The other day, while having a drink with friends, we were commenting how the more recent Fast and Furious movies are becoming so utterly over the top that they’re practically comicbook movies. Laws of physics are taking a back seat (YEAH, pun intended) to kick-ass action/fight sequences, and unlikely twists are building a more complex, if incredibly daft, continuity.
Re-watching the entire series soon after, in an epic marathon session, it became increasingly clear that the franchise bares many more subtle similarities to the average long-running superhero series, and this pleased me no end.
I have to say, I was never a fan of the franchise before Fast Five, or as it was advertised here in the UK, Fast and Furious 5: Rio Heist; I’m not a boy racer or a petrol head, I don’t even have a drivers license, I thought the double-hitter of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker was perhaps the most charismaless action duo to grace the silver screen and I didn’t have room in my life for a shameless Point Break rip-off, but with surfing replaced with street racing.
As the films progressed it seemed only fitting that the leads would slowly drop away leaving a dieing franchise, and it kind of filled me with a cynical mirth that the charm-deprived duo, due to misjudged career choices, had to come back to their old, sinking ship with their tails between their respective legs. But to my dismay the film kicked box office ass, leaving me wondering what was wrong with society.
Then the trailer to Fast Five came out, and not only had they gotten everybody worth getting from the previous films, but they’d added The Rock to the mix… for the forth sequel in the series? How the hell did they manage that?… And he seemed to be slamming Vin Diesel through concrete walls… And what’s this? A massive bank vault being dragged around the streets by two cars, using it to take out other cars?… Well, let’s just say that, as a fan of mental action flicks, I had to swallow my pride and go check this one out. It took me a while, but I did.
Fast Five was as mental as it sounded, it cut ties with any relationship it might have had with reality and placed its tongue firmly in its cheek. I really enjoyed it; to me it could’ve existed in the same world as Rodriguez’s Mariachi series. I looked forward to the sixth instalment.
It’s not like I’ve started loving those first four instalments; for the most part I simply see them as a necessary path to get to a place where I can now see The Rock throwing criminals at the ceiling, but I don’t hold them with the same distain I once did, and re-watching (or watching for the first time in the case of #2 and #4) them as a Blu-ray set led to my superhero related epiphany, which makes me feel more intelligent than I probably am, and that’s always a good thing.
See, the series as it is now didn’t arrive fully formed, it was relatively down to earth in the beginning, it took years to develop into this beautiful butterfly, and it’ll probably keep changing; this brought to mind the first and most iconic superheroes, namely Superman and Batman. At their inception they weren’t how we recognise them today, they were created with a scrap of plausibility so as to make them more believable to those first readers, Superman was an alien that was pretty damn strong and fast, but that was it; he was so strong that he could jump over tall buildings and so fast that he could beat a locomotive, but that was the extent of his powers, he couldn’t fly, he didn’t shoot heat beams from his face, his logo wasn’t even the same, that all came with time and additional creative teams.
Ditto Batman, in the beginning he was just a smart, rich guy with a bat outfit, purple gloves and a gun, which he used to shoot criminals dead. Now, all these years later, Superman is powerful beyond imagination and Batman is infallible, and the F&F films are only going to get crazier.
The franchise has had missteps; through necessity it’s lost characters so changed direction to compensate. Sure this generated some great new characters, but the longer it went on the more the fans dropped away. The solution to this? Bring back the core, beloved characters for a back to basics story. Does this remind you of the ongoing Avengers and Justice League creative patterns? In the 90s the Justice League and the Avengers were both the worst they’ve ever been, no one cared about the books that should have housed the greatest characters that Marvel and DC had to offer, but instead they were rife with third stringer characters and bogged down with poor creative teams.
Enough became enough, Grant Morrison swooped in over at DC, took the big seven characters and re-branded the Justice League the JLA and embarked on one of the greatest runs the team has ever seen, while over at Marvel Kurt Busiek and George Perez brought all the heavy hitters back to the Avengers for a set of stories that reminded us how colourful and fun the Marvel U could be.
Here’s a biggy. You thought that character was dead? Don’t be a fool! In at least two instances in the F&F films, characters have been ‘killed off’ only to return for further instalments. Lord (spoiler), one of them returned from the dead with total amnesia. Now, anyone who reads comics probably has a stack of comics at home where this very thing happens (minus the amnesia)… (but in some cases not) – Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Iron Man, The Wasp, Spider-Man (currently dead!), Captain America, Jean Grey, almost all the greats, they’ve all been dead, it’s a comicbook stalwart concept, never trust that anyone is really dead. Now we’re faced with same issue with our favourite car-movie franchise (F&F, not Cars).
At this point there’s been a lot of rejigging of past storylines to have a current storyline make sense, not in a way in which occurrences in previous films have been over-written, more like, “oh, you though so an’ so happened? Well, actually, according to this flashback two other things happened between the pre-existing shots that you saw, which, y’know, changes everything”. This is frequently the case when a new writer takes on a comic character and has an idea that is at odds with previous continuity. Frank Miller was all about, “What? You thought Daredevil was just a gymnast and a boxer? Well, actually between the frames of Stan Lee’s secret origin and all subsequent adventures, he was actually trained up by an ex-ninja assassin and has himself always been a badass ninja! Live with it!”. This isn’t a bad thing if it leads to better stories, or if we don’t care about the stories (a la F&F) better action.
The other thing comics do best are the big crossovers, where characters turn up in each other’s books, usually resulting in a nerd-tastic punch-up. This is the one thing that the F&F films have been missing. Yes, characters from the non-Diesel instalments turn up later to add spice to the mix, but that’s not the same thing, the equivalent would be for a character from another action property to show up in a F&F flick.
The last few F&Fs have ended with a direct lead in to the next film, and the end of #6 leaves the potential for #7 to be a crossover extravaganza… Or, as is more probably the case, I’m seeing far too much into it and am getting too excited over nothing…
GREAT BIG SPOILER, SKIP FORWARD THREE PARAGRAPHS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN #6 AND ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE STORY POINTS AND TWISTS!!!
#6 ends by finally answering the question of where Tokyo Drift actually belongs on the F&F timeline, but adds a twist of Han’s death being a knock-on from the events of #6; the (what was previously though to be) random driver that took out Han was, in actuality, the brother of #6’s villain, evidently on a revenge mission. And who was playing this brother? None other than Mr Jason Statham, The Stath himself!
Now, earlier in the film the villain mentioned that his brother was ex-military, and knowing it’s The Stath means he’s bound to be an absolute badass, but it’s a F&F film so he’s also gonna be a kick-ass driver… Call me insane, but I’m pretty sure The Stath has played that character before; a little character we know as The Transporter!!!
Are we due a F&F/Transporter crossover? Well, different companies own the characters, so probably not, but we can always dream. It most certainly WOULD be awesome.
So why does the F&F series hold these traits that are so indicative of the spirit of long running superhero books while actual superhero films don’t? I can only assume its longevity which holds the key. The average superhero movie franchise generally ends or totally looses its way by the third film, they don’t give themselves the time to twist into a new shape and pull themselves back from the brink, F&F pushed passed that third film slump and excelled the franchise. It wasn’t afraid to shake off those unforgiving shackles of reality and really go over the top, becoming what it was always meant to be, not a relatively middling car/crime flick, but a full blooded, daring actioner that has The Rock doing his best impression of a brick shit-house.
It’s the same with TV shows at the moment, the best of them only get better after the second season, once it has discovered that it has possibilities beyond it original intensions and has really settled into itself. Comics learned to do this decades ago; their characters outlive those of more popular mediums and change with the times, and it’s all about changing as you move forward.
Maybe the Marvel films will jump in on the game, but they cost so much and take so long to put together that it’s hard to tell, so we’ll see, but until then we’ve always got these Fast and Furious nuggets to keep us going.
In closing I’d like to point out that I am an objective fan of the franchise and as such feel it my duty to lay some truth bombs down on y’all. You hardcore F&F enthusiasts may taste the faint twang of offence, but what can I say, the truth hurts.
Item: Vin Diesel is the least interesting character in the franchise. The poe faced kill-joy is always ruining the fun and getting mardy about something… “Oh no, my dad died in a car race and now I have tantrums all the time”, “Oh no, my wife got murdered ‘cause I left her so that no one would hurt her (?)”, “Oh no, my wife’s not dead at all, why doesn’t she love me?”.
Item: As a counterpoint, the films are never more fun than when Tyrese and Ludacris are on screen. Indeed, the instalments without their characters have little to no levity at all. Han is by far the coolest character; he always takes things in his stride and never has tantrums… and his hair’s to die for.
Item: #4 is the most boring entry into the franchise. It’s back to basics an’ all, but there’s no humour and the climatic chases take place in abandoned mine shafts, and CG ones at that. Good going fellas, you took away the street backdrops and anything else that’s interesting and/or live action from your car chase, so now we’re left with Speed Racer, but with stone walls and flat ground instead of colour and loop de loops.
Item: There isn’t a single unattractive or untaught lady in the whole franchise, which is the single most unrealistic thing about the franchise. I don’t pretend to know all about the boy racer set and I don’t mean to generalise, but here in my hometown we had a ‘circuit’ where they would drive and hang out, and from my own observations the female companions and the few female drivers, well, they weren’t all beauts, many of them would fall into the ‘dirty skank’ category, others, ‘butch’.
And that’s it.
Thank you and goodnight.