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In Defense of the Fast, in Awe of the Furious

FastFuriousEvery fan of The Fast and the Furious franchise likes to share the same story, because every fan has the same story. After the first movie was released in 2001, moviegoers nationwide reported seeing fellow audience members peeling out from the movie theater parking lot, living their lives a quarter mile at a time from that point forward.

In what is now the most profitable film franchise of all time, grossing over a billion dollars in revenue globally, the “Fast Franchise” is a fixture among summer blockbusters. Critically, however, the film has been dismissed as another manufactured block of Hollywood profit mongering, which I’m here to argue is completely unfair. The second and third installment are, admittedly, the redheaded stepchildren of the series. But once Vin Diesel rejoined the cast for installments four through seven, the franchise hit a high-water mark in popularity. A formula has been adopted for each Fast sequel that hasn’t been used effectively since the 80s. The only rule is that Diesel and company must pull off ever more ridiculous and implausible feats with each successive film.

You may have thought the pinnacle of impossibility was reached in Fast 6 when Dominic Toretto (Diesel) intentionally crashed his car into the guard rail of an interstate bridge in order to propel himself across the divide to catch his girlfriend Letti,who had just been propelled off the front of a flipping tank. As he’s flying through the air about 400 feet off the ground, he gracefully catches Letti and cushions their fall on the other side of the divide by slamming himself into the windshield of a parked car. No human being could survive such an ordeal, but that’s what so amazing about the Fast Franchise: It’s totally illogical and they aren’t apologizing for any of it.

It took me awhile to get over this. In fact, I refused to see the fourth installment until it had been out of conventional theaters for a few months so I could catch it at the dollar theater. But after I finally saw it, I had a Fast Franchise epiphany; they are so stupid that they’re brilliant.

What’s more, Vin Diesel (and later Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) finally brought the MUSCLE back to the action screen. The 80’s gave us Arnold and Stallone, two freakishly huge dudes who occupied the physical form that Average Joes could only dream of. But then bulky muscle gave way to the lean, muscular Daniel Craig physique.

Until someone finally said “Screw it. I’m getting every guy in Hollywood who is currently on steroids to appear in this movie.”

It worked, as the return of the Big Man yielded the Expendables series and, in turn a second stanza to the career of the Rock that’s aptly described as mathematically unlikely. At one point in Furious 7, Dwayne Johnson’s character Hobbs (who is just smeared in baby oil throughout this entire franchise) decides he’s tired of being in the hospital from injuries sustained on the job.

In a normal film he would probably sneak out with a clever ruse, but not my guy, Hobbs! No. Instead, he stands up, tells his daughter it’s “time for Daddy to go to work,” then proceeds to FLEX HIS WAY OUT OF HIS ARM CAST. The theater goes nuts at this point. (Or maybe it was just me standing up and fist pumping, who knows?)

While the series originally focused on Brian O’Conner, played by Paul Walker, over time it’s morphed into a cultural melting pot of actors who can’t act worth a shit but are endlessly entertaining in their own unique way. The supporting cast of different looking people helped the movie become so popular around the world, and it opened a door for the films to take themselves less seriously. With the addition of actors like The Rock, Ludacris, Jason Statham etc… the franchise became bigger than any one actor, specifically Walker and Diesel. Once outside of the street racing niche, the films became almost a caricature of themselves and subsequently far more entertaining. The movies aren’t “good”, by Hollywood art standards, but for me they are impossible to walk away from, and the most fun I have in a theater all year.

After Walker’s death I read a lot about his life outside of his career, and it seems the world lost much more than a handsome actor. Walker was by all accounts a good father, a philanthropist, and a great friend to rest of his Fast cast mates, Vin Diesel recently named his newborn daughter after Walker.  The manner in which the movie handles Walker’s exit from the franchise, aside from questionable CGI work, was incredibly touching to me.  You have to remember that Walker died mid-production of Furious 7, so when the cast filmed the scene giving him his series-ending goodbye, it was still very raw for them. You can feel that tension throughout, the surprisingly sad ending to an action movie that really should be considered a comedy. Because the Fast and Furious franchise became a world for everyone to enjoy in spite of being a bit of a self-parody, the death of one of its characters felt surprisingly substantial.

Where the Fast films go from here is unknown, but i’m betting even without Walker the series will continue to entertain those who come back seeking a two-hour escape from life. It is the action series of my generation, and if you’re willing to see for what it is, it’s freaking awesome.

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