Jack Moore: From the first moment I met you, Adam, I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with you. Don't get me wrong, you're a great guy. You're nice and smart and you bring amazing desserts to the office, but I knew there was a problem with you even if I couldn't tell what it was. Well now I know: YOU'VE NEVER SEEN A FAST AND FURIOUS MOVIE?! YOU'RE NOT A REAL PERSON UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN A FAST AND FURIOUS MOVIE!
That will change soon as you and I enjoy Justin Lin's latest masterwork. So let's begin with you telling me what you know about this amazing film series. You do know something about it, right? Right?!
Adam B. Vary: It's about a crew of speed-freak rage-aholics?
I kid, I kid! But before I really get into what I think I know about the Fast & Furious franchise — or "F cubed," as I've decided never to call it — I do feel I need to defend my real person-hood for a moment, just so you can hopefully understand how I could have developed this terrible pop-culture blind-spot.
So the first Fast & Furious movie — i.e. The Fast and the Furious, was, to my recollection, received as a junky B-movie that happened to be entertaining, which at the time meant "skippable" to me. Then everyone seemed to say that 2 Fast 2 Furious was bad (or, at least, not as fun), and then everyone seemed to say The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was worse (or, at least, it didn't have anything to do with the previous two movies save for the title). Again, my takeaway was "you can definitely skip these, too."
Then Vin Diesel returned to the franchise, and all my straight male friends started going apeshit for Fast & Furious and Fast Five. That's when I realized that maybe I had been missing out, but I also felt like I somehow had to go back to watch the first three to understand what was going on. Because of the plot.
Ah, yes, the plot. Before I get into what I know — or think I know — about the "plot" of these movies, I do want to gauge just how much I've offended your Fast & Furious fandom already.
I'm so offended right now. First off the first film is not "junky," it's amazing. I don't think you (or a lot of people) understand. There is a perception that the Fast love is ironic, but it's completely authentic. The current Hollywood landscape is such that if you like big dumb action movies, the only options are super heroes or whatever Mark Wahlberg is starring in. Now, I love a good superhero movie, and I always say hi to my mother for Marky Mark. But the Fast movies represent the kind of stupid, fun, cable-ready action movies that I grew up loving. I don't think it's possible to love them more. I want to list all the reasons they're great, but that would give away plot points and I don't want you cheating off of me for your "what I know about the Fast and Furious franchise" breakdown.
ABV: After noting that you deftly skipped right over defending 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, here is all I know about all the Fast and Furious movies. Brace yourself:
The Fast and the Furious: Vin Diesel leads a team of criminals who do criminal things with moving cars — how one does criminal things with moving cars, I have no idea, but it's a movie, so I'll shuddup. Vin's team includes Michelle Rodriguez, who is his sister? Maybe? And Paul Walker plays the Keanu Reeves role of the undercover cop who tries to infiltrate them and then almost goes native. And then Vin Diesel disappears completely for two movies.
2 Fast 2 Furious: Tyrese Gibson is the new Vin Diesel, and it's in Miami, right? And John Singleton took over directing duties from Rob Cohen. That's really all I got, other than my grudging respect for the best bad sequel title ever.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: Well, I know it's in Tokyo, and it's about…drifting — which my many hours with Mario Kart tells me is a fancy way of turning while sideways. I do know this is also when director Justin Lin became the J.J. Abrams of the Fast and Furious franchise. And I think Lucas Black is in the Paul Walker role, trying to stop, um, let's go with a gang of Japanese drivers from drifting all over Tokyo, because, you know, that's bad? But I don't think he's been in any of the other movies? So I'm just going to assume he died.
Fast & Furious: I honestly have zero idea what this is about other than Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Michelle Rodriguez are back and this time they're working together to rid the world of all definite articles. Wait, doesn't Jordana Brewster play some kind of part in all of these movies? I just remembered that. Oh, and Michelle Rodriguez dies at the end. Except I guess she doesn't? This is getting silly.
Fast Five: It's a heist movie, right? And everyone is back, except now The Rock is the new Paul Walker, which is actually true on several levels. And now Ludacris is involved, and one of the guys from Tokyo Drift, but not Lucas Black. And at one point, they drag a giant safe down the street — wait, is that how you do criminal things with moving cars? I also know that Vin Diesel and the Rock fight each other and it's supposedly hysterical because you cannot tell them apart. At least, my sister couldn't. Yes, my plant scientist sister has seen these movies and I haven't, so what?
Annnnnnnd scene. So, how'd I do?
JM: As much as these descriptions are mostly off base, calling Justin Lin the J.J. Abrams of the Fast franchise makes up for it. (Also, Tokyo Drift is a legitimately fantastic movie. Period.) I think the most interesting thing about your plot descriptions is that other than the fact that Paul Walker is in Fast Five in addition to The Rock, it seems as though you picked up a lot about that movie through cultural osmosis. That's a pretty solid description of what happens.
Also, yes, Jordana Brewster does play a role as Paul Walker's girlfriend/hopefully eventual wife (I want to see one of these movies have a wedding scene so badly it hurts). She also plays Vin Diesel's sister. Jordana's great, because she has exactly the right level of acting talent to be perfect for these movies. I can't imagine a truly great actor being very good in this franchise (an issue they've yet to worry about). There's just something about the rhythms of Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster and Paul Walker's dry, seemingly bored deliveries that just make all the crazy, insane, over the top action pop so much more.
Also Letty's murder is the inciting incident of Fast & Furious. I was so excited when it was revealed she was alive. I can't wait to find out how.
ABV: Neither can I, even though I just learned that A) Michelle Rodriguez's character is named Letty, and B) She is apparently not Vin Diesel's sister? Anyway, I'm excited! Let's rev up our slick rides (2003 Honda Accord — boom), head to the theater, and DO THIS THING.
Jack and Adam do this thing.
ABV: THIS THING IS DONE. And I gotta say, Jack, I was pleasantly surprised — that was way more fun than I was anticipating. Granted, part of that fun was sitting next to you as you went through what appeared to be a deeply spiritual experience, but also: Tanks! Planes! ENORMOUS BICEPS!
Still, I have questions. So many questions. Before I get to them though, like, how are you right now? Are you breathing? Are you still with us?
JM: It was everything I could have hoped for and more. No franchise consistently delivers such gleefully insane action AND finds a way to satisfyingly raise the level of that insane action from movie to movie. AND THAT TEASER FOR FAST 7! HOLY SHIT. I laughed and smiled through every frame of this movie. If you like the Fast franchise you will not be the least bit disappointed.
OK, questions. Go.
ABV: Let's start at the beginning. After Vin Diesel (Dom, right?) and Paul Walker (Blandy McHandsome, right?) raced through the empty, winding roads of the Canary Islands to the far flung hospital where Jordana Brewster was giving birth, you kind of burst out laughing. Did I miss a joke somewhere?
JM: Ahhh yes. I laughed because in every movie there's at least one moment where Dom very dramatically talks about family. It almost always comes out of nowhere and is marked with very wooden acting and weirdly angry eyes. In Fast 6, the first (of many) of that type of scene takes place in the first 60 seconds of the movie. 60 seconds! THIS MOVIE IS ABOUT FAMILY, ADAM! WHEN YOU WALK THROUGH THAT DOOR, EVERYTHING CHANGES! *Cues up a film where absolutely nothing has changed for these characters*
ABV: Yes, I did gather that family was an important theme of the film, since that word was spoken several dozen times. The screenwriting was almost quaint in how basic and utilitarian it handled the dialogue and storytelling, like:
Vin Diesel: FAMILY!
The Rock: [nods] EXPOSITION.
Paul Walker: [smiles] BLANK STARE.
Tyrese Gibson: WISECRACK!
Ludacris: [eyeroll] TECHNO-JARGON.
Vin Diesel: FAMILY!
Does that sound about right?
JM: That is a perfect description of the movie's dialogue. And it's fantastic in every single way. Though you forgot Letty just repeatedly saying that she doesn't remember anything and Han and Giselle just being so goddamn in love it hurts.
I think one of the things that this movie confirmed for me was just what an amazing addition to the franchise The Rock was in Fast Five. Not only is his and Vin Diesel's chemistry (homoerotic chemistry?!) so fantastic, but Mr. Dwayne Johnson's pro wrestling career couldn't have prepared him better for this franchise. The self-serious performances — without so much as a wink to the audience as if to say "We know how ridiculous this all is" — is pure WWE, and here it's used to help bring us the greatest old school action movie franchise since… I don't know, Lethal Weapon? It's just perfect.
As a newbie was there anything that confused you? Or did the fact this movie basically starts with a "Previously on The Fast and the Furious" montage help? Would you recommend this movie for someone new to the franchise?
Did anything not work for you (I can't imagine)?
ABV: That opening credits montage was pretty hilarious. It was a kind of highly abstracted recap for newbies like me, but it really played more like a greatest hits highlights reel for the Fast & Furious faithful like yourself. Like the dialogue, I got the broad strokes, and that's really all I needed.
Because, impressively, nothing confused me — at least, to the point of distraction. The biggest mystery in the movie — what happened to Letty? — was explained so thoroughly that I don't feel like I missed a beat. Otherwise, I gathered from context clues that, say, the cop who picks up Blandy McHandsome before he heads off to his mini-episode of Oz was his ex-partner in a couple of the earlier movies. Or that Dom thinks family is important.
Jack, complex this franchise is not. In a movie landscape dominated by adaptations of comic books and sci-fi universes thick with detailed backstories and mythologies, it was refreshing to be plopped into the sixth chapter of a franchise and feel like I understood 90 percent of what I needed to understand. Any Fast and Furious virgin who wants a two-hour action movie experience that doesn't involve 3-D, space, ray guns, or giant robots would be fine checking out this flick.
That said, I was bothered to distraction by the fact that every conflict in the film, however small, was resolved with violence. Has that always been the M.O. of this franchise?
JM: So the violence issue has definitely been more of a presence in the later era F&F movies. Though the early films had some violence, they were much more about racing. The thing is when Justin Lin came in for Tokyo Drift he fundamentally changed the franchise and improved it right away. Yes, that meant far more fisticuffs, but that became part of the charm. One of the things that makes these movies so delightful is that these characters went from street racers to international criminals pulling off heists that are unimaginably difficult to pull off, and both the audience and the filmmakers just kind of shrug it off as if to say, "Isn't this so much more fun?"
And yes. Yes, it is more fun. Especially in Fast 5 and now Fast 6, the number of scenes that bear a striking resemblance to wrestling matches are off the charts. Maybe that's why straight men in their 20s and 30s love these movies. They tap into the parts of us that loved the self-seriousness of pro wrestling as kids, but without the problems that are raised by wrestling purporting to be a sport and therefore somehow "real." We all know big, dumb action movies are fake, but one has finally captured the tone of The Hulkster, Stone Cold, and of course The Rock. Either way, I love it.
Speaking of wrestling, let's talk homoeroticism! How many times in this movie did you feel like Vin and The Rock were about to kiss? How about Vin and Paul Walker? What's up with that?
ABV: And Vin and Luke Evans, the bad guy. And Paul Walker and Tyrese. And Tyrese and Ludacris. And Ludacris and The Rock — well, OK, maybe not kiss, but they certainly were thrilled to force a grown man to undress.
I mean, the buddy movie has been exploring straight male bromance since the days of Butch and Sundance — not to get all film theory up in this joint (oof, I'm old), but these kinds of action movies have always been a safe place for young men to vicariously experience male-to-male bonding without the threat of actual sexual contact. Now that we're in the 21st century, I guess the Fast & Furious movies can be more explicit about it. But they're still not actually kissing.
Still, now that I've seen the film, I totally understand why a healthy majority of my straight male friends in their mid-20s to mid-30s like you are obsessed with this franchise. I think you're on to something with the pro-wrestling thing, but it also feels like a more basic explication of male fantasy — you can be big and stoic like Dom, or big and arch like Hobbs, or gorgeous and dim like McHandsome, or quippy and fun like Roman, or smart and organized like Tej (really, Ludacris' character's name is "Tej"?), or stoic and romantic like Han. And you get to be a sick driver of sick cars in completely sick situations that demonstrate just how massive your stones really are. And if you also happen to daydream about making out with your best buddy — well, that's just a bonus.
Meanwhile, I am all over the map about how to feel about the women in this movie. On the one hand, they're allowed to get just about as rough-and-tumbly as the men, and the movie does pass the Bechdel test. On the other hand, only two of them approached anything like a recognizable human being — one died for her man, and the other still had amnesia at the end of the movie.
Please explain to me Jack: What does a liberated, pro-lady fella like yourself make of the women in these movies?
JM: The women in this movie are tough to figure out. On one hand, you're right, F&F6 does pass the Bechdel test. If I had never seen a Fast movie I'd never believe that, but Justin Lin allows his female characters to be just as badass as the guys. Michelle Rodriguez, Gal Gadot, and series newcomer (and former American Gladiator) Gina Carano specifically kick a lot of ass (sorry Jordana Brewster, but you have a baby to deal with).
I mean, hell, Gal Gadot sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend (Han) who is in peril. Damsel in distress, my ass, these ladies are stars. Yes, it's super weird that throughout the entire movie, including the ending, Letty never gets her memory back, but that's weird in the same way these movies are weird. It's just dumb and goofy. Remember this is the same franchise that (if we're to take the Fast 7 teaser that ends the movie at face value) chronologically goes The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Fast And Furious, Fast Five, Fast And Furious 6, Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, and Fast 7. I'll say that again: The chronological order of these movies is 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 3, 7. That's batshit crazy. So let's let Letty and her addled brain be.
As a novice, how confused does that timeline and the teaser make you?
ABV: I'm sorry, brain parts go melty all of sudden. WHA?!
First of all: Gal Gadot? That name cannot be real. That's the name of a female Formula One racer-turned-secret agent from a Roger Moore-era Bond movie.
Second of all: It is adorable that this franchise is so seemingly cavalier about its own mythology. I mean, sure, the Narnia books hop willy nilly through time, but this is bananas. I take it Han always died in Tokyo Drift? Was Tokyo Drift always supposed to come so late in the timeline? Or were they like "Tokyo seems like it's in the future, so why not just pretend like it was?"
Third of all: So was Jason Statham in any of the other movies? It feels like he should've been in these movies, and the audience (read: Jack Moore) sure seemed to react to him as if he was a big deal. But maybe that's because Statham's a big deal to this audience (re: Jack Moore)?
Fourth of all: Even if Han did die in Tokyo Drift, I thought his death in that teaser was rather unceremonious given how much of a presence he seemed to have in Fast 6. Do you think fans will care?
Fifth of all: Speaking of that teaser — it sure seemed to amp you up for Fast 7. I'll admit, it also piqued my interest too. But does Justin Lin is leaving the franchise change your feelings at all?
JM: So yes. At the end of Tokyo Drift, Han dies and Vin Diesel comes to race Lucas Black (Black is told "this guy says Han is like family to him"). But the moment in this movie when they flash to Han's death in Tokyo Drift and we see that the car that hit him was Jason Statham and then Statham gets out of the car and calls Vin Diesel and says that he's coming for him — it's insane! It's the best! I was having a religious experience because the only way to make this franchise somehow better is Statham! He's the Transporter! The Crank movies might as well be racier/crazier Fast movies! Ugh. I am so excited.
I will say that I am nervous that Justin Lin is leaving. He turned a fun movie and an OK movie (Fast 1 and 2 Fast) into an amazing franchise. That's a huuuuuge accomplishment, and I have my doubts about other people nailing this tone. These movies are made to simultaneously be laughed at and with. They are, in some ways, a self-aware parody of what an action movie is, but they are also totally amazing balls-to-the-wall action movies. I would argue no movie franchise in the past few decades has better achieved exactly what it has set out to achieve, and the credit for that has to go to Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan.
Now I believe Morgan is coming back, so all hope is not lost, but dammit if I wouldn't be totally happy and comfortable right now if Justin Lin was still at the helm. Instead, we have to wait and see what Insidious director James Wan will bring to the franchise. (Note: The movie was called Insidious; I can't speak to James Wan's character.) I am unfamiliar with Wan's work, so I guess I just have to hope that the sheer insane awesomeness of Statham/The Rock/Vin Diesel/Paul Walker/etc. is enough to carry it over the top. Because over the top is where this franchise lives.
I give this movie 12 out of 10 ripped tank tops. You?
ABV: Although I admire it unreservedly, I cannot confess to holding the same deeply felt enthusiasm for these movies that you have. I don't really have any desire to see the first two films, but I do admit that should any of the middle three movies cross my path, I'll happily check them out.
As for Fast & Furious 6 — I'll give it 8 out of 10 meaningful, homoerotic gazes.