented by Tumblr)
Let’s talk about the sweatiest fight in all of film. The Rock and Dom are paired off as the rivals right from the beginning, with both of them being bald and muscular and the clear leaders of their respective domains. So by the time they actually get to square off they’ve already ran over favelas and glared at each other across armed standoffs; all that’s left is the fighting. And like any good wrestling fued, the main event doesn’t disappoint.
The fight takes cues from the Elle/Bride fight in Kill Bill vol 2, in that the two men grab each other and smash through a variety of small rooms, causing as much wreckage and chaos as one could possibly imagine. More, if you consider they’re doing this all from a fairly abandoned building, and suddenly stumble into all the things to scatter around the wake of their wrestle-fest. That’s what they call it, right? Wrestle-fest? I know all the lingo.
Either way, it ends with Dom actually getting the better of the Rock, which seems ridiculous except that Dom already has Car-Jedi powers and stuff, so he could probably fight anyone. And it ends with Dom on top of him, grunting intensely into his face as they stare into each others souls and recognize, deep down, that they’re the same driven-yet-sensitive man. And then Dom nearly beats him to death, but let’s not split hairs.
No joke here. I’m going to give you an actually useful reference chart.