It's only when you're near tears, plodding out of a cinema at 2:15 AM after seeing the seventh Fast & Furious film alone, that you begin to evaluate your life choices. So ended my marathon: after more than 12 hours of watching cars race, burst into flames and get run over by tanks, I was a broken man. I was sweating petrol. Nothing was real any more. I had watched Vin Diesel age 14 years in one day, and felt like I had aged 14 years too.
That the Fast & Furious franchise has already lasted for seven films, making well over $2 billion in the process, is the kind of modern phenomenon that makes you shake your head, laugh, then go for a little cry and a lie-down. It is the kind of franchise in which undercover cops change their name from Brian O'Conner to Brian Spilner; the kind in which someone can say, "He's standing right in front of you" about someone who is standing directly behind them; the kind in which the line, "What is he, sandwich-crazy?" makes the final script edit.
It is nonsense.
Each film comes sagging with the weighty burden of following the tail of the last, meaning that each director is virtually obliged to make theirs bigger and more explosive, to the extent that the films have lost any hint of realism onto which they may previously have clung. This is why Furious 7 features a sequence in which a car worth millions of pounds is driven through three consecutive skyscrapers without stopping. Far from being a bad thing, it is what makes immersing oneself in the franchise such a joy. Excess is its currency. Its speedometer has no limit.
Though Paul Walker is the actor who clocks up the most screen time, it is Vin Diesel who is Fast & Furious personified. His voice lower than a limbo dancer's balls, Diesel's name alone is evidence that no one is more deserving of the role of Dominic Toretto, a street-racing criminal constantly doing deals with the police.
"I live my life a quarter-mile at a time," he says in the first film, a line that many pensioners with mobility problems will appreciate. Diesel doesn't convey more than 2.5 emotions in seven films but he is a calming, charismatic performer, the most alpha alpha male for miles around. He is also immortal.
Kudos should go, incidentally, to the makers of Furious 7 for shaping the film's plot to incorporate Paul Walker's untimely death, memorialising the actor before the credits. There is a scene in which Mia, Walker's onscreen wife, believes she could be saying a final goodbye to her husband. Having watched all seven films in a day meant that this scene, and the montage before the credits, became difficult to watch without trembling lips.
Those who think that the franchise can't do drama without veering into the saccharine should watch the latest iteration. The film's portrayal of the relationship between Toretto and Leticia Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) is also touchingly done. I must, however, allow for the possibility that 11 hours of the films had left me more susceptible to a good old cry than normal.
Though there are of course discrepancies, as well as jaw-dropping sequences that are particular to individual films, watching the seven films in a row highlights that once you've seen one, you can predict much of the dialogue and action in the other six. The franchise does little to dispel the notion that the sequel is a symptom of an imagination on the wane.
"Why not?" says the sequel. "People liked this before – they can have it again!" Does the world really need another Spiderman film? Did anyone involved in the Pink Panther series believe that by the end they weren't just bad people? After eight films might those behind Friday the 13th have said, "Perhaps call it a day now, lads – probably no need to make these next four"?
I would, however, love to see Fast & Furious simply ignore this conundrum, ploughing on forever like the juggernaut it is, unable to heed the warning over the sound of gunfire and screeching tires. The eighth film, a spin-off starring DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), is now all but confirmed. You'll be glad to know that it may also star Helen Mirren. Let that image work its way into your consciousness, and pray, as I will, that Johnson posts a Twitter photo of the pair of them working out together in preparation for the film. Mirren is doing lunges in a grey hoodie. The Rock, a tank with a face, is standing topless behind her.
Let's talk about Dwayne Johnson. His arrival in the fifth film brings to the franchise an energy that was in danger of dying out after the first four. With arms as wide as Milton Keynes he bags many of the best lines; lines that nod to his wrestling alter-ego; lines like "You wanna catch wolves, you need wolves. Let's go hunting." What is most amusing about Johnson's presence though is that, after four films, it looks as though director Justin Lin simply decided that, although Vin Diesel was doing great work, there were two problems: A). He wasn't big enough. B) He wasn't bald enough.
Johnson's arrival, coincidentally or not, stabilised the quality of the films. There isn't space here to discuss the mind-fuck that is The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which, although the third film, takes place after the sixth film (so that the chronology goes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, oh hey 3, what you doing here, 7?). But needless to say, it wouldn't have happened on Dwayne Johnson's watch. I will plump instead for 2 Fast 2 Furious as the worst of the lot, partly because Diesel is not in it but also because it contains exchanges like this:
"They're catching up, man!"
"Shut up, man!"
Each scene feels as though it was the result of the actors strolling onto the set, doing one take, saying, "Yep?" then popping off for lunch. The film was also the stage in the marathon at which I realised I missed Vin Diesel. When he pops up again (at the end of Tokyo Drift) it is like Gandalf's resurrection as Gandalf the White: the other characters are perfectly fine but there's only so long you can stand a drivelling Orlando Bloom.
Instead of instilling in me a wish that the franchise come to a fiery and violent end, watching all seven of the films in 24 hours has made me look upon them very fondly, like an adopted son. I now harbour a perverse desire that the franchise continue well into the stars' old age, which isn't too far-fetched an idea; the words "one last job" were uttered three films ago, for god's sake.
I can't say that 12 hours in the company of Diesel and co. has made me understand why men fetishise fast cars in the way they do. But I don't mind. It doesn't matter to me. That's the thing about Fast and Furious. You don't have to understand any of it. You just have to watch it.
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