A Quick Guide to the Fast and Furious Franchise

For Those Coming to the Franchise Very Late in the Game

I'm guilty of a horrible sin.  As the Action and War Movies expert, it's my job to be well versed and knowledgeable about all the films that constitute the unofficial "doctrine" of these two respective genres.  It means that, regardless of whether I personally like the films, I better know the ins and outs of the Terminator franchise.  (Which I do - documented here.)  It means, I better know the top performing war films of all time.  (Which I also know - documented here.)  Yet somehow, one particular film franchise became almost the biggest action series of all time, and I was completely ignorant.  Yes, I'm talking about the Fast and the Furious franchise.

A short while ago, when doing research on the top performing action franchises at the box office, I was stunned to realise that the latest entry Furious 7, had earned almost a billion dollars internationally at the box office.  A billion dollars?!  Sure, I knew in the back of my head that they kept making sequels to the long ago modest action movie about street racers, but they make sequels to a lot of marginal products.

Apparently, the Furious franchise transformed somewhere along the way when I wasn't paying attention.  It transformed from modestly budgeted action films about illegal street racing, to two hundred million dollar budgeted summer action film extravaganzas, which feature massive stunt pieces.  To make atonement for my egregious sin, I did the only responsible thing:  I watched all seven films in a row.

And I have some thoughts.  Here are a few Observations (Facts) about 'The Fast and the Furious' for those that, like myself, might be coming to the franchise a bit late.

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It's Hell Trying to Sort out the Titles

For a laymen, coming to the franchise late, it's hell trying to sort out the titles, and which film belongs in which spot.  The first one is easy.  It's called The Fast and the Furious.  The second one is easy too, that one's called 2 Fast, 2 Furious (the '2' gives it away!)   The third film, is called Tokyo Drift - and almost has no connection to the rest of the franchise - and the fourth film, is called Fast and Furious.  (This is the one that's confusing!)  The fifth film is called Fast Five.  And from then on out, it's just Furious, with the number after it, as in Furious 6and Furious 7.  The numbering comes and goes, sometimes it's named after the speed, sometimes the fury, and sometimes, inexplicably, they just drop 'the.'

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Fast Five is Where the Series Transforms

For those wondering, it's the fifth film where the series transforms from street racing action film with some sort of robbery plot, to over-charged massive action film.  The box office receipts also exploded with this film and kept growing for each film thereafter, suggesting that audiences were on-board with the decisions.  There are three things that set this film apart from its predecessors.  First, the action scenes are massive, every bit of the $120 million budget is on-screen being destroyed in one way or another.  Second, it's the film that introduces Dwayne Johnson who sells it.  Third, previously, the films were a hodge-podge of supporting characters, some of them recurring, some of them sporadic.  This is the first film where everyone is involved from all the previous films (even if it's an after credits scroll for two characters.)

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Dwayne Johnson IS a Movie Star

San Andreas
San Andres.

Earlier this Summer I questioned Dwayne Johnson's box office pull, wondering if San Andreas was simply a hit because of the special effects, and dismissing his involvement with the Furious franchise as being part of a ensemble cast.  I was wrong.  He owns the film.  He transforms the film.  I suspect a huge part of its success is because of Johnson.  Dwayne, I apologise, I was wrong.

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The Series Suffers From a Magical Resources Problem

Like Mission Impossible, the series suffers from a magical resources problem.  Consider the fifth film.  The main characters are on the run in Brazil.  They have no resources and state as much, that they could really use a payday.  In an early scene, they scarf down a plate of rice having not eaten in awhile - it all effectively adds to the mood of danger, knowing our characters don't have much to play with.  They hatch a plot to elevate their situation by robbing a local drug lord.  Then, inexplicably, as they begin planning, the magical resources start showing up.  First, it's just vehicles, and I wonder, where did they get all those cars to drive around in?  (Well, they are car thieves after all, they probably boosted them.)  But then they suddenly have fake costumes to pose as plumbers and police and a warehouse to plan their heist and - here's the doozy - they manage to get a replica of the massive vault they have to steal shipped to their warehouse.  This is a vault that would have easily cost a million dollars.  It's appearance is only briefly addressed, "I had a life before I met you!" one character says by way of no explanation whatsoever.  For myself, at least, this sort of silliness pulls me out of the fantasy.  There's no tension if the characters can simply imagine whatever it is they need and, like in Mission Impossible, it will magically appear.

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The Action Scenes are Incredible

The action scenes in this series, especially after the fifth entry, are incredible!  The fifth film alone has enough huge action sequences to fill a half dozen action movies.  And each film from then on seems determined to be more "over the top" than their predecessor.  By the time we reach the 7th film, we have skydiving cars, and a Ferrari being driven out one skyscraper and into another.  It's something that needs to be seen to be believed!