Fast Five

Fast Five. My, my. This franchise has gone a long way from where it started. I’m struggling to keep up. More is more, but also more is not more. The movie warms up with bus-jacking followed by a high-speed train robbery. Street races feels so quaint in comparison. But it also means this movie doesn’t feel as idiosyncratic as the earlier ones in the series, and there’s more standard-fare crude language, violence, vulgarity. Exploding toilets? Come on, guys. Although, there was one scene where Walker had this goofy, exhilarated smile and just seemed so happy to be at the heart of all the destruction, and I’m like, yeah, I get that. The final tow-chase was legit.

This one also has the undeniable joy of a cast reunion and team chemistry. It’s heist time! (Downside: Sorkin-style teamsplaining the plot, and the inevitable camera that rotates around the planning table at HQ.) And alas, I couldn’t help but let out a resigned sigh when I saw the team’s bundle of new gadgets and spy-tech. Vin Diesel seems to have acquired superhuman strength, and a new rival in the no-nonsense fast-talking Dwayne Johnson (hints of TLJ in The Fugitive), and they get in a fight that’s not very interesting.

The family/togetherness theme was more upfront in this one than the others. “Money will come and go. We know that. But the most important thing in life will always be the people in this room.” And earlier, “Promise me we stick together.” It made me remember back to Tokyo Drift: “I have money. It’s trust and character I need around me. You know, who you choose to be around you lets you know who you are.” With that in mind, I think that’s why some of the best tension of the franchise isn’t in this film: for the most part, they’ve staked out their loyalties and they don’t have to wrestle with them very much.

Two last notes: One, I was disappointed to hear a greater reliance on fairly standard orchestral scores; I remember the earlier movies having more song-based soundtracks that were connected with locale. And two, I love how they did the subtitles, floating and fading out on the screen instead of hugging the bottom edge. Small touch, but it’s cool that they took the time to make it cool.

Fast & Furious

Fast & Furious. Decent. Most franchises don’t stay strong after three movies. It’s definitely grown up: multi-national settings, gratuitous helicopter flyover shots, fancier locations, and pretty fireball explosions among the big-budget must-haves. The obvious CGI in the tunnel scenes was a bit of a letdown. The races more frenetic and choppy; the crashes were definitely more… comprehensive. I was also thinking this is first in the series that’s felt wholly like a work of the 2000s. Even has teal and orange in full force, along with some shaky-cam here and there. Good to see Vin Diesel back in a bigger role here, though sometimes it seems like he’s following instructions or something. Gotta like him, though. I also really, really enjoy John Ortiz as a villain. So good. He has a knack for balancing the malice and the charm without turning into a sideshow (see also his role in Miami Vice). I don’t think the music is as strong as in the previous three. Also, border crossings and expendable, replaceable labor force? Where have I heard that before? Final thought: I’d love to know how many times in movie history there’s been a woman/man/couple carrying groceries into a house, unloading in the kitchen, and then devolving into an argument/outburst/tears/etc. It’s movie boilerplate.

I’m now four deep into the F&F franchise. My top and my bottom picks are pretty secure, but for the middle ones, right now I think I’d rank them like…

  1. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
  2. The Fast and the Furious
  3. Fast & Furious
  4. 2 Fast 2 Furious

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Now we’re getting somewhere! Better than the first, way better than the second. I like how the physical/technical strain of the driving is more evident. Definitely a contrast with the delinquent joyride thrills of the second movie. And the change to mostly night-time, dense, urban driving makes for all kinds of crazy lighting and colors that gives the restless camera more to ogle. The two opposing father-son stories work. One son rebellious, one obedient. A possibly inadvertent dramatic bonus: what with the setting not being conducive to reckless gun-play in the streets, the few times when a gun is drawn are a bit more potent. Great job on audio across the board. Also, the scene with Neela driving is reminiscent of Toretto’s “10 seconds” monologue, but it also instantly made me think of the balcony scene in Heat.