Fast & Furious: looking back at the whole saga

With Fast & Furious 6 on the horizon, we revisit the entire series from beginning to end, and dig out our favourite moments...

It’s strange to think that it’s well over a decade since the Fast franchise began. But like a juggernaut rolling down a hill, this ageing series shows no sign of slowing down; in fact, this year’s Fast & Furious 6 will be joined by yet another sequel, Fast Seven, due out in cinemas next year.

But given that the Fast movies now have such a long history, with various stars fading in and out of them as the past decade has rolled on, perhaps it’s a good time to look back at how the series has evolved, and work out how its events will lead up to Fast & Furious 6

The Fast And The Furious (2001)

The first Fast movie is something of a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie. It was inspired by a Vibe magazine article, its title was purchased from Roger Corman in exchange for some stock footage (he loves a bit of stock footage, does Corman), while the plot was, as director Rob Cohen admits on the DVD commentary track, ‘inspired’ by Kathryn Bigelow’s surf heist bromance, Point Break.

Here, the hulking mechanic Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) heads up a group of hip young illegal street racers, whose number includes his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and hot-headed, bull-necked guitar player Vincent (Matt Schulze). When they’re not racing cars and spending the cash on modifications for their Japanese speed machines, the gang run a side operation where they rob stuff from the backs of lorries while they’re thundering down lonely highways – thus establishing the franchise’s central quirk, where items are only stolen from moving vehicles and not from, you know, a storage depot or something.

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Anyway, gorgeous, faintly melancholy young cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is sent to infiltrate the gang, posing as another unaccountably wealthy street racer in order to earn Dom’s trust. As in Point Break, or maybe Donnie Brasco, Brian becomes so embroiled in life on the wrong side of the law that he quickly forgets his roots as an enforcer – cue lots of “You’re in too deep, Brian!” arguments with his boss, and so on.

Essential stunt moments: Compared to the later movies, the number of stunts in the first Fast are relatively few. Also, most of the racing scenes are computer-processed in some way, giving the movie a day-glo, surreal look more akin to the Wachowski’s (later) Speed Racer adaptation than something like Bullitt.

There’s a great moment where a car is hit by a train, which is effectively jarring, but the best stunt is perhaps a more low-key moment: Brian pulls a power slide in a tricked-out Toyota Supra, coming to a stop a few feet from the camera, and guns down a bad guy closing in on a motorbike. Commendably, Walker did this stunt himself without the aid of computer trickery.

Best incidental bit: Although it’s co-written by David Ayer, who was later responsible for such cop movie brilliance as Training Day and End Of Watch, the script is littered with toe-curling moments of dialogue. For some reason, Brian’s boss, Sergeant Tanner (the great Ted Levine), talks almost exclusively in terms culled from the automotive industry (“It’s him Brian. Everything else is just fumes,” and “He’s got petrol for blood!”).

There’s a trashy sense of fun to The Fast And The Furious, though, from Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster’s awkward romance to the frankly embarrassing hip speak that goes on between races. The best bit? Probably Vin Diesel’s grandstanding victory speech. “Winning’s winning, whether it’s by an inch or a mile. You never had me, and you never had your car…”

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

The unexpected success of the first film led Universal to quickly prepare the way for a sequel. Unfortunately, Vin Diesel and director Rob Cohen had other plans (namely the action flick xXx), which forced the series’ producers to have a bit of a rethink. Paul Walker returns as Brian, who’s in the doghouse for allowing Dominic to escape from the police at the end of the first film, but this time, he’s joined by another grinning, grandiose co-star, who we’ll get to in a moment.

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Although understandably annoyed at Brian’s earlier antics, his bosses have a way for the young scamp to redeem himself: by bringing down evil drug lord, Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), who’s about to ship a huge consignment of contraband into Los Angeles. Naturally, apprehending Verone requires going undercover and hurtling around in modified cars, so Brian enlists the help of wayward childhood friend Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson) to get the job done.

Various races and automotive high jinks ensue, while another undercover cop, Monica (Eva Mendez) provides an additional thread of romantic possibility, as well as another smooth body for the camera to linger over.

Essential stunt moments: John Singleton (Boyz N The Hood, Shaft) replaces Rob Cohen in the director’s chair, and he brings a more natural, less CG-augmented look to his races and stunts. He clearly has more of an affinity for this sort of stuff than Cohen, and although still little more than a distraction, his various scenes of street parties and dancing youngsters seem far less forced than before. It’s also slightly more effective from an action standpoint – just look at the highway race near the start of the movie, where a car’s crushed between the wheels of two articulated lorries. As usual in the Fast franchise, that the driver would almost certainly have been killed is never mentioned.

2 Fast 2 Furious is the first film to show signs of the gonzo stunts for which the later films would become notable. The best, perhaps, is the jump Brian and Roman pull in their Camaro where they basically turn their car into a flying missile. It’s very silly, yes – in reality, the drivers would have far more than a sore back – but again, it’s also a lot of fun.

Best incidental bit: Vin Diesel’s absence may have robbed the film poster of a star name, but Gibson’s is great as the wayward Pierce, and there’s a real buddy-buddy chemistry between his character and Paul Walker’s. Our favourite bit of the movie, though, is probably the one where Devon Aoki’s Honda-driving racer’s sitting and drawing a new logo for her car.

“That’s some artistic shit,” Roman says. “You’ve got talent, girl.”

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Brilliantly, her drawing is totally and utterly terrible.

The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

The third Fast installment has a lot in common with several 70s and 80s horror movies I can’t be bothered to name, in that it has almost nothing to do with the other two films. Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson are gone, and Vin Diesel only turns up at the end in a brief cameo.

Ditching the whole undercover cops angle of the previous entries, Tokyo Drift is about rebellious teenager Sean Boswell (Lucas Black, who looks about 30), whose driving antics see him expelled from school and sent to Tokyo to stay with his disciplinarian father. Given that Tokyo’s the Mecca of drifting and cars (as we’ve learned from reading the manga Initial D) sending Sean there as punishment is a bit like banishing a chocolate addict to Belgium.

In Tokyo, Sean gets into all sorts of scrapes with the local youngsters – including DK, or Drift King (Brian Tee) and enjoys lots of tail-happy races down hillsides and multi-storey car parks. Tokyo Drift also introduces Han (Sung Kang), an expert racer who comes to a sticky end before the final credits. Oddly, director Justin Lin brought Han back for Fast Five and this year’s Fast & Furious 6, which either makes them prequels to Tokyo Drift, or his character the street-racing equivalent of Highlander. Maybe this year’s sequel will seem him have his head chopped off by Christopher Lambert or something; there can be only one, after all.

Essential stunt moments: Although Justin Lin was relatively unknown when he took on Tokyo Drift, he makes his mark early on with a surprisingly exciting drag race between Sean and spoilt jock Clay (Zachary Ty Bryan). Establishing Sean as the poorer underdog in a scruffy Chevrolet, against Clay in an expensive Dodge Viper, the opening race becomes a David-and-Goliath battle of sorts. Cleanly shot and edited, the sequence finds new ways of making two cars driving in a straight line interesting, with a mixture of jumps and, finally, a bone-crunching crash.

It helps that, although the characters of the previous two movies are absent, you can empathise with Black’s hangdog, drawling car obsessive, and the decision to temporarily relocate the series to Japan adds a certain degree of novelty. The combination of new characters and new locations results in some great, unusual races – including a cracking climactic downhill race among Tokyo’s hills. 

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Best incidental bit: Sean’s new best friend in Tokyo is Twinkie (Bow Wow), a fellow American with a taste for wheeling and dealing – and comic-book themed cars. The scene where he introduces his indescribably nerdy Hulk-themed Volkswagen van (complete with green paint, fist-shaped dents on the side and a tuft of black hair on the top) is priceless. “Slammin’, huh?” Twinkie says, as Sean stares in bemusement.

Fast & Furious (2009)

After the unexpected success of Tokyo Drift, Justin Lin managed to round up the stars of The Fast And The Furious for some further adventures. Right from the opening shot, Fast & Furious re-establishes the high-speed thievery of the first film. Dom, Letty and Han are in the process of stealing fuel from a convoy of tankers in the Dominican Republic.

Brian, meanwhile, is now an FBI agent, and in pursuit of a Mexican drug baron named Arturo Braga. When Letty is killed in dramatic fashion by another drug-dealing villain named Fenix, Dom goes on the warpath in Los Angeles, and teams up with Brian to help him exact his revenge.

Although the wild car-based antics, bromances and dancing ladies at street races are still present and correct, there’s a gloomier, more serious tone to much of Fast & Furious. Brian Tyler’s frantic, bull-on-the-rampage score is joined by quiet moments led by acoustic guitar, and Vin Diesel spends long moments sitting in dark rooms and staring at the floor while this plays out. What we now know is that the events in this film will be returned to in the forthcoming Fast 6, which features at least one face from Dom’s past…

Essential stunt moments: In a first for the Fast series, the most memorable stunts don’t necessarily involve cars. Brian’s reintroduction, an on-foot chase with a tattooed bad guy in a white vest, is an exciting precursor to the rooftop pursuit in Fast Five, taking place as it does through alleys, down the corridors of grotty tenement buildings, before ending with a dramatic fall onto the roof of a van.

The vehicular chases are perfectly decent, too, with the opening fuel theft sequence providing a welcome nod to a similar scene in the first scene. It could be argued, though, that the conclusion to this scene and the concluding race through a complex of mining tunnels makes rather too much use of computer graphics, with the latter looking more like the Death Star run from Return Of The Jedi than a proper action sequence with physical, flimsy cars.

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Justin Lin continues to weave his own way of doing things into the franchise’s now well-established characters and trappings, though, and with Fast & Furious once again defying expectations at the box office (it made a healthy $363 million), the ground was set for the most ambitious Fast sequel yet…

Best incidental bit: A Fast movie wouldn’t be the same without a scene where a character’s shown tinkering with a car in their garage. Vin Diesel does this better than any other actor in the business, and after eight years out of the franchise, here he is again in his vest, fiddling with the scientific parts under the bonnet of his car while taking the occasional swig of beer. Great.

Our other favourite bit? Maybe the fact that the chap driving the fuel tanker at the start of the film has a pet iguana which enjoys eating chocolate bars.

Fortunately, neither the driver nor the iguana were harmed during the making of this movie.

Fast Five (2011)

In retrospect, Universal were quite brave in their decision to invest more money in Fast Five. At a point where most franchises would have dwindled into cut-price, straight-to-DVD nonsense (akin to the trajectory the Starship Troopers franchise suffered, for example), the Fast series received a fairly hefty cash injection, a switch in genre, and the introduction of The Rock.

Right from the opening frame, it’s clear that Fast Five is effectively a series reboot, though the old habit of taking things from vehicles in motion is still, happily, in place. This time, it’s Dom who’s being stolen: following on from the end of Fast & Furious, Dom’s en route to prison in an armoured bus when vehicle’s smashed to smithereens by Brian (who’s now on the wrong side of the law again) and his partner Mia.

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This time, Dom and Brian find themselves in Rio de Janeiro, and when their attempt to steal some cars from a moving train goes wrong, they end up on the wrong side of crime boss Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeda) and also the gigantic US agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). With both the law and Rio’s criminal element closing in, Brian and Dom assemble a team of old friends, including Ludacris’ Tej, Tyrese Gibson’s Roman and Sung Kang’s Han, to relieve Reyes of a huge quantity of cash and leave the city.

Although the sheer number of characters bloats Fast Five’s duration up to a lengthy 130 minutes, the movie balances action and humour better than any film in the franchise so far. Shifting the focus away from illegal racing to an Italian Job-like heist gives Linn more scope for various shoot-outs, on-foot chases and fistfights, while the introduction of the artist formerly known as the Rock proves to be a masterstroke: imposing, charismatic and funny, he’s a sterling addition to a franchise already stuffed full of characters.  

Essential stunt moments: Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel’s bone-shuddering fight is an obvious highlight, with their fisticuffs literally breaking down walls  at one point. The real scene-stealer, though, is the concluding heist, where a bank vault’s dragged through the streets of Rio behind a pair of souped-up muscle cars.

As implausible as it is, Lin and his filmmakers manage to lend a palpable sense of weight to this huge lump of metal, as it smashes through shops and banks like a wrecking ball. The Fast movies, silly as they are, seldom get much praise for the quality of their filming, editing and sound design, but from a technical standpoint, Fast Five is the finest instalment yet.

Best incidental bit: Over-the-top though the stunts and crashes are in the Fast series, deaths and injuries are comparatively rare. The franchise’s insistence on reassuring audiences that its characters’ reckless driving hasn’t harmed anyone reaches its peak in Fast Five, where Brian manages to cause a bus full of prisoners to roll approximately eight times.

But before anyone can accuse Brian for the deaths of several dozen inmates (who weren’t even wearing seatbelts, you’ll note), a news reporter appears on the screen to tell us that, “Police have released the identity of the man they believe to have orchestrated the shocking escape that, amazingly, resulted in no fatalities…”

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Fast & Furious 6 and Fast Seven

Throughout the Fast series, the line between law and order has been a recurring motif. Dom’s spent the past five movies evading capture from the police, while Brian’s been pulled back and forth between his duties as an officer or FBI agent, and his innate desire to drive extremely quickly behind trucks. Then there’s newcomer Luke Hobbs, who like Brian in the first Fast film, went against his instincts as a lawman and let Dom and his crew evade capture at the end of Fast Five.

Fast & Furious 6 will see the wheeled outlaws on the run once again, this time across Europe, where Luke Hobbs happens to be pursuing an SAS soldier-turned criminal named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Will the offer of a full pardon encourage Dom, Brian and the others to put aside their criminal ways, bring down Shaw, and settle down for good? Almost certainly, but not for long; Fast Seven’s due out in 2014, so Brian and Dom aren’t likely to hand in their car keys just yet.

Fast And Furious 6 is out on the 17th May.

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