Tuesday 18 April 2017

Rank the Films: Fast and Furious

As any regular reader of this blog will know, I think lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good.

To celebrate the release of the new eighth entry, The Fate of the Furious, arriving in cinemas over the weekend, I'm delving back into the high-octane world of the Fast and Furious franchise, ranking them all from worst to best. Across 16 years, five directors and eight movies, the Fast and Furious films and the action sequences they feature have proven to be hugely popular with audiences of all ages.

So strap in, grab a Corona and push the NOS button - it's time to categorically rank the films from worst to best. Where does your favourite sit in my list? Read on to find out...

8th - Fast and Furious (2009)

The fourth film - confusingly just titled Fast and Furious - is the awkward transitional chapter between the early street racing films and the later heist/spy films. After his cheeky cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift, Vin Diesel made the decision to return to the series that made him famous for a film that sort of acts like a soft reset.

And whilst it sets the tone for what is to come, director Justin Lin hasn't fine-tuned the formula yet, making this a rather forgettable entry in the franchise that sits awkwardly in the middle. It's neither essential viewing (you can skip right over and pick up the series with Fast Five) nor is it particularly fun - killing off Letty is a total bummer that robs the reunion of a lot of its momentum, making this a dour and melancholy chapter akin to Quantum of Solace (except it doesn't have the brilliance of a Casino Royale proceeding it).

7th - 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Rotten Tomatoes: 36%

Aside from having the greatest movie title ever, 2 Fast 2 Furious doesn't have a great deal going for it. With Diesel not keen on returning for the sequel, it's left to Paul Walker to carry the film all on his lonesome as the action transitions from Los Angeles to Miami, with Brian looking to redeem himself by going undercover yet again with another crew of dangerous street racers.

The real issue with 2 Fast 2 Furious is how quickly it has dated; the costumes, colours and overall production design have aged about as well as Ludacris' afro. The whole affair looks like one of those low-budget hip-hop music videos you'd catch on MTV at 3am. It's a weird mashup of Miami Vice and Need for Speed Underground, which admittedly does sound cool - but here doesn't live up to the promise.

Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson are notable additions; they had to fill the void left by Diesel somehow and it's very telling that these characters work because they're still around today. But the rest of the supporting cast are either forgettable or aren't carried forward into later chapters.

6th - Fast and Furious - Tokyo Drift (2006)

Rotten Tomatoes: 37%

Tokyo Drift is a spin-off that is all about one thing - the racing. Set on the streets of - you guessed it, Tokyo - the film doesn't carry over any plot lines from the first two films and instead focuses on an entirely new set of characters, led by Lucas Black's Sean Boswell.

It's a decision predicated by necessity more than anything - with Diesel still uninterested in returning, Universal struck a deal with the actor for a cameo in exchange for the rights to the Riddick film series.

It's a gamble that worked, for the most part - Tokyo Drift is a fun time that keeps the engine ticking over even though neither Diesel or Walker are involved. Justin Lin proved to be a great choice for director, with his breakneck action sequences leaping off the screen and he would continue to impress across the next three entries too.

The real issue with Tokyo Drift, in hindsight, is how it fits into the overall timeline of the franchise - with Han (Sung Kang) proving to be such a popular character, the whole storyline is retroactively readjusted so that Tokyo Drift slots between Fast and Furious 6 and 7. It's pretty confusing stuff for casual followers and doesn't make a lick of sense if you consider all the flip phones everyone is using in 2015, supposedly.

5th - The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Rotten Tomatoes: 53%

Having witnessed what was to follow, the first film looks relatively cute in comparison; there are no tanks, cargo planes, submarines or high-tech satellites controlled by evil cyberterrorists. It's all about the street racing, dominated by tricked out imports and beefed up muscle cars - not a Aventador or Veyron in sight.

For a lot of people, that's exactly what the series should be about. The newer films are largely superfluous and ridiculous by comparison - without these establishing films, none of that could have been possible.

At the time written off as merely 'Point Break with cars', The Fast and the Furious is a cornerstone of cheesy 00s action cinema that actually makes an effort to reach out and establish a raft of characters. It's not totally successful 100% of the time, and the posturing still comes across as a little goofy, but there is definitely a lot to like with this first entry. It's cute, charming and memorable for a lot of people, and with good reason.

4th - The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes: 64% 

The most recent entry in the Fast and Furious saga sees fatigue start to creep into proceedings - after such a rousing sendoff to both Paul Walker and the Dom/Brian bromance in Fast and Furious 7, Gary Gray's film escalates the action to insane levels and reaches to find new angles for the story. It's an okay effort bolstered by amazing action - but the weak plotting and muddled character motivations is plain to see.

The Fate of the Furious bounces all over the world, from Havana to Berlin, New York and Russia. Each location plays host to a zany action set piece that will delight fans who have been invested in this series. You've got a classic street race (par for the course at this point), a heist and a submarine chase through the Arctic. It's like an episode of Top Gear on steroids.

However, for the first time since 2009, the plot tying it all together doesn't quite work. For a film about roided up muscle cars, The Fate of the Furious contains a lot of standing around in rooms looking at computer screens with characters spouting all sorts of jargon. New additions Scott Eastwood and Charlize Theron lack heft and all in all, the whole affair feels a little overblown. Don't get me wrong, it's worth checking out and is packed with great action - but it's not on the same level as some of the other films higher up this list.

3rd - Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

Rotten Tomatoes: 69%

Fast and Furious 6 is a direct sequel to Fast Five; the two are tied together so tightly that it's essentially the second half of a protracted double header. It's a victory lap that takes what worked in Fast Five and does it again, only this time it's bigger and more personal (y'know, classic sequel stuff).

In this entry, Letty (who was presumed dead in the fourth film) resurfaces in London in the employ of villain Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). To bring her home, Dom teams up with Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) along with the rest of the crew.

After a fairly plot-heavy middle act, director Justin Lin comes good with a rousing crescendo that gets better and better as it goes. The final action sequence aboard the cargo plane is one of the best ever committed to film - and that's not undue exaggeration.

Even though it runs unrealistically long, director Justin Lin pieces the sequence together with careful consideration to pacing and staging. The action cuts back and forth from each salvo brilliantly, expertly following numerous storylines through the mayhem. It's a masterstroke of escalating the stakes and paying that off in fine style. Plus, that moment on the highway where Dom crashes his car into a barrier to catch Letty midair is an iconic moment in contemporary cinema #sorrynotsorry.

2nd - Fast and Furious 7 (2015)

The seventh instalment - simply titled Fast and Furious 7 here in Australia - sees the group race around the globe in pursuit of a snazzy piece of tech called the God's Eye, all the while being pursued by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who is out for blood.

Director James Wan was faced with a tough situation after the passing of Paul Walker - only midway through shooting, the film had to undergo extensive rewrites to reshape the film around real-life tragedy.

As a result, the film is both a rousing success in the face of adversity and a strange hybrid that has been manhandled into shape to fit with the rewrites and the franchise's own ungainly timeline. There are a collection of mismanaged B-plots and C-plots, but on the whole Fast and Furious 7 still excels when it should - the Abu Dhabi stage is ace and so is that cargo plane/convoy chase through the Caucasus Mountains.

Above all else, it's a fitting tribute to its fallen star; when the vehicular carnage is all said and done, Fast and Furious 7 stages a 100% sincere sendoff for Walker that, dodgy CGI aside, is genuinely brilliant and moving. Just try to not get dewy-eyed when that Wiz Khalifa song reaches the chorus.

1st - Fast Five (2011)

Rotten Tomatoes: 77%

How many fifth entries can claim to be the best of their respective franchise? If you answered none, Fast Five is here to prove you categorically wrong.

After spinning his wheels with a strange spin-off and a fairly forgettable soft reboot, Justin Lin got it right with his third attempt as director - by relocating the action to Rio de Janeiro, recruiting the help of Dwayne Johnson and injecting a new heist movie vibe, Fast Five breathes new life into the series.

It's a pulse-pounding action rollercoaster that stages a string of memorable set pieces, from the train heist to the Rock and Vin squaring off with one another and the final bank vault robbery through the streets of Rio.

Fast Five is where the series fully embraces its own inherent silliness and steers into it; after a rather po-faced fourth entry, Lin adds a dash of fun to proceedings - an element certainly bolstered by the presence of the Rock, that's for certain. It also leans heavily into the idea of family, something we've seen replicated across the following three films.

Which Fast and Furious movie is your favourite? What did you think of Fate of the Furious? Let me know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading.

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