In 2001, when The Fast and the Furious was released, it worked partially by simply being an action flick following the formula of good-looking people in cool-looking cars going fast. That, in and of itself, is not unique. Hollywood has produced endless movies filled with high octane car chases. What helped set The Fast and the Furious apart was the intensity of these street racing scenes, and more importantly, the chemistry of its cast. Long before Dom’s (Vin Diesel) extreme overuse of the word turned it into near self-parody, it was a film about family.
Dominic’s heist crew is filled with literal family, like his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and friends whom he is so close to that they might as well be family. The deep chemistry and that theme of family is examined even more when Brian (Paul Walker), a cop, goes undercover in Dom’s crew, only to fall for Mia, and in the end, when he has Dom and can take him in, lets him go. And it’s all told with some jaw dropping car racing scenes.
While it could be a little cheesy at times, it was never absurd. It was almost your typical slick action movie of the early 2000s, just done well. What really tested the eventual franchise were the next two films.
The ‘Fast and the Furious’ Franchise Needed Both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker
2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious was a critical dud, but it still did okay at the box office. What makes that most impressive is that while Walker is here, there is no Vin Diesel, who chose not to return due to his unhappiness with the script, which continued to do the same thing as the first movie. It’s a forgettable film, and arguably the weakest and most watered down entry.
Three years later, the franchise withstood another even bigger test with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, when not only did Vin Diesel not star (he did have a cameo), but its other leading star, Paul Walker, was not invited back. The film still tries, shaking things up by taking its story to the beautiful city of Tokyo and introducing a new lead in Lucas Black, but try as he might, Black wasn’t Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Though the film still did okay, and its racing scenes were stunningly shot, its existence just made fans want the original duo back that much more.
We finally got it in 2009 with Fast & Furious. Wisely, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker were brought back, and while the film would commercially be the most successful yet at the time due to the opening week anticipation, the final product itself was lacking. That comes down to the film not knowing what it wanted to be. It tried to recreate the magic of the first film while also trying to do something new, but without committing to either. Either it was a remake or a different vision, it couldn’t be both. Worst of all, the saving grace for a bad plot, the car chase scenes, were uninspired and simply boring.
The Franchise Let Go of the First Film’s Limitations with ‘Fast Five’
The franchise could have ended there. What else was there to do? The answer was to go all in and throw every idea at the wall and make it happen. The first thing 2011’s Fast Five got right was taking away the clunky plot of Brian being a cop. He’s a part of Dom’s crew now. Then there was the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Hobbs, a character who became so popular that he got his own spinoff, Hobbs & Shaw. He was the perfect antagonist to the crew without going over into stereotypical bad guy mode.
With the characters set, it’s with this film that the Fast and the Furious franchise started branching out and becoming more absurd, but rather than it being an accident of bad filmmaking, it was done on purpose. It’s the characters and the cars that we came for. In addition to the three leads, we had the likes of Tyrese and Ludacris doing their buddy comedy routine. Now give us cars going fast, but in a way we’ve never seen before.
Fast Five is a heist film, all leading to the moment where the crew is towing a giant bank vault through the streets, smashing every pursuing cop car in its way. It’s an impossible feat. There’s no way a car could move a massive vault, let alone at that speed, but who cares. It looked cool and it was exciting. And it worked. The soft reboot was a huge hit, but also critically praised for leaning into its over-the-top moments so well.
After ‘Fast & Furious 6,’ Fans Expected Absurdity From the ‘Fast and the Furious’ Movies
The affirmation from critics and moviegoers alike gave the franchise the green light to go bonkers. It’s what was expected now. So go bonkers they did. Fast & Furious 6 arrived in 2013, with Justin Lin at the helm for the fourth straight time. By this point, Dom’s gang was like superheroes, akin to The Avengers, rather than normal people. Their cars and their bodies could seemingly withstand anything, such as when Dom smashes his car into a wall on purpose, launching his body through the air to catch another character in midair and land on another car’s windshield, with both of them being perfectly fine. There’s no way anyone could have survived that, but so what? It looked sweet. It was a rush of adrenaline, which is what the franchise now sought to be. It’s why there’s also a tank.
If that wasn’t enough, there was the spectacle of the airport runway chase scene, filled with exploding planes and cars driving right through the fiery debris. You have to turn your mind off to the fact this seems to be the longest runway in the history of man.
Furious 7 keeps up the intensity with cars falling out of airplanes and an absurd scene of a car launching through a skyscraper window and smashing through the skyscraper next to it. The eighth film, Fate of the Furious, ups the ante higher than it has ever been, with a wild chase scene involving a submarine and Dom’s car outrunning a missile. He truly had become Captain America now.
It could have all been a jumping of the shark moment that showed how a fun action franchise had lost its way, but reviews mostly stayed positive and box office receipts were still astounding. These were the ideal popcorn movies. Some may judge them as too over-the-top and too unrealistic, but if superhero movies could get away with it, why couldn’t they? Fast and the Furious knew what it was doing. The best example of this is how fans jokingly wondered what the franchise would do next. Many claimed, half serious, half joking, that the only thing left to do was to go to space. So they did, launching a car with a rocket strapped to it in Fast 9.
Family Is Still at the Core of the ‘Fast and the Furious’ Films
You could argue that the Fast and the Furious franchise has gotten a little out of hand, with the absurdity becoming more important than the plot and its characters. Perhaps it has started to lose its way a bit, but what has kept the franchise tethered, even when it’s drifting off to space, is that it still comes back to its characters. Dom and his crew are still right there for each other, and Dom is still predictably going on about family.
At the heart of the franchise, past the spectacle, is that closeness. It’s a closeness that bled into real life. When Paul Walker tragically died in a car accident in 2013, it was during a break near the end of filming for Furious 7. It could have ended the franchise, especially with the sad irony of how Walker died, but instead the love from fans when Furious 7 came out was bigger than ever. It also created the most memorable moment of the two-decade-long franchise. More ingrained into our minds than any car chase is that quieter and more emotional scene at the end with Dom and Brian side by side in their cars looking at each other, made possible by having Walker’s face CGI’d onto the face of his real life brother. They take off for one last race, then Brian drives away. It was the most touching sendoff you could imagine.
The next film shows just how much of a superhero franchise Fast and the Furious has become with the additions of Jason Mamoa and Brie Larson. Who knows where Fast X will go, but one thing is certain, it will get there in the most absurd way possible. And we’ll eat up every second of it. Check out the trailer below.