“… a step in the right direction for the franchise, but it also took two steps back.”
Fast & Furious is the fourth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, and what I would call the weakest of the films (so far at least). Fast & Furious finally puts us back in touch with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and co. as they continue to rob transport trucks because learning from your mistakes is for losers, right? The film also has us meet up with Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) who now works for the FBI. I’m not really sure why, it seems like he had a problem with authority the last time we saw him, but who am I to judge. Anyway, everything is all hunky-dory until Dom’s girlfriend (?), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), is killed (off-screen, might I add). This leads to Dominic Toretto seeking vengeance in the form of this month’s villain who’s name is not at all important. What is important is that Brian decides to help Dominic in his quest, because why not?
What I’m about to say is going to sound really harsh, but I feel it needs to be said. Fast & Furious’ biggest problem is that it assumes we care about the characters on screen. Now don’t get me wrong, I do care about these characters but you have to realize that wasn’t the case at the time the movie was released. At the time of Fast & Furious’ release we had one movie that featured Dominic Toretto and two movies that featured Brian O’Conner, neither of which did a particularly good job of making me care about him as a character. The third movie is essentially a wash in that it followed completely new characters who have almost no impact on the overarching story. So again, Fast & Furious made a mistake in thinking that the audience already cared about these characters. It had been like eight years since we had even seen them in action, and all of a sudden we get hit over the head with this bullshit, soap opera-esque story that assumes it is pulling on our heartstrings but is actually just making us yawn. That was really the biggest flaw in Fast & Furious: it took itself really seriously. In trying to make an emotionally engaging story it really just bombarded us with tropes and lines that were meant to be emotional but ultimately got laughs because of how outlandish these situations were. I mean, we are re-introduced to Letty and she dies off-screen ten minutes later, and we’re supposed to care? Who gives a shit? She was used as a plot device and a ploy to try and make the audience care about what was happening on screen. I don’t even think she had more than eight lines before she kicked the bucket. But luckily, one of those eight lines was a conversation with Dom in which the cliché “I’m going to get us out of here” was uttered, which I suppose was meant to speed up the process of us caring about her. It’s just a mess if I’m being honest. At least we got to see Han again, but his appearance is made into a joke if you have already seen the next instalments in the Fast and Furious franchise because his last line in this movie is “I hear they’re doing some cool shit in Tokyo”, in reference to him finally hanging up his criminal cap. If you have seen the other Fast and Furious films you’ll know why this is hilarious, but if not then you’ll have to wait to get the punchline of this joke. One thing I will applaud Fast & Furious on is the amazing performances that they got out of everyone involved. If you have read my other Fast and Furious reviews you will know that I found the performances in the early films to be less than stellar, but all of those problems faded away. Now I’m not sure if it was because the time gap was so significant between the films, or if the change in director was all they needed, but whatever it was I have to give them a round of applause. Unfortunately these brilliant performances were wasted on the script which was, to put it lightly, absolute dogshit.
Looking on the bright side of things, Fast & Furious marks the start of the Fast and Furious movies that we are now used to. By that I mean, the action got a whole lot bigger. If you are familiar with the Fast and Furious franchise (specifically the later movies) you’ll know that their motto might as well be “go big, or go home”. They don’t pull punches in terms of the action in the film, and that is why I respect them. Like I said, Fast & Furious marks the start of this trend, but it’s not perfect. See, the ever-so-serious tone that I mentioned before kind of stomps on the toes of these otherwise breathtaking action sequences, because it kept taking me out of the movie. The beauty of scenes such as gas tankers flipping off of cliffs and cars driving through (literally through) mountains is that I know those things aren’t real, they are essentially every ten year-old boy’s fantasy. It’s fine when those things happen and the cast are all like “Holy shit, can you believe that just happened?!”, but the problem occurs when when everyone acts like it’s just another day at the office. If the characters aren’t having fun, how can the audience have fun? These action sequences were cool to watch don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t having fun while watching them. Everyone else seems bored, so the feeling got transferred to me. The other problem I had with the action in Fast & Furious is that even though the action scaled, the CGI didn’t. The CGI in Fast & Furious wasn’t exactly bad, but it was apparent. The biggest set pieces were reduced to practically nothing because I could tell that everything I was seeing was fake. Maybe that’s why everyone looked so fucking bored in the film, there was nothing there for them to react to. Now I do want to point out that quite a few of the stunts were still practical, and I do applaud them on that, but it was all of the bigger stunts that made me sad to see that they opted for CGI. One thing that was learned from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was how to shoot the racing scenes, because that is one of the high-points in Fast & Furious. It’s just a disappointment that seemingly everything else brought it down.
Overall Fast & Furious was a step in the right direction for the franchise, but it also took two steps back. It managed to include bigger action set pieces and great performances, but those things were lost in how seriously the movie took itself. Despite these scenarios being completely outlandish, Fast & Furious decided that now was the best time to try and manipulate the audience’s emotions; and of course all of these attempts fell flat. I do appreciate how funny the movie was, despite it not being the intention.
I give Fast & Furious a B