Entertainment

'Fast & Furious' Is the Only Good Hollywood Franchise

In praise of a big screen blockbuster that is everything it is supposed to be – no more, no less.
Emma Garland
London, GB
June 2, 2021, 8:00am
Fast & Furious 2001 Vin Diesel
Photo: AA Film Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

Fast & Furious – more formally known as The Fast and the Furious – is the greatest Hollywood franchise of our times.

The premise is thus: a load of street racers one would describe as having “body” on them, versus assorted criminals. They duke it out on the roads – and in the skies, and across desolate arctic landscapes – over the course of nine films and a spin-off (so far), as things become increasingly untethered from reality. It’s a maximalist joyride about underdogs in muscle vests doing loud libidinal things in loud libidinal cars. It’s everything a big screen blockbuster is supposed to be – no more, no less. 

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What began in 2001 as a story about rival racing gangs, dirty money and big-rig hijacking rapidly accelerated into a high-stakes world of international crime, assassins and situations where Vin Diesel and Paul Walker have to do stuff like drive a $3.4 million supercar out of the window of skyscraper in Abu Dhabi, and crash it into another skyscraper across the road.

But if you’re getting hung up on little things like why “the team” are being deployed to Russia to disable a nuclear submarine based on their ability to soup up a Mazda, you’re watching Fast & Furious wrong. This is about family. It’s ride or die, baby – literally. At its core, Fast & Furious is a universal story of different people from different backgrounds united by three things: the need for speed, their loyalty to one another, and not being a scab while also cooperating with the authorities as long as they’re American.

As we settle back into a semblance of normality, the thing I’m most excited about is sitting in front of a screen wider than my flat, inhaling a litre of Ice Blast and feeling my brain and body vibrate to the sound of someone smashing NOS at a pivotal moment. I’m sick of “hobbies” and being “mentally stimulated”. For summer 2021, give me primal delights. Give me men without necks pulling on bottles of Corona and women in gowns fist-fighting and the bass of a thousand collisions rumbling in my guts. Give me Fast & Furious 9.

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Some other points to consider:

VIN DIESEL IS IN IT 

When I think of “dad” as a concept, I think of Vin Diesel’s voice. A voice so deep you could swim in it, a voice so steady it sounds like it has roots in the crust of the earth. This is exactly the kind of man who can say shit like, "Funny thing about street fights? The street always wins,” and everyone will be like wow, that is so true.

This man does everything with the calm confidence of someone who knows they’re getting into heaven, whether it’s shooting at a helicopter as Dominic Toretto, doing “creative” days on Instagram where he posts fridge magnet art of things that are meaningful to him, or dropping not one but two tropical house singles during the pandemic just for the vibes.

It’s impossible to feel sadness when Vin Diesel is around, because he is basically an archetypal man and a “Live Love Laugh” mum rolled into one. On estimate, I’d say around 35 percent of the success of the franchise is carried solely on the back of Vin Diesel’s voice.

MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ IS IN IT 

Show me another woman who is as good at wearing one strappy vest over another strappy vest and kicking people down the stairs, I’ll wait.

THE ROCK IS IN IT

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson enters the franchise in Fast Five (2011) as security agent-slash-bounty hunter Lucas “Luke” Rebecca Hobbs. The character was initially developed with Tommy Lee Jones in mind, but was adapted for The Rock after Vin Diesel noticed a lot of people on his Facebook page professing a desire to see them in a film together (for context, please see above regarding Vin Diesel and how unsurprising it is that the course of cinematic history was altered because of something he saw on Facebook). 

One of his first starring roles after transitioning from wrestling to the big screen, The Rock took this opportunity to get even more enormous than he already was, in order to present a credible threat to the other, also enormous, protagonists. By The Fate of the Furious (2017) he becomes large enough to stop a moving torpedo with his bare hands and lob it at an ice truck.

CARS!

F9 2021

Photo: 'F9' (2021) via Universal Pictures

Despite being a franchise entirely based on cars, to the point that “car” is, like, totally the fifth character, you don’t need to know a fucking thing about them. All you need to know is cars go brrrr and then almost certainly explode.

MINIMAL DIALOGUE 

If you close your eyes with a Fast & Furious film on, all you will hear is MRRRR, VRRRRRR, with the occasional interjection of “OH SHIT” or “YEAH BOYEEE”. This is because communication in the franchise is very masculine, in that it is largely non-verbal.

Beef between characters will be established by someone spitting on the ground near someone else’s feet. Approval is indicated by someone looking around and nodding at nothing in particular, like a student who has just assembled an IKEA unit by themselves. All the sex scenes are choreographed somewhere between VHS pornography and a ballet (including one where Vin Diesel just picks up Michelle Rodriguez by her arse). The dialogue that is present is usually smack talk or some hotboxed-in-a-Tesco-carpark chat delivered in an extremely stern tone: “It’s not how you look standing by the car, it’s how you drive the car.” 

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This, of course, is the perfect equilibrium needed to keep the most amount of people at a consistent mid-level of horniness, and is foundational to the appeal of Fast & Furious

EVERGREEN VIBE

2 Fast 2 Furious

Photo: '2 Fast 2 Furious' (2003) ft. half the shit on sale at Urban Outfitters currently

The first four films are some of the most aggressively 2000s things ever created, but watching them back you’ll notice that much of the music and fashion has either come back around or never left in the first place. We’re talking boiler-suits, Rita Ora, hot pink chaps and lace-up fetish trousers (shout out Devon Aoki as Suki, style icon of the franchise), giant crucifix necklaces, a lot of Pitbull and nu-metal on the soundtrack.

Yes, there are also a lot of stonewash jeans and T-shirts that are very, “Yo, my slime working at the Billabong shop, where can I peruse the puka shell necklaces?” – but overall it’s surprisingly timeless.

We can attribute some of that to the fact that it’s one of the few Hollywood blockbusters to be naturally diverse, inspired by real life LA street racing and laying its foundations in all the cultural hybridity and sounds and styles that came along with it. Unfortunately, it does get more jeans and sheux over time, and now mostly everyone looks like a playable character from The Last Of Us – but still. Immaculate vibes.

POWERFUL SEQUEL TITLES 

List of Fast & Furious films on Wikipedia

Photo: List of Fast & Furious films via Wikipedia

Has there ever been an auteur in cinema as unsung as whoever is in charge of naming the Fast & Furious films? No other saga could pull off a format as inconsistent yet aesthetically rewarding as this. We have at least five different styles going on here and, arguably, none of them would be half as good if weren’t for the fact that, together, they make no fucking sense.

To get a true feel for its power, try applying it to other franchises, for example: Harry Potter, 2 Harry 2 Potter, Harry Potter 3: Tokyo Drift, Harry & Potter, HP9.

No. It’s like wearing a cowboy hat or doing Oasis on karaoke. You need real clout to get away with it.

RANGE OF CAMEO APPEARANCES 

If there’s one thing that illustrates the universal appeal of Fast & Furious above all else, it’s the cameos. The films find themselves at the centre of a Venn diagram that includes rappers, UFC champions and Oscar winners. Over the last 20 years it’s starred everyone from Ja Rule to Helen Mirren, and my final word is this: what other franchise will give you a 75-year-old thespian pulling a sweet 180 J-Turn on the streets of London?

@emmaggarland