As you’re probably aware, there are websites specifically devoted to calculating the body counts in films. At a glance, we can find out how many people Sylvester Stallone slaughtered in Rambo III (72), the current total of characters killed by Arnold Schwarzenegger between the years 1984 to 2003 (547), and the number of trolls that met their maker in Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King (two).
It’s frequently the case, however, that such listings only keep tally of the number of on-screen (or at a push, implied) deaths in any particular film. Die Hard 2′s body count of 37 doesn’t include the 230-or-so passengers who meet a horrible, firey demise when William Sadler’s terrorist causes Windsor Flight 114 to smash into a runway. Nor does it include the potentially dizzying number of people killed when Alderaan and the Death Star blew up in Star Wars.
This brings me rather untidily to the Fast & Furious franchise. Celebrating its 12th birthday this June, the Fast movies have gradually spiralled away from their street racing roots and into ever more expensive and explosive territory. Now distinguished by their absurdly outlandish stunts, varied locales and atrocious acting, the Fast films are disposable, good-humoured fun.
But beneath all the banter and fireworks, there are darker forces at play. Just as John and Holly McClane appeared to shrug off the deaths of 230 people without a moment’s thought at the end of Die Hard 2, so the Fast franchise has ploughed through America’s freeways like a juggernaut, wrecking cars and causing mischief to an incalculable number of victims for more than a decade. And in every film released so far, these horrifying tragedies have passed by entirely unremarked.
Let’s start with the most recent film first, this summer’s Fast & Furious 6. Former SAS “vehicular warfare specialist” turned mad highwayman Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) stages a series of high-speed assaults on military convoys, hoping to get his hands on some expensive and deadly electronic hardware. In one such attack, he commandeers a tank, and crushes dozens and dozens of cars beneath its wheels. Although we see some drivers manage to scramble from their cars later on, it’s clear that, right up until Shaw’s tank rides right over them, some of these cars still had drivers at the helm.
Admittedly, this scene serves as an effective illustration of what a nasty villain Shaw is, but it’s by no means an isolated incident in the Fast franchise. In 2011’s Fast Five, we see the movie’s gang of heroes drag a gigantic safe full of cash through the streets of Rio, using their cars to tow the thing to safety like an exceptionally heavy caravan. But as they do so, they cause extraordinary damage to just about everything in a ten mile radius. The safe smashes through the front window of a bank, sending its customers fleeing in terror. The camera cuts away at just the right moment, but it’s likely that at least a couple of those people were killed, or maybe seriously injured by flying glass:
At one point, we see the safe crash into the side of a police car with such force that it’s thrown clear off a bridge. Now, unless the policeman inside was very lucky, he was probably knocked unconscious when he hit the water, and sank to the bottom of the briny with his wrecked patrol vehicle.
Oddly, there’s only one moment in Fast Five where the filmmakers attempt to reassure the audience that no one was hurt, and that’s near the film’s beginning. When Vin Diesel’s wayward mechanic Dom is rescued from a moving bus, the vehicle’s trashed in the process. We see the bus roll several times with several dozen prisoners still strapped inside it, and logic dictates that the resulting carnage should have been horrific. Instead, a news reporter tells us that the crash “amazingly, resulted in no fatalities.”
So while the busload of prisoners were fine, there’s still a question mark hanging over just about every other vehicular encounter in Fast Five and Five Six. At no point do the characters sit down with a beer and say, “Wow. That really kicked up a notch. But thank goodness all those dozens of civilians and cops made it out of their cars unscathed. Even the ones who collided with the safe at a combined speed of around 120 miles per hour.”
Continuing back into the mists of the franchise, and we see the same kind of wanton destruction – albeit not at quite the frenzied level of the most recent films. Cars run into one another at ridiculous speeds, and some flip over and land on their roofs. In the fourth movie, an SUV smashes into the side of a saloon car. At the very least, the driver would have suffered terrible whiplash.
Then we come to 2 Fast 2 Furious, and one of the most tragic forgotten casualties in the entire franchise. In fact, it’s so tragic, it’s worth breaking down into a little photo essay.
Early in the film, a group of drivers are given an ‘audition’ by drug baron Carter Verone (Cole Hauser). Among them are Paul Walker’s undercover cop Brian and his new sidekick Roman (Tyrese Gibson). Here they all are:
The group’s given the task of retrieving a mystery item from Verone’s Ferrari, located in a police lot elsewhere in Miami. So like the Wacky Racers, they dash to their cars and set off on a jolly race up the nearest freeway.
Everything seems quite light-hearted at first, with Brian driving backwards at 88mph (something we’re not sure is possible in reverse gear) and Roman making amusing little quips. And every so often, we cut to this chap, driving a red Mustang:
To date, we’ve been unable to find out what the character’s name is or who plays him. It’s likely that he doesn’t even have a name (he’s probably in the script as “Thug Number Two” or something), and that he’s played by one of a few dozen stunt actors listed in 2 Fast 2 Furious’ credits. At any rate, it’s at this moment that the film begins to darken. Attempting to follow Roman’s car as it cruises between two huge trucks, the chap in the Mustang accidentally clips one of them, and begins to rattle around like a pinball:
We cut to an interior shot, and see the panic in the driver’s face as his Mustang bounces sickeningly from one of the trucks’ gigantic wheels.
Now trapped, the Mustang’s flipped around and crushed like tin foil. The driver’s given no chance of escape, and no doubt met his maker on that anonymous Miami freeway.
As wince-inducing as this crash is, no one else appears to notice it. We don’t see Brian or Roman look in their wing mirrors in horror. All we get is this chap, who wears the expression of a man who’s just realised he’s left home with a chicken still roasting in the oven:
Even when the race is over, and Brian, Roman and the other surviving drivers clamber out of their vehicles, they don’t even spare a moment to talk about the guy who got crushed to death beneath the wheels of an articulated lorry. Instead, their reaction is more like this:
Admittedly, the Fast franchise has never been about the reality of driving cars quickly. There are no speed cameras, bouts of travel sickness or moments where characters accidentally knock off their own wing mirrors in supermarket car parks, then have to sheepishly stop, get out and throw the now broken wing mirror onto the back seat. You never see Vin Diesel standing at the side of the road, grumpily pumping up a flat tyre with a rusty pump he purchased from Halfords in 1992. You don’t see Paul Walker topping up the screen wash on his Nissan Skyline, or wiping bird poo off its roof and swearing at the pigeons circling overhead.
The Fast movies are a bit of fun – four wheeled fantasies where you’ll believe that an ex-wrestler can fly, or that cars can drive at 90 miles-per-hour in reverse. But at the same time, we can’t help but feel sorry for the innocent road users, the hard-working cops and unsuspecting racers we’ve encountered in the Fast flicks, whose individual fates are barely noticed by the series’ main cast.
“The motor vehicle action sequences depicted in this film are dangerous” reads the disclaimer placed at the beginning and the end of just about every Fast film released so far. And the disclaimer’s right – the actions sequences are dangerous, especially if your name isn’t Brian, Roman or Dom…
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