After a couple of what were considered to be disappointing sequels, Fast & Furious reunited Vin Diesel and Paul Walker within the franchise that made them… well ‘famous’ isn’t the word… maybe ‘known’ is better. And much like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat (1995 – Michael Mann) this film delights in the cocktease of delaying their eventual meeting, and so builds our anticipation. The relationship between the two – of what is up to this point some form of grudging respect, and will blossom into some peculiar form of love – moves to become the foundation of the majority of the subsequent movies in the series.
The opening sequence, when taken alongside Los Bandoleros, feels ultimately like it is from a completely different movie. Taking its cues from the Mission: Impossible film series, it is the tale of a heist gone epically wrong. Featuring an almost apocalyptic oil-tanker robbery, Justin Lin begins to integrate CGI into the still highly physical stunt sequences that are the highlights of series. From this scene onwards, entire landscapes and vehicles are constructed within computers – a fact that deeply harms the climatic sequence of this movie set in an entirely unreal underground tunnel. Lin will later forego such overwhelming fabrication, and rely much more on his physical second unit stunt team. This opening sequence is glorious, and emphasises just how appealing a screen-presence is Michelle Rodriguez. But it feels curiously detached from the body of the film, and reminds you of those Bond films – particularly The World is Not Enough (1999 – Michael Apted) – where the pre-credits sequence is so much more thrilling than the rest of the film.
Because it is lethargic film. The messy, slightly-incoherent underground sequences are distracting and feature almost weightless cars; thus much of the remaining pleasure comes from our slightly-knowing response to lines such as Han’s reference to ‘crazy shit in Tokyo’.
One of the strongest moves of the series is placing Paul Walker with cropped hair in a smart suit, because he looks smashing, and it is a huge leap forward from the slightly adolescent short-sleeve shirts he was sporting in 2 Fast 2 Furious. In addition, the series transforms him yet again into a highly agile physical performer. His opening foot chase is exhilarating and underlines how the character has once again been repositioned… this time nominally into a reluctant, closed-down police officer. One of the most interesting retcons the series performs is when it determinedly moves O’Conner into a member of the anti-hero group that Dom’s gang represents. The series attempts to write his motivation as an act of self-recognition, where he realises that he was a bad guy all along, but there is little prior evidence for this movement.
Ultimately, Brian’s appeal is that he is an individual who is not fixed yet. He hasn’t quite figured out who he is, and his arrested development speaks profoundly to the struggles of self-identification that many of us face. His act of freeing Dom Toretto at the end of the first film is once again re-written; now it becomes a moment of self-loathing, where he realised he respected Dom more than himself. The series delights in its mercurial characters, constantly re-shifting and reconfiguring them. They are vehicles, designed to modified and upgraded.
In opposition to O’Conner stands Dom Toretto. Nominally mourning the loss of Letty (and Diesel is not particularly interested in modifying his performance to incorporate grief). Though some heavy-handed imagery, Dom becomes the arbiter of atonement, though the series neglects to underline how this represents a return to the violence he fought so hard to avoid in his first appearance. Perhaps this is how he copes with death – by becoming death himself. Delightfully, Toretto is recoded as queer; he returns to a largely asexual role in his senseless rejection of Gal Gadot. But his benign presence of strength looms over the film, and pulls everything around him into orbit. It is his kindness, his leadership, his motivation that drives the plot along.
And there are great moments to the plot. The twist of Braga being the main villain rather than a henchman is genuinely shocking. But the film suffers from some of Lin’s choices. As much as the slightly toxic environments of the street racing scene were present at the start of the series, it is once Lin starts to direct, that they move fully into the gratuitous shots of bottoms that plague the series. Add to this, the tired trope of dead girlfriends (Letty), the utter side-lining of Mia Toretto (and Letty, I suppose) and the use of ‘pussy’ as an insult, and we start to see a distasteful element of misogyny enter the series. Jordana Brewster does her best to work against this – she creates an effective performance of a woman who was hurt and betrayed by O’Conner when she was a child – but she pushed to the side of the narrative as the film progresses. Only Gal Gadot (another non-actor who becomes central to the series), making her series debut as Gisele Yashar, performs with a degree of agency, intelligence and intimidation.
But ultimately, the film lags. When one of your sequences relies on the tension of getting caught on CCTV, you know that as an audience it is a struggle to stay engaged. Fast & Furious ultimately works as a soft-reboot, and a taste of the thrills yet to come.
Fast & Furious rankings:
- The Fast and the Furious
- 2 Fast 2 Furious
- Fast & Furious
- Los Bandoleros
- Turbo Charged Prelude
Brian & Dom street racing scorecard:
Heavy-‘Han’ded references to Tokyo:
1 (Han refers to crazy shit happening there)