F8 – The Fate of the Furious (2017 – F. Gary Gray)

Whilst the other entries have been written after viewing the films a number of times, I’m writing this entry on the evening after seeing The Fate of the Furious, based on the notes I typed on my phone in the half-light of the cinema.


The Fate of the Furious is more than just a bad movie… it also spends a lot of the goodwill we have built up towards the series over the past decade or so.  Whilst there are spectacular action sequences, they now feel like sequences, shoehorned into the plot.  Gray directs with a freneticism that on occasions borders on incoherence; even the most pleasurable sequence in the film – Jason Statham shooting his way out of an aeroplane whilst carrying a baby – is hampered by a camera that does everything it can to lessen the impact of a punch.  It seems to be constantly cutting away just at the most vital time.  Later, Gray’s awkward camera causes the film to come to a complete standstill on two separate occasions whilst flashbacks show what actually transpired in previous scenes.

To some extent, the introduction of the aforementioned baby completes Dom Toretto’s quest to atone for letting down his father through his actions; now he is a father himself, with all the responsibility that comes with it.  But the circumstances that the child is introduced are pretty appalling.  The product of Dom’s brief affair with Elsa Pataky’s Elena Neves, her character is reintroduced halfway through the film.  For one moment, you think the series is compensating for the causal cruelness with which it discarded her character after it chose to reintroduce Michelle Rodriguez; however, she is promptly and needlessly murdered.  And to add insult to injury, her death is as quickly forgotten as any of Toretto’s sins.  The whole affair is quite sickening; she is removed of any agency and capability, and reduced to a simple plot device.

The core of the film rests upon Toretto’s seeming slip back into criminality (the next in a series of comic book clichés that the series has adopted – the good guy gone bad.)  But despite the franchise’s continued rewriting of its characters, this never quite rings true.  Whilst Dom was a criminal, he was never bad.  His most vicious act – the beating that landed him in jail – is still tinged with honour, such was his intention to defend his father.  Rewriting a child into his past is a small act for this franchise, but putting such an unconvincing plot development at the heart of the film, robs it of any significant investment on our part.  There is no doubt in our minds that Dom will make things right.

In Dom’s absence, a number of characters are brought to the fore.  Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs slips easily into the de facto leader role; Hobbs was always a thinly drawn operative, but Johnson goes to distinct lengths to imbibe his character with a decency and integrity regardless of his surroundings.  It also takes great glee is his unique brand of physical combat, full of body slams and throwing opponents around that remind you of his wrestling days.   He is the true leading man of the series (and bitchily shares a negligible amount of screen time with Diesel) – so much so, that he is clearly written out at the end of the movies.  He has outgrown the franchise by this stage.  In addition, he is ably supported by Jason Statham (and rumours abound of a spin-off featuring the two).  There are fewer greater pleasures in cinema than watching Jason Statham run (he is second only to Tom Cruise in the cinematic talent) and the series find plenty of space to cast him as a gleeful antihero – though this perhaps is the greatest instance of the series rewriting its own past.  He is very quickly forgiven by the crew.

Charlize Theron distinguishes herself as the villain Cipher; her dreadlocked appearance marks her out as an active proponent of cultural appropriation – the only true crime in such a multicultural series.  It’s clear though that she was only around for a short amount of time – most of her scenes are on constructed sets talking to Diesel.  And it’s always a pleasure to watch Kurt Russell regardless of what he is in.  Michelle Rodriguez continues to bring a greater depth to Letty than the script provides, performing an almost post-traumatic response to seeing Dom.

But Nathalie Emmanuel is appalling.  And Scott Eastwood, whilst heavily-handedly positioned as an O’Conner to Hobbs, is an actor of… limited charisma.  There is a bizarre choice to allow the characters to hear each other speaking coherently within their cars during chase scenes; cars that are clearly making a lot of noise.  With its messy direction (Gray chooses far too often to show close-ups of the actors behind the wheels of the car, only underlining the fact that these shots are filmed on some soundstage somewhere) and bloated runtime, The Fate of the Furious at times seems to undo all the good of the past three movies.  But by now, eight movies into a ten movie franchise, it can handle it.  Every franchise as its pretty rotten entries, and this is just our one.


Fast & Furious rankings:


  1. Fast & Furious 6
  2. Fast Five
  3. The Fast and the Furious
  4. Furious 7
  5. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  6. Fast & Furious
  7. The Fate of the Furious
  8. Los Bandoleros
  9. Turbo Charged Prelude



Heavy handed references to Paul Walker:


One, where he is quickly referenced as a solution to Dom’s issues (quickly discarded, though Mia and Brian would have raced to the scene if their brother was behaving this way) and a second where, quite sweetly, Dom’s baby is called Brian.

F7 – Furious 7 (2015 – James Wan)

Looming over this movie is the shadow of Paul Walker’s death midway through filming.  We can attempt to read the film dispassionately, and pretend that the route the Brian takes is the one that was always intended to be made, but honestly, his death corrupted the picture.  His performance is an amalgamation of pre-shot footage, deleted scenes from previous movies and a CGI composite of his face placed on two of his brother’s bodies.  The fact that they still manage to give character development to O’Conner amongst such trauma is extraordinary, but the temptation when watching this film is to morbidly try to spot when we are and aren’t seeing Walker on screen.  It’s occasionally distracting.


Narratively, the film was retooled as a consequence of his premature death.  Few details have emerged of the original intended movie, but most of the incomplete footage seems to have been material set in Los Angeles.  We can suppose that the film had a darker thrust, with Deckard Shaw eliminating the team one by one.  I have no evidence of this, but I always assumed that something was meant to happen to Mia; an idea possibly abandoned after one real-life tragedy – though she is clearly sidelined from the narrative.  It’s a shame – the series has often been at its most vital when it has featured its couples working together, Dom/Letty, Brian/Mia, Han/Giselle have all been terrific to watch.  But it couldn’t be helped in this instance, and we have to accept, that even at its best, we’re watching a diluted version of an original intention.  A shadow of an original film.


After working through the comic-book style trope of ‘the evil alternate team’, Furious 7 adopts the single, all powerful opponent villain that fuels so many tedious comic crossovers.  Continuing the approach of employing established action stars (see also Tony Jaa, Kurt Russell and Ronda Rousey), Jason Statham storms into the franchise like an absolute star.  His Deckard Shaw is hilariously incongruous, a man who uses a sledgehammer to crack open a peanut, but equally, a terrifying opposition to the established family.  But quickly, the movie shies away from making him a true foe, and places him in an anti-hero role, flitting in and out of the narrative.  He is no ‘big bad’.  It’s almost as if his stardom was too great to play the prototypical Limey bad guy.

The title itself recalls the revenge crews of The Magnificent Seven (1960 – John Sturges) or The Dirty Dozen (1967 – Robert Aldrich), though the film bizarrely avoids the essential narrative of the whole crew hunting down Shaw in preference of another instalment in a Bondian, globetrotting action adventure series (this instalment even puts our working-class street heroes into tuxedos and ballgowns).  Kurt Russell is even established as a kind-of M simulacra in the form of Mr. Nobody, an easy resource to stop the series tying itself in knots in its attempts to make the crew ‘good guys’.  Russell is clearly playing this role as the early nineties Nick Fury movie he never got to make.  To incorporate so many new individuals, some established heroes have to be put to one side.  Dwayne Johnson is incapacitated for much of the film (as much a product of Johnson being a far busier movie star than anyone else in the cast), but when he returns toward the end of the film, legs-astride shooting helicopters clear from the sky, he is defined as an absolute icon, a character who has outgrown the series.

James Wan takes over from Justin Lin and does little to change the feel of the series.  He maintains an emphasis on physical action (they actually chucked cars out of a plane for one sequence), though he perhaps employs even more aerial shots of action, and is quicker to root his characters in CGI environments (though this may be a product of having an absent lead character).  Dom is given a more rebellious streak – at times he seems hellbent on recreating the final moments of Thelma and Louise (1991 – Ridley Scott), but his character progression becomes intimately entwined with Letty, as the series performs another one of its retcons in establishing the two of them as married. Once again, the franchise draws upon its ballooning history – here Lucas Black pops up again as Sean Boswell, his hairline receding significantly in between two scenes that in continuity happen minutes apart.

But the film belongs to Paul Walker.  His Brian O’Conner is located as the true hero of the film.  He is hilarious in portraying the frustrations of a thrill-seeker coming to terms with school runs and people carriers and stars in the two stand-out combat scenes against Tony Jaa.  O’Conner’s fear of screwing up, of letting down his family, feels less like the slightly jarring character transitions he has been through in previous instalments, though it places him contextually closer to Dom, a man who was always driven by a fear of slipping up.  The final scenes, as Diesel grunts his way through a saccharine, anodyne voiceover are profoundly moving, such is the loss we feel of an easy-going, highly physical performer.  I have no shame in admitting I well up at the very thought of that final car race.


Fast & Furious rankings:


  1. Fast & Furious 6
  2. Fast Five
  3. The Fast and the Furious
  4. Furious 7
  5. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  6. Fast & Furious
  7. Los Bandoleros
  8. Turbo Charged Prelude



Brian & Dom street racing scorecard:


Brian: IIII

Dom: IIII (I’m declaring the final scene a draw… which ends the series on a tie-break.  Quite sweet actually.)



Best line:


‘Wrong.  Double Alpha.’ Tyrese excels at self-delusion.

F6 – The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006 – Justin Lin)


Well, we might as well deal with the big question first… ‘Does watching The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift after Fast & Furious 6 work?’  Because, the nerdy side of me that loves the oppressive continuity of ongoing film series adores the fact that this film is chronologically set later than when it was made.  And it’s easy to see why Lin became enamoured with the charm of Sung Kang’s performance, and sought to place a murdered character back into the series.  It’s perhaps the ultimate act of repositioning that the series makes; essentially watching the films in this order re-orientates this film around Han rather than the nominal protagonist of Lucas Black’s Sean Boswell.

Which is an interesting choice, and Kang is a more engaging performer than Boswell.  But… whilst a generous reading of the film can characterise Han’s return to street racing as the act of a man returning to a simple life in the face of trauma, there is little in his performance that convinces us that he is coping with the loss of Giselle.  And there’s no real understanding of why he is hanging around with a bunch of kids.  And the (at the time, fan-service) street-racing cameo of Dom Toretto is impossible to read as a man hunting down the villainous Deckard Shaw.  Watching Tokyo Drift in this position can only be seen as a waste of potentially worthwhile emotional capital, and a severe scale-back of dynamic action set pieces.

Which is not to say it’s a bad film.  On the contrary, much of Tokyo Drift reinforces the essential themes of the series.  Sean Boswell is a true hero in that he comes from poverty, and his shit-eating grin identifies him as a charming irritant to those in power.  There are some extraordinarily good car chase scenes, including a wonderful moment where an entire crowd of hundreds of people scatter as Boswell’s car ploughs through a metropolitan crossroad, and whilst there is some visually dated use of computer-aided morphing during these chases scenes, they are grounded in a physicality that Lin would reject in his next entry in the series, Fast & Furious.  But the tendency to refer to this entry as almost a direct-to-video film is unwarranted, such is the strong central narrative of a man escaping a toxic Southern American culture to find acceptance in others and himself.

But some of Lin’s problems sneak back into the series.  Women are objectified (quite literally, when they are awarded as prizes in the aforementioned races), and there is a distasteful proclivity to frame many of the scenes as a ‘look-at-what-these-funny-Japanese-people-do’ that is reminiscent of Lost in Translation (2003 – Sofia Coppola).  Other aspects of the film seem incongruous; Lil’ Bow Wow’s (another rapper) car is appallingly gauche, and there is an amusing moment where ‘Timberlake’ is used as an insult, which somewhat dates the film (even if we know, deep-down, that Timberlake can never be a compliment).


In retrospect, it’s better to watch this film series in production order, rather than chronological order.  There’s a charm in seeing a franchise return to its small-scale roots after seeing jumbo-jets crash and burn, but whilst the film reinforces the theme of finding a constructed family in the world, it lacks the wide cast of characters that have rooted the franchise so well.  The series has been steadily escalating its action sequences, and watching this film in this position can only be a disappointment.  Watched with a contemporaneous 2006 mindset, it’s a movie where a franchise is trying to find new stars (Lucas Black and Sung Kang) and reassert Vin Diesel as the creative mastermind of the series, after he was effectively side-lined in 2 Fast 2 Furious.  Some of these threads were followed, some were rejected, and it is a fundamentally enjoyable film, but there’s no point watching it looking for a development of Han’s character in response to the loss of Giselle; the emotional content just isn’t there, and that can only be a disappointment.



Fast & Furious rankings:


  1. Fast & Furious 6
  2. Fast Five
  3. The Fast and the Furious
  4. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
  5. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  6. Fast & Furious
  7. Los Bandoleros
  8. Turbo Charged Prelude


Heavy-‘Han’ded references to Tokyo:


The whole bloody film.

F5 – Fast & Furious 6 (2013 – Justin Lin)


Fast & Furious 6 is less about repositioning characters and more about appreciating the history the series has built up at this stage.  The escalation of Toretto’s criminality – from trafficking portable DVD players to crashing planes – is explicitly referenced, and there is a real benefit to the real-time aging that the characters have experienced.  When Brian and Mia become parents, it is touching that we remember their juvenile infatuation and how things have messily progressed since then.  It is less touching when we remember that Jordana Brewster brought real intelligence, and the possibility of stardom to The Fast and the Furious; now she is window dressing, removed completely from the main plot until the final moments of the film.

Moving away from the drug barons that have provided the series’ main antagonists until this point, Fast & Furious 6 begins the franchises’ adoption of comic-book cliché supervillains.  Here we have the mirror opposites of Dom’s crew, each a twisted reflection of our beloved heroes.  Surprisingly, amongst them is Michelle Rodriguez, making a welcome return as Letty.  Seeing Rodriguez in this film, and others such as Avatar (2009 – James Cameron), I am struck by how charismatic a movie star she is.  Here she is so good as a woman who doesn’t know who she is, much like Brian had been up until this point.  Fatherhood brings him  a sense of peace and of understanding of who he is.  In a crew dominated by a lot of mouthy know-it-alls (and make no mistake, Dom Toretto is the biggest one of these), he is the rock, the voice of perception.

Seen in the light of their darkened reflections, the rest of the crew begin to come into their own.  Dwayne Johnson begins to assert himself over the narrative, and makes a character point of Luke Hobbs’ willingness to leap from moving vehicles.  Giselle and Han give a touching portrayal of a genuinely supportive, trusting and understanding relationship – one that makes you wish for a spin-off starring just the two of them.  Giselle’s death is genuinely moving, and one that underlines just how capable Gal Gadot was in giving strength to a paper-thin character.  And Tyrese Gibson just (just) about manages to stop Roman Pearce becoming a walking stereotype.  Pearce is obsessed with money, sex and often seems to exist simply to make jokes, all attributes often offensively given to black actors.  But his charismatic reading of his lines give the impression that he is the only one in the room who understands how ridiculous this all is.

(And it is ridiculous… this a series that tries to get you to take Vin Diesel as a romantic lead seriously, after all.)

Since the successful introduction of Dwayne Johnson in the previous movie, the franchise starts to make a point of casting established action stars with each film.  Gina Carano (best known for Haywire (2011 – Steven Soderbergh)) and Joe Taslim (seen in The Raid (2011 – Gareth Evans)) are brought in as bad guys and bring with them an astonishing physicality.  The fight between Carano and Rodriguez on the London Underground is as nasty and vicious as anything seen within action cinema, and an example of two highly capable stars pushing their bodies to the limit in their verisimilitude and desire to show the punishment of violence.

The setting of London is not just a pretty backdrop for the action, another stop on their global adventure.  Despite the rather messy geography used in the film (knowing a city well makes it harder to fudge how they got from point A to point B, a fact we must assume to be true for every other location in the series), the film takes an admirable approach to the CCTV culture of the U.K.  The country is the most surveilled population in the world, since the nation’s gleeful adoption of the technology in the wake of the truly shocking images discovered as part of the Jamie Bulger murder investigation.  The horrific images of a small child being led away by other small children led the population to accept mass surveillance regardless of any infringement of civil liberties.  In this film, the technology is used to track and locate opponents easily on several occasions.

What makes Fast & Furious 6 so good though, is its continual employment of action.  In previous films, the action sequences, be they fist-fights, car chases or heists have felt very much like sequences.  Here they become a very fabric of the movie, intrinsically woven in.  The film has a constant forward momentum, and avoids the lazy trap of having character sit around in rooms of various sizes and talk about their emotions.  In previous films, these always brought the plot to a grinding halt; here Dom convinces Letty of his love through action (leaping from a bridge to catch her), rather than words.  And they are extraordinary action scenes.  Justin Lin regularly employs a helicoptered camera to capture motion, and there is a suplex move involving Toretto and Hobbs against a man-mountain of an opponent towards the end of the film, that is something quite astonishing.  It’s a brilliant movie and a high point of the series so far.

And there is a gripping post-credits sequences that significantly reframes the events of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.  Better watch that film after all!



Fast & Furious rankings:


  1. Fast & Furious 6
  2. Fast Five
  3. The Fast and the Furious
  4. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  5. Fast & Furious
  6. Los Bandoleros
  7. Turbo Charged Prelude



Brian & Dom street racing scorecard:


Brian: III (I read the opening dash to Mia’s hospital as a street race… Brian convincingly wins, even though it is not commented upon)

Dom: III



Heavy-‘Han’ded references to Tokyo:


2 (again! Giselle asks ‘What’s our next adventure?’ before being told Tokyo by Han, and at the end of the film he says he has to go to Tokyo… FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER!!!


Best line:


There are several contenders but Ludacris’ ‘We need more alphabets!’ is a strong second place.


Winner has to go to Roman Pearce’s insouciant comment ‘Why do I smell baby oil?’ as Luke Hobbs enters the room behind his back.  Possible one of the greatest lines in cinema, full stop.

F4: Fast Five (2011 – Justin Lin)


Fast Five begins with a replay of the final moments of Fast & Furious; by this stage, Vin Diesel’s translation of Sylvester Stallone’s career is complete.  He is using the same tricks as Stallone’s Rocky (1976 – John G. Avilsden) franchise, as much as he is adopting the elder star’s screen persona.  The replay also underlines that this is a franchise growing in critical and commercial appreciation; new fans are coming to series after hearing positive word of mouth (and for the record, I was one of those people.)

Even by this stage the franchise has established a huge cast of characters, both lead and supporting.  It is adopting the approach of The Simpsons, which innovatively focused on producing a world of additional people, replete with distinctly drawn personalities, catchphrases and emotional ties to the main cast.  This means the return of Matt Schulze as Vince from The Fast and the Furious and Eva Mendes as Monica Fuentes from 2 Fast 2 Furious – they bring with them a level of emotional complexity that would not arise otherwise.  There is no exposition to explain their characters; the audience is expected to get up to speed themselves.

Additionally, each film in the series will now bring in new characters to the mix; the world grows ever bigger.  Fast Five makes the frankly delightful choice to introduce Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs.  Taking a role originally written for an elder statesman, such as Tommy Lee Jones, Johnson hurls himself into the franchise with little consideration of its existing stars.  He is eminently watchable; gruff, amusing, and physically dominant.  There is no doubt in his mind that this film belongs to him.  By the time Hobbs destroys Toretto’s Dodge Charger, we know we are seeing an oppositional mountain of masculinity to Vin Diesel (and their passive aggressive social media games recently only underline this).  Johnson’s sense-of-humour is vital to this, bringing a charisma to his part that Diesel could never reach.  In doing so, O’Conner’s role changes.  He is no longer antagonistic, and instead becomes a peaceful counter-balance to the oppressive testosterone of Diesel and Johnson around him.

But what is apparent by this stage is the true multi-cultural representation of the lead cast.  It is extraordinarily diverse (and Fast Five goes to great lengths to underline that even Giselle, previously ethnically ambiguous, is a former Israeli soldier).  Even considering that Diesel, and to a much lesser extent Johnson, have traded on a level of racial ambivalence, the Fast & Furious cast stands in defiance against the bland Caucasian dominance of Hollywood.  In an era where Marvel prides themselves on solitary female and black (but never both… god forbid….) actors, the Fast & Furious line-up stands as truly progressive, giving vital prominence to racial and ethnic groups woefully under-represented on screen, such as Sung Kang’s Korean American heritage.  Indeed, this diversity becomes text, when the federal agents acting against the crew realise that their imperialist, white standards and practices won’t operate in the diverse world of Toretto’s crew.  Their only hope is to integrate, as Hobbs ultimately does.

Many of the key elements of the series are still in place.  Characters are repurposed (Ludacris’ Tej Parker is inexplicably repositioned as a tech expert) explained away as unseen adventures.  Skeevy sexual politics continue under Lin’s direction (it is pretty shameful that Gal Gadot’s arse becomes a plot point, and the opening sequence relies on the Mission: Impossible style tension of heists gone wrong.

But there are clear new additions.  The film has a bloated running time, underlining its status as a blockbuster tentpole release (essential to the running of the Universal studio).  The series adopts a Bond-ian approach to locations, visiting a series of exotic locales (there are an almost impossible number of shots of Christ-the-Redeemer to emphasise just how much this film is set in Rio).  And action sequences come to the fore.  There are foot chases a-plenty (very much a signature style of twenty-first century action cinema after the success of The Bourne Supremacy (2004 – Paul Greengrass), physical fights between characters (the fight between Hobbs and Toretto operates as two huge pieces of meat pounding the crap out of each other) and some extraordinary car chases.  The opening and losing sequences are superb, successfully balancing rapid motion and the occasional necessary physical stillness.  There is a glee to the franchises’ willingness to easily annihilate physical structures.  Buildings crumble, glass shatters, cars are tossed about like footballs; all this underlines the casual appetite for destruction that action cinema enjoys.  The heists were always a feature of the series; now they are essential.

With this comes a reduction in some other aspects.  Jordana Brewster is again shunted to the side (a movement that is shamefully continued over the next few films).  Street racing is almost completely removed – Lin wittily cuts away from a sequence just as it is about to begin in this film.  His direction is on occasions extraordinary – there is a long shot of assassins swarming out of the slums of Rio that is quite beautiful.  And the series admits that its reliance on the tension between Toretto and O’Conner is over.  At the beginning of the film, O’Conner is still very much a rookie, but by the end he is a brother.  Along the way, there is a touching sequence where the two discuss their respective fathers; Toretto’s was ever-present, generous and gregarious, O’Conner’s was absent, a blot on his memory.  It explains Dom’s utter conviction in himself, and Brian’s shifting, unfixed personality, a personality he ultimately finds stability in the love of Mia by the end of the film.  No longer will we wonder who O’Conner is, he is now a stable, strong man.

Fast Five is an extraordinary film.  One that the cemented the franchise’s reputation as one of the most invigorating action film series of modern cinema.  The opening sequence with its car surfing escapades, and closing, almost half-hour police vault heist are both shot with a determination and exhilaration of style.  The series is no longer relying on superfluous CGI to make its point.  The current consensus is that single-take shots are essential for invigorating action sequences, but Fast Five proves that quick cutting has its place, as long as it maintains a ccoherence of motion.  It is the high point of the franchise so far.

Oh, and it’s revealed that Letty isn’t dead!  It’s a shame Dom has got over her, and is now fucking someone else…


Fast & Furious rankings:


  1. Fast Five
  2. The Fast and the Furious
  3. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  4. Fast & Furious
  5. Los Bandoleros
  6. Turbo Charged Prelude



Brian & Dom street racing scorecard:


Brian: II (though Dom lets him win to not hurt his conscience)

Dom: III



Heavy-‘Han’ded references to Tokyo:


2 (once emphasised in a discussion about a magazine, and once in conversation between Han and Giselle ‘I thought you wanted to go to Tokyo?’, ‘We’ll get there eventually.’ – it’s almost as if they were planning on fitting more films into the continuity slot)



Best line:


‘My smile is not that great.’ Elsa Pataky’s (a woman who is a professional smiler) Elena Neves responding to Luke Hobbs sexist reason for employing her.

F3: Fast & Furious (2009 – Justin Lin)


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:


  1. The Fast and the Furious
  2. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  3. Fast & Furious
  4. Los Bandoleros
  5. Turbo Charged Prelude



Brian & Dom street racing scorecard:


Brian: I

Dom: III



Heavy-‘Han’ded references to Tokyo:


1 (Han refers to crazy shit happening there)

F2.5: Los Bandoleros (2009 – Vin Diesel)


The next film produced in the series was Justin Lin’s first contribution, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), but gluttony, and a love of Sung Kang’s Han Seoul-Oh character, meant that the following film in the franchise (which featured the return of Vin Diesel), was set chronologically before it.  It gets increasingly entertaining to see the various heavy-handed mentions of Han going to Tokyo as they began to fit more and more films into this gap.  It’s a bit like Narnia in the regard.  Because I’m a masochist, I’ve decided to watch the series in chronological order, rather than production order.


But before we reach the next entry… a short film directed by Vin Diesel! 

So Dom goes to the Dom(inican Republican).  For a star who has relied on his racial ambiguity, it is curious that Los Bandoleros begins to tie Vin Diesel to a specific heritage.  It doesn’t end there; the small touches of previous films begin to be reasserted as character traits.  Meal times (a hugely pleasurable thing to watch – Hollywood neglects the vicarious thrill of watching people eat because of its industrial-strength eating disorders), Catholicism, the family unit, are all promoted to the forefront.  At the same time, the series begins to recede in its use of its initial hook, that of street racing.  Much like how the series has re-orientated characters in the past, it now begins to re-orientate the very texture of the film itself.

Eradicated from the previous movie, Los Bandoleros exists to reintroduce Vin Diesel’s superiority within the franchise.  The twenty minute runtime is little more than an extended visual bon-mot for Toretto.  Whilst Dom is sexualised (he openly flirts with several women) in a way that is quite unbecoming of his character, he is ultimately reigned in (and outshone in performance) by Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty.  Little more than a supporting character in the first film, Los Bandoleros recognises the captivating intelligence of Rodriguez – one of the great, occasionally dangerous, screen presences of the modern era. The Fast and the Furious franchise relies on subtle shifts in character; histories are constantly rewritten and fresh explanations for behaviour are given for actions in each film.  Dom and Letty become a wild, passionate romance… for no reason other than they are two attractive, compelling stars.

With his leap into directing, and his assertive dominance over the franchise through his role as a producer, Vin Diesel moves closer to adopting the career of Sylvester Stallone.  Like Stallone, Diesel is a hyper-naturalistic, gravelly-voiced actor who relies on the sweaty thrill of the audience gazing at his body.  Diesel begins to create a cinematic identity that is similar to Stallone’s too; conforming to a very specific paternal form of masculinity, where his character is unquestionably adored by the supporting cast.

Whilst the short films in the franchise have always been more visually adventurous than the main series, Los Bandoleros has some pretensions of documentary realism… if that documentary was some Jamie Oliver food tourism nonsense.  Admirably, the dialogue is subtitled for much of the running time, but ultimately the short film is an elaborate set-up for the next entry in the series, with some rather reductive arthouse pretensions.

Fast & Furious rankings:


  1. The Fast and the Furious
  2. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  3. Los Bandoleros
  4. Turbo Charged Prelude

F2: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003 – John Singleton)


For a franchise that is essentially driven by Vin Diesel, it is extraordinary in retrospect to see that the series pinned its hopes on the charm of Paul Walker for its first sequel.  Retroactively looking at their careers, there was little between them; they both had their fair share of successes and flops, but Diesel’s slightly tedious posturing led to him being erased from not only this, but his fairly obnoxious xXx (2002 – Rob Cohen) franchise.

To add salt to the wound, the absence of Diesel is barely made explicit in 2 Fast 2 Furious; but implicitly, the film has to accommodate his non-appearance.  To achieve this, the film repositions Paul Walker; he is given a more adventurous past, one where he regularly broke the law and mixed in racially diverse circles.  It is a far cry from the gentleman of the first film who offered to wash the dishes.  The film also re-orientates his choice at the end of The Fast and the Furious; where once it was the discretion of a man in love with his criminal friend who gave him acceptance, it now was the decision made by an individual atoning for past mistakes (specifically his inability to defend Roman Pearce in his time of need).  In doing so, O’Conner’s origin story moves closer to Toretto’s – this will become self-evident once O’Conner starts driving a similar Dodge Charger to Toretto.  The series will make a habit of altering and deepening its characters as it progresses; see the fuck buddy dynamic of Letty and Toretto become a passionate romance without any on-screen evidence.

Many of the key qualities of the franchise become apparent in this film.  The Day-Glo neon colour scheme moves to the forefront.  Fantastical high-tech equipment is employed without explanation.  The series demonstrates its disregard for the profession of acting in its continual employment of models and rappers in supporting roles (this is a policy that pays off as much as it fails).  And for the first time, the film has a clearly identifiable bad guy.  With his stomach-tunnelling rat scene, Cole Hauser positions himself as a villain in the James Bond tradition; the causal cruelty he employs in a Miami milieu bring to mind Robert Davi in Licence to Kill (1989 – John Glen).

The addition of the aforementioned Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce is endearing; he is a subversive presence within the films, causally undermining the seriousness of the situations he is in through his inability to comprehend the scale of the heists he is participating in.  Everything is a surprise to him.  Later, he will prove to be one of the strongest members of the supporting cast, but here he unfortunately takes on many of the tropes of the black best friend; he is angry, he adds an urban authenticity to the white male lead, he is comical and overtly and inappropriately sexual in social situations.  It is an unfortunate element to a series that is for the most part racially progressive.  This film features some colour-blind romances.  In itself a good thing, but rightly or wrongly, these relationships are rarely simplistic in the real world, and the film fails to deal with any implicit or explicit issues.

Singleton directs with little sense of adventure and only really comes to life during the car chase scenes (of which there are far more than its predecessor).  He understands that the wide frame is highly effective when showing a driver behind the wheel of a car.  He uses CGI more cautiously, using it to subtly shift the frame between vehicles during the chase sequences rather than employ hard cuts.  The camera zooms and swirls between the different vehicles.  2 Fast 2 Furious ups the chase sequences from the first film, largely by employing more vehicles.  There is an astonishing scene where dozens of cars swarm out of a garage to confuse the pursuing police force, and Singleton wilfully treats police cars as cannon fodder, smashing and crashing them together in a way that recalls John Landis’ gleeful The Blues Brothers (1980).

It’s unavoidable that this sequel isn’t as strong as the first film.  Thematically, is dilutes the exploration of family and acceptance into a rather superficial demonstration of the necessity of mending broken friendships.  There are many things that distract you; Paul Walker’s appalling short-sleeve shirts and white-boy-pretending-to-be-tough walk.  And it features a scene set at what is clearly the worst club in the world (and I’ve been to Zens).  But with its plethora of engaging car chases, it’s an enjoyable entry in the series.


Fast & Furious rankings:


  1. The Fast and the Furious
  2. 2 Fast 2 Furious
  3. Turbo Charged Prelude

Films seen April

Life (2017 – Daniel Espinosa)

Which people try to disparage as an Alien rip-off.  As if that’s a bad thing?

A lovely (though completely faked) single-shot sequence opens a film follows the standard formula of a likeable crew (Reynolds, Wilson, Gyllenhaal) being murdered one by one.  So what – it’s a nominal plot?  There are fascinations of my childhood – dinosaurs, space travel, steam trains – that remain with me to this day.  I love them, regardless of the context.  The conviction of the cast in this film and the claustrophobia of a zero-gravity space station adds a level of true hostility to the proceedings; we rarely get to see utter terror in our lives, so it is exhilarating to see it performed.  But the ending – a glorious, defeatist conclusion, which dooms both our heroes and the whole of humanity – pushes this film into something quite thrilling.  I could do with one of these films a month.

A tiny, shitty screen with broken chairs and an obnoxious audience at the Cineworld Leicester Square (formerly the Empire).  If I wasn’t in a good mood, I’d have properly resented the experience.  Ticket was about £12.

Free Fire (2017 – Ben Wheatley)


Six films in, and he’s no closer to a masterpiece.  The breadth of Wheatley’s career is more something to admire than love (Steven Soderbergh suffers from the same affliction).  There is an almost desperate, and quite cynical, tendency within his films to create something ‘cult’.  He is a poseur trying to be alternative.  Every moment of Free Fire seems designed to be regurgitated by some inexperienced nineteen-year-old in a university halls of residence; and maybe it will be.  But there is nothing in this film that is even remotely dangerous or surprising.  It is an utterly safe film.  It is a tedious trawl through an approximation of ‘interesting’; actors little more than E.R. guest-stars perform paper-thin characters spouting dialogue that is not once amusing or quotable.

I think there is nothing more dull in modern cinema than the choice to ironically re-appropriate a popular, if slightly naff, pop song.  Ben Wheatley probably considers it to be an ‘edgy’ choice.


A small screen at the Bluewater Showcase… which was completely deserted of anyone other than myself.  I suspect they released it on too many screens following the relative success of High Rise (2016).  I’m not sure how the BFI can justify financially supporting a release on this level.  I can never work out in these situations (and for the record, it’s happened twice before – at Ponyo (2008 – Hayao Miyazaki) and Much Ado About Nothing (2012 – Joss Whedon)), whether I’m essentially in a private screening or very, very lonely.  Ticket cost £9 or so.



Raw (2016 – Julia Ducournau)


Which is one of those films where I spent a significant part of its run-time not actually looking at the screen, such was the unpleasantness on display.  That’s not a criticism – I find the deliberate ambiguity that drowns modern art-house cinema far more distasteful than any depiction of cannibalism.  But I can’t love a film like this – all effect, and little substance.


Screen 3 at the Odeon Covent Garden.  Ticket cost £10.



Grindhouse (2007 – Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez)


We never got the chance to see this movie as originally intended in the U.K. and I occasionally claim that Death Proof is one of my favourite films ever, so the chance to see all three hours or so of this film was most welcome.


Seeing it with an audience was thrilling, and it’s fair to say that for many there the fake trailers were the highlight of the evening.  The ‘missing reel’ moment in Planet Terror absolutely killed; when Tarantino tries the same effect in Death Proof it seems muted and diluted.


Rodriguez and Tarantino were reaching for different things in their movies.  Rodriguez saw it as an opportunity to indulge in his trashy impulses, whilst Tarantino, always more concerned with his own auteurship, directed a new project, albeit one which took some of his textural indulgences (black + white sections, chaptered storytelling etc.) to an extreme.  The latter is a better film – not unsurprisingly – but its pleasures are less obvious, and in the double-bill format, the audience is exhausted by the time the final thrilling car chase erupts onto the screen.  You could feel the fatigue in the room.

Sold out showing on the upstairs screen at the Prince Charles Cinema.  Fantastic audience.  Ticket cost £8 (I think…).  35mm showing – though it’s hard to notice here, given the deliberate grottiness of the image.



The Fate of the Furious (2017 – F. Gary Gray)


As I’m currently serialising a series on The Fast and the Furious films, I’ll reserve the majority of my thoughts until I publish the piece in June.

But suffice to say, it was the weakest instalment of an occasionally extraordinary franchise.


Huge screen at the Bluewater Showcase, slightly dampened by the fact that I had a killer migraine whilst watching it.  Ticket cost £9.



The Red Shoes (1948 – Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)


Which I often claim to be my favourite film.  I’m not sure I feel that way right now; like most favourite films, the allegiance towards a director usually means affection shifts from one film to another as time goes by.  Once upon a time, Raging Bull (1980) was my favourite Martin Scorsese film; nowadays Taxi Driver (1976) is more affecting.  I suspect that one day I will find The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) or The Small Back Room (1949) to be more compelling pictures than this.

But for now, The Red Shoes remains one of the most important pieces of art in my life.  To watch it is to understand part of my soul in a way I find quite hard to vocalise.  The same applies for some Tony Scott and Michael Mann films.

And like all art that affects us, like all truly great movies, every time I watch it I find something new within in it.  This time, I seemed to experience it as some great queer masterpiece; Lermontov, with his noticeably highly feminine sunglasses, is a great camp queen.  His interest in Vicky is not sexual; it is ascetic, a temptation to reject the limited satisfaction offered by the heteronormative existence with Julian, and share in his indulgence of the creativity of talent and art.  You can read the closing sequence as a mythical re-enactment of Hans Christian Andersen’s story or the suicide of a woman torn between two men, neither who can satisfy her, and who both want to control and limit her ambitions.  But this time, it was an act of freedom, a passionate moment of emotion, from a woman who was so close to choosing to never experience it again.  Few films are this powerful.


Upstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Slightly sniffy audience, including one douche who sniggered at any display of emotion in an attempt to prove how sophisticated he is.  There is a special circle in hell for the smug cunts who come to these screenings.  Ticket cost £8.  35mm showing of the most recent restoration.



Alien (1979 – Ridley Scott)


And another all-time favourite film, seen on the big-screen for the first time.  It is a relentless and horrifying and a masterpiece of design, performance and escalating tension.

If we’re talking about the new things we see in beloved pieces of art – for me this viewing converged the mutual obsession of this film, and that of Psycho (1960 – Alfred Hitchcock).  Ripley’s pleading with Mother recalls Norman Bates’ fractured psyche; there is no reasoning with this destructive impulse.  It will dominate our existence.  In this regard, the xenomorph is an inhuman extension of Bates; simultaneously masculine and feminine, unfeeling and relentlessly homicidal.


Seen on the Sigourney Weaver screen at the Picturehouse Central.  It was an extraordinary 70mm print – speaking to the staff afterwards, the quality of the print was almost neon when they got it, but the projectionist team were able to show it as something beautiful.  Truly one of the best cinematic experiences of my life.  Ticket only cost £8.



Mad Max: Fury Road (2015 – George Miller)

Aware that when I first saw this film I was massively hungover, but still loved it (it was my favourite film of 2015), I jumped at the chance to see this again on the big screen.

Now I’m all for arbitrary indulges in movies.  I adore alternate cuts, franchises with different chronologies to production order – you name it, I will go there.  I’ve watched Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg) in black and white because Steven Soderbergh told us to, I’ve watched all three different versions of Legend (1985 – Ridley Scott) for the sheer hell of it.  So I went to see the Black and Chrome version of this film.

But a huge part of the appeal of this film was the extraordinarily vivid colour palate.  It seems masochistic to deny ourselves that appeal.

Downstairs screen at the Prince Charles Cinema.  Ticket cost £10.  Despite my misgivings about the visuals, the soundtrack sounded phenomenal – they really have an excellent audio set-up down there.

Win it All (2017 – Joe Swanberg)


I think it goes without saying that anything I watch at home is going to have less impact than something I see on screen.  There’s too many distractions, too many opportunities to look away from the visuals, and turn to the phone or laptop.  The cinema is my church; home is my prayer (the mind wanders from what it is meant to do.)

… but I really liked the onscreen text of this film.


Watched on Netflix.

F1.5: Turbo Charged Prelude (2003 – Phillip G. Atwell)


Essentially a DVD bonus feature, this short film seeks to bridge The Fast and the Furious (2001 – Rob Cohen) with its sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003 – John Singleton).  The two short films within the franchise have demonstrated a formal inventiveness that the main sequence has not played with – this is a nearly silent sequence of endless montages featuring Paul Walker.  For something that is sold as ‘turbo charged’, it moves at a snail’s pace.

By eradicating Vin Diesel from the film’s narrative, the franchise moves into a more sexually conventional space, as marked by O’Conner’s flirtation with Minka Kelly (all thoughts of Jordana Brewster have gone).  But O’Conner is a man without a purpose; his decision to let Toretto escape at the end of the first film marks him as a failure, both within his profession (police officer) and personal life (part of Toretto’s crew).  He is currently functionless.  For O’Conner, this is unbearable; his fear of failure is a defining characteristic, and it explains his nomadic, desperate trek across the United States.

But let’s not kid ourselves, it’s a fairly disposable, occasionally incoherent piece of filmmaking.  Roll on the sequel with the greatest film title ever…


Fast & Furious rankings:


  1. The Fast and the Furious
  2. Turbo Charged Prelude