In Conversation: Fast and Furious

Henry: Last September at TIFF, I found myself talking to Jacob about the Fast and Furious franchise and I said something I would reiterate to my family and friends over the months after, that I would just steer clear of the franchise because I’d missed the boat years ago and had no interest in other franchise fare. But quarantine changes things and I found myself watching the series because I had too much time and a few DVDs and I surprisingly enjoyed most of them a fair bit. I know both of you have seen them all as well, Kern watching them recently and Lee over a few years, and I think we mostly had the same favorites of the series, so, my question for you all is what do you think has made the series so enduring and how do you feel about it’s second half shift in gears?

Lee: First off, thanks for having me. I feel like I can wholeheartedly claim that I’m the resident F&F stan at the cinema etc house. Which may come as a surprise to some, maybe? I don’t think it should, but allow me to officially state that I’ve been an unapologetic super fan of this Point Break remake franchise since its release back in 2001. The majority of people seem to give this terrific franchise the backhand, without even hesitating. They belittle it for being some stupid lowest common denominator action fest with brewskis, bros, and babes. It’s so so much more than fast cars, and I will always go to bat for it being one of the best depictions of character development and the heart of the matter, family. The fact that it’s gone on for essentially two decades should give it some street cred. Even more so when it seems to be a unanimous choice to place it’s fifth entry as the best in the series.

I was elated when I saw both yourself, Kern, and even Simon, rewatching the series. Yours being a first time, correct?

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Henry: Yeah I’d never seen any of them until a few weeks ago and honestly, despite owing the first few on dvd, I really had no intention of watching any of them ever. But then the world collapsed and I had more free time than I ever could’ve imagined I would have and I figured I might as well waste some time on a franchise to make a day to two (it ended up being two) feel like I was doing something and to forget about the world for a second. So I watched the whole series.

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Lee: I’m fairly certain I saw all of them in theatres. I vividly remember sneaking into the first film with my dad, and being absolutely blown away. Driving as a whole was forever changed for me, whether it be pretend driving, playing Need for Speed or Grand Turismo. The booming sound of the film had lured us in, and rhw rest is history. I don’t even remember which film we had actually gone and paid to see…that’s how epic F&F was to my childhood. As I mentioned earlier, already being a huge Point Break fan as a little kid, the bromance chemistry that Paul Walker and Vin Diesel both oozed was pure entertainment. One of my favourite narrative clichés or story techniques whatever you may label it, is the crisis of undercover duality. Same as Johnny Utah (a personal icon), Brian O’Conner has to choose between his lawful brothers in blue or the new adopted honour among thieves. A decade or so later, me and my family found ourselves moving to California. That’s where I met my own Dominic Toretto by every sense of the character, my best friend and brother from another mother. Shout out to my ride or die, Andrés! From that moment on, each entry just became more and more personal to me and him, as we really saw a reflection of many our own facets within this cinematic bromance.

To put it at its most simple truth, I love the series so much because of exactly that, chemistry. The best films are those that not only transport us to a different world away from our real struggles and pain, but those that allow us to place ourselves within the shoes of its characters. I don’t just enjoy the franchise as some temporary fun escapism, I always see me and my best friend when I revisit Brian & Dom. Which makes each and every entry in this 10 film cinematic universe all the more of a pleasurable investment. I think for people that are hesitant to give the films a chance, are truly missing out on some of the best character development in a film franchise. I can say I love and care for each and every member of the Fast crew: I cannot say that with the same level of admiration for The Avengers, in example.

I think there are facets of it in the first four entries, but it really only culminates in Fast Five. 5 solidified it’s evolution, like Den of Thieves to Heat, it becomes the Cali bro – more diverse and gender equal – version of Ocean’s 11. Seeing how you and Kern are such Ocean’s stans, would you agree to the testament of the Fast crew’s chemistry?

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Henry: I don’t think I would go quite so far as to say it’s on the level of the Ocean’s trilogy, even at their best, Brian and Dom are no Danny and Rusty. You may have gone on this journey for years with one of your buddies but with my friends, we used to debate who would be which member of the eleven so that transcends about every other ensemble buddy grouping for me. But I do love the ensemble aspect we get into later on and the way all the characters that had little to do in past installments get their time to shine and they do end up with a wonderful chemistry. Of course, the best example of this if Fast Five where we finally see everyone together and they pull off a heist and my love for that one stems primarily from a longstanding love for the Ocean’s films. Nothing gets me excited like a good heist and even a bad one still makes me happy.

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Lee: I’m glad you brought up that friendship ensemble self-casting element! I have and still do that with my best friend and brother. We would have our own little vernacular or slang what have you, titled “the TK.” TK standing for “They Know,” in which we would be able to tell which cinematic character is our obvious counterpart, without even having to share words or a glance. You just know. And that included the F&F, Ocean’s, and many more including games and anime as well. And I think that’s why I seem to be one of the very few who actually enjoy Hobbs & Shaw for its continued but very different bromance from Dom & Brian.

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Kern: I would actually go a step further and say that my enjoyment of the entries in the F&F franchise is directly correlated with how closely it resembles an entry in the Ocean’s trilogy. My favorites are the entries that feel light and playful, keeping the weighty drama to a minimum and leaning into the fun of the plot and banter between characters. That’s why I really enjoyed 7 and 5. The character dynamics definitely play a role in that, though I don’t think I’m really as invested in their journey as you are, Lee. I actually prefer all the odd entries (except Hobbs and Shaw, if that counts) to all the even entries, strangely enough, so the transition from small-scale street races to insane over-the-top action doesn’t serve as a dividing line in my enjoyment at all.

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Lee: I feel like at this point it’d help out readers to list our rankings of the roaring franchise. For me, best to fave to least would go as follows: 1, 5, 6, 2, 7, 3, 8, 4.

Kern: I would go: 7, 5, 1, 3, 4, 8, 2, 6. Then Hobbs and Shaw far and away the worst.

Henry: My ranking isn’t so far off from yours with 5 at the top followed by 1. It gets a bit harder to rank in the middle but I think I would go 3, 2, 7, 6, 8, 4, Hobbs and Shaw.

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Lee: It’s genuinely nice to see some love for Tokyo Drift, an entry that gets too harsh of a rep. Granted, I haven’t seen it in years, compared to having seen 5-8 last year in hype for Hobbs & Shaw. Tokyo Drift marked a subtle shift in gear for the series that a rare few give credit to. Similar to how 5 evolved la familia into the Ocean’s heist dynamics, Tokyo Drift introduced the director/writer duo between Justin Lin and Chris Morgan. The two were responsible for the longest stretch in the series, from 3-6 (with Morgan continuing with Wan and Gary in 7 and 8). While 4 is seemingly one of or the flat out worst, it does mark the highly anticipated reunion of Brian and the Toretto clan, eight years later. Having that synchronised behind camera team really helped in crafting and molding the character chemistry into what it so seamlessly evolves into towards the back half of the franchise. So yeah, glad to see you did in fact enjoy Tokyo Drift, which introduced one of the best characters, Han.

Kern: I’ll go ahead and pull a classic “Logan” and say Tokyo Drift is actually a western. I think people misunderstand what it aims to do, assuming the corny elements are unintentional, largely contributing to its undeserved reputation as one of the franchise’s worst.

That final chase is fantastic! Really holds up.

Lee: Funny you mention that, because I feel like the first two films also share elements of a western. It’s been a while for the first 4 (and I plan to remedy that next week), but the first film opens with a very John Ford Stage Coach robbery. It also helps that Vin pulls off that man in black Yul Brynner vibe, contrasted to Paul’s new youthful gun in town.

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Kern: Which are your favorites, and what’s the main draw for the ones you like, Henry?

Henry: As I said before, 5 is my favorite because of the heist aspect and finally seeing it all come together. I didn’t really love the transition to superhero type films. I think the franchise has always mirrored the blockbusters of its time so it makes sense that it went from Point Break and Miami Vice riffs to something more like the Marvel movies that now dominate the box office but I liked the smaller scale street racing and crime stories though I prefer the ensemble character stuff to the earlier character stories and 5 is the only one where there’s a true balance to both of those things. So I like some scattered throughout a fair bit and was disappointed by some throughout as well. I’m with you on Hobbs and Shaw being the worst though. Ditches the big cast that I liked and doesn’t have the scale I enjoyed more earlier on.

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Lee: The point you bring up about the franchise transitioning and mirroring along with the times, is terrific! It’s similar to how the Bond films have changed, most evidently with the extremely aggressive Craig. I think I enjoy the first 5 F&F films more so than the back half, because I too wasn’t as ecstatic about the evolution into full global superhero espionage. Don’t get me wrong, adding both The Rock (happy birthday at the time of writing) and Jason Statham – two of the best modern action stars with charisma, – was a blessing to an uber fan like me. It’s with the same level of hope I expect John Wick and Mission Impossible to add in great villains. The first four F&F films feel far more grounded in comparison to the rest – particularly the first two. You could even argue them being more buddy cop crime based. It’s funny you mention Miami Vice, because I always felt like the first two at least shared in shades of Michael Mann. It’s probably due to the fact of having David Ayer as lead witter for the first, and John Singleton to direct the second. There is a younger self within me that still wishes to one day see Brian and Roman drive up alongside the Bad Boys. With that said, Michael Bay would make an EXCELLENT entry into the Fast world.

Henry: I definitely agree on Michael Bay. Like the Fast and Furious franchise, I think he’s often unfairly written off despite having some highly entertaining films.

Lee: It should be no surprise that I’m 100% in agreement there. I may not bang for all the Transformer films like our friend and colleague, Vincent, but Bay has a handful of greats. Something both Bay and F&F share is the affinity for practical effects and set pieces. I know Kern mentioned in one of his reviews – Fast 5 I believe – that he was impressed by how much of it was actually practical. Being the first time speeding through the laps of the series, did that stick out or impress you as well?

Henry: I was definitely surprised that it’s something they did, especially in the later installments. Even as CGI started having a bigger place in the franchise, they always kept some of it real. I think there’s only so much you can get excited by a driving scene if you don’t know that it’s real because the appeal of those stunts isn’t seeing superheroics but feeling like you could replicate it the next time you go driving.

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Lee: Exactly! It brings to mind a sentiment we both shared over one of last year’s best films, Ford v Ferrari. With the precise editing and excellent sound mixing/editing, it really felt like we were right in the driver’s seat with Bale and Damon. And it’s that same energy that still rushes through our body when we exit the theatre and sit in our car.

To imagine or watch the bonus Blu-ray behind the scenes videos on the stunts is truly eye opening. It’s a mutually shared belief among many that the Academy should be acknowledging and awarding stunts as their own category. I’ll say it fault out, but Fast 5 deserves all the stunts awards for that vault sequence alone. For those who don’t know, or fail to give these films any iota of credit, that vault was real. It’s unfortunate that they used Puerto Rico to fake represent Rio de Janeiro, but that entire heist is probably 90% practical. It’s so crazy that at certain points, a custom truck fitted with dry ice and breathing tubes for the driver, was used disguised within a hollow vault. Reminds me of the best Hummer commercial you’ll ever see, the Bad Boys 2 downhill favela chase. Which in place was an homage to an identical destructive downhill car chase in Police Story. Audiences who struggle to join la familia, can maybe find some solace in the stunt coordination of these precision street racers turned smugglers, turned global espionage unit.

Henry: Though I love talking about these films with you guys, I think it’s about time we wrap this one up.

Lee: If not evident enough from our discussion here, I could go on for a few more quarter miles. But I’ll leave that for another time; maybe when this whole global crisis ends… So I guess I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

Henry: And hopefully that time when we see you again at the movies is very soon but in the meantime, we’ll be back here next week with a new conversation on remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels and a new special guest!

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In Conversation

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