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Five reasons I love the Fast & Furious franchise

I've maintained a love affair with this franchise built on fast cars, tough characters, and applause-worthy action. With 'Fast Five' just released, I thought I'd wax poetic on the top five reasons why I keep coming back for more.


I’m shamelessly addicted to the Fast & Furious flicks.

By the time you read this, I’ll already have seen Fast Five (which opened yesterday — see my review) twice. When Fast & Furious bowed in 2009, I saw it at least four times — I’m not really sure. All I remember is that, one of those times, the cashier at my local theater looked at me and said, “Haven’t you seen this already?”

It’s been ten years and five films, and although it hasn’t always been a great ride (I maintain Fast & Furious is the sequel that should’ve been made all along, no offense to the two films in between), I’ve maintained a love affair with this franchise built on fast cars, tough characters, and applause-worthy action. Before I go off to catch Fast Five again, I thought I’d wax poetic on the top five reasons why I keep coming back for more.

1) The characters.

A movie is nothing to me if it doesn’t have characters that I want to watch. Those of the Fast & Furious franchise are old friends to me by now, people that I’d have a beer with or hang out alongside. I don’t just enjoy watching them, but I actively want to spend more time with them. When the credits rolled on Fast & Furious, I said, “Okay, what’s next?”

They’re not perfect. They’re led by an ex-criminal and a former FBI agent who also managed to get kicked out of the LAPD. But there’s something noble about these people, who will literally risk — and oftentimes lose — everything for each other. We’d all like to think we’re that close to the people we love, but when it really comes down to it, would we be that selfless? They are. There’s a real sense of family amongst them. A loyalty that doesn’t often exist in the real world.

Fundamentally, under the labels and mistakes of their pasts, they’re good people. They do things that help people besides themselves, and they try not to hurt anyone else along the way if they can help it. (There’s a great line in Fast Five about how their carefully orchestrated attack on a prison bus caused no fatalities and every prisoner but one was accounted for.) Dominic Toretto may have started as a villain, but there’s no doubt now that he’s a hero in his own right.

Whether it’s Dom’s being a force of nature, Brian’s conflicting loyalties, Mia’s maternal tendencies, or even just the comedic antics of people like Tej, Roman Pearce, or Tego and Don Omar — almost all of the heroes introduced in the five flicks have something about them that I either identify with or just want to be around. They’re the heart of the franchise. Anyone can blow stuff up and use lots of flashy graphics. It’s characters that make a series endure, and with rare exception, these are fascinating, fun, compelling characters.

2) Vin Diesel.

His biceps are probably bigger than my head. Oh, and he’s a pretty talented actor, too.

It’s true that he’s best known for his action roles — three of them to be exact: Dom, Xander Cage from XXX and Richard B. Riddick from Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, and The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury — but Vin Diesel isn’t all brawn without brains. In fact, he’s at his best when there’s no action involved. Check him out in a Sidney Lumet film called Find Me Guilty, where he gives an outstanding performance as mobster Jackie DiNorscio. He practically disappears into the character, except for that unmistakable deep voice.

It’s easy to see why no one else could play Dominic Toretto, and in turn why he’s such a great movie character. Dom, on paper, is supposed to be a living legend on the street racing scene. His name is known not just in Los Angeles but, as later films establish, the world over. People look at him with respect if not awe. That’s a lot of hype. But it’s Diesel’s size, his voice, and his general presence that brings that mystique to life. He has the gravity that makes Dom’s huge reputation believable. Whether he’s the villain (The Fast and the Furious) or the hero (Fast & Furious), he’s a force. An incredibly watchable force.

But Dom is much more than his physical superiority. He wouldn’t be interesting if he was just a tough guy. He’s got depth, charm, and a moral code of his own to follow. A great example of this is Fast & Furious: we see more of Dom’s vulnerable side as he sets out to avenge the death of the woman he loves, even if it means certain trouble for him. That’s down to Diesel, who never loses the character in the midst of all the high-octane action. Even though all that is awesome, he’s still telling Dom’s story.

And it’s a compelling story: I’ll freely admit that I was getting choked up at the end of Fast & Furious as Dom was sentenced, and cheering when the team arrived to bust him out of that prison bus. This is a character that I’ve come to love, played by an actor that I truly enjoy watching.

3) Paul Walker.

Do they make guys prettier than Paul Walker? Other than White Collar‘s Matt Bomer, I don’t think so. I have no shame in admitting that Walker is a good-looking man. But he’s also a lot more than a pretty face.

Watch any interview and it’s clear that Walker loves what he does with an enthusiasm that’s infectious – particularly when you’re talking about this franchise and the character of Brian O’Conner. He loves this ride just as much as the fans do, and you can feel it on screen when someone has that kind of love for a project. Like Diesel, I think Walker gets a bit of a hard time because he’s judged less on his acting and more on his appearance. (And c’mon, let’s face it, his hair in The Fast and the Furious was a bit ridiculous.) Take him out of the action hero mold and you might be surprised. I was moved to tears by his work in a little-known film called The Lazarus Project.

But to me, no matter what he does after, he’ll always be Brian O’Conner. Walker has done a great job of showing us just how far Brian has come, and it’s been one heck of a journey — from undercover LAPD officer, to FBI agent, to fugitive. I don’t think any other character in the franchise has changed as much. Watching him, though, has always been fun because the audience can understand his conflicting loyalties between what’s legally right and what he feels is morally right. It’s completely believable and a little admirable that he’d choose love over duty. And though his love for Mia is certainly important to him, that’s not the only reason he had a change of heart. He did it because he believed it was right. If only we had the same courage of our convictions.

Brian is a perfect balance for Dom. While Dom generally keeps everything in, Brian is much more hotheaded. He’s less calculating and more reckless. The two of them together make an excellent pair because they’re similar enough to see eye to eye but still different in many ways. He’s also important to us because of what he represents. Brian was how we, the audience, got into Dom’s world eleven years ago, and to this day, he’s still the guy we can see ourselves in. I certainly feel like I know him pretty well.

4) The cars.

This is the franchise that got me excited about cars. Before The Fast and the Furious, I couldn’t have cared less about them, let alone understood anything anyone was saying to me about them. Now, I’ve got a replica of Dominic Toretto’s legendary Dodge Charger (may it rest in peace) sitting on my desk. And I can follow along when the hosts on Top Gear talk car specs.

Befitting the unique culture that this franchise introduced us to, there are some truly beautiful and amazing vehicles in this series of films. I just love looking at them, seeing them be put together, and watching what they can do … which is a lot of impressive races and stunts. Sure, they’re not particularly realistic, but why suck all the fun out of a good thing? These are the kinds of action scenes I go to the movies for. The racing sequences in these movies always get my heart going a little faster, not just because they’re exciting but they’re also visually stunning. When I want to show people how great my Blu-ray player makes a film look, these are the films I break out.

I’ve fallen in love with these vehicles, not just the machines themselves but the stories that have been built up behind them. Now I understand why people get attached to their cars. Before the release of Fast & Furious, Universal Studios Hollywood displayed some of the cars from the movie. There’s a picture of me standing next to that Dodge Charger, with a huge grin on my face. And why not? I was right there with my favorite character’s signature set of wheels. These cars are part of these characters, and as such, a huge and beautiful part of these movies.

5) The action.

As a film franchise goes on, you can expect certain things from it. When I go to a James Bond movie, I know what to expect. And when I go to a Fast and the Furious movie, I know that it’s not going to be a calm viewing experience. This is the very definition of a good time. I laugh, I cheer, sometimes my jaw drops a little – but it’s all about having fun. Even with the lesser films in the series, I always had fun.

I can think of plenty of memorable moments from the franchise, and not just the street races. Who expected Brian to crash a car into a boat at the end of 2 Fast 2 Furious? Insane, but fun. Or there’s his lengthy chase of a criminal that re-introduces us to him at the beginning of Fast & Furious. Or anything involving Dom wielding a shotgun. There’s no shortage of scenes I love from these movies, whether it’s a great confrontation, a memorable quip, or the handy use of an ejector seat.

Along the way, we’ve met plenty of fun characters that have contributed to the action, many of them memorably played by people who weren’t primarily known as actors (such as Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and musicians Don Omar and Tego Calderon). Even the smaller roles leave impressions. The good guys are great fun, and the bad guys are always very bad…and they’re all doing something to keep my attention. I’m never checking my watch when I’m at one of these movies.

That brings me to something I want to leave you with, and that’s the bigger picture of the Fast & Furious franchise. There’s a bit of a bad rap about these movies, and films like them, that I don’t feel like they deserve. I hate seeing them disparaged by critics who seem to miss the point. There’s a difference between these movies and the “serious” films, and these can’t be held to the same criteria that we grade those types of movies by, because they’re made with a different intent. They have to be appreciated for what they are, which is a great series of entertaining flicks. I love serious films – my favorite movie of all time is an Oscar winner – but I hold the Fast and the Furious series dear as well, for entirely separate reasons. I love Glory because it made me cry. I love Fast & Furious because it made me want to go out, buy a Dodge, and drive it ridiculously fast.

And honestly, in these days where it seems like everything has to be a franchise, where we’re talking about the second and the third movie before the first has even arrived, it’s great to see a real franchise that has legitimately survived for ten years, and is still true to where it started a decade ago. In fact, it’s getting better with age. It doesn’t surprise me that the Fast and the Furious series has endured this long, because it’s earned its success.

Fast Five opened in theaters yesterday, and you can read my review of it from yesterday.

Photo Credit: Universal

Categories: Features, General

2 Responses to “Five reasons I love the Fast & Furious franchise”

May 15, 2011 at 6:54 AM

MEEE TOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! i Love Fast&Furious SAGA. its the Greatest movie of all TYM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

May 15, 2011 at 6:55 AM

I love it SO DAmn alot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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