Few film franchises successfully make it to seven entries, and even fewer necessitate that number. Counting out long-standing runs like “Friday the 13th,” with it’s incessant reboots, or James Bond, which will continue through the end of time, most prolific series’ seem to call it quits around entry number six. “Saw,” a rarity, pushed to a seventh installment with the notion of using the 3D admission price to keep it running (that failed) and “Star Wars,” amazingly, will welcome Episode VII into theaters this December. Standing tall amidst the rare club of seven-strong franchises is “The Fast and the Furious,” a high-speed, fourteen year-long series with few paramount concerns above slick cars, beautiful women, insane action sequences, and more than enough mindless joy to keep viewers excited about the next long ride. Through its always-growing central cast of beloved characters, which have anchored the series with an emotional hook, and it’s courageous ability to throw caution to the win and embrace it’s tongue-in-cheek blend of action and comedy, the “Fast” films have garnered a major fanbase. As of October 22, 2013, the franchise had earned $2.3 billion at the worldwide box office, officially becoming Universal Pictures’ highest grossing franchise of all time.
I have a hunch that this superlative will remain, especially given the release of the series’ seventh entry this coming weekend. On April 3, James Wan’s “Furious 7” will be delivered to the world, flaunting a $250 million price tag and the return of every major actor who has ever had a significant role in the franchise, in addition to two newcomers – action legends Kurt Russell and Jason Statham. While a new “Fast” film is of course cause for celebration, “Furious 7” will also come with an inherent emotional gravitas given that it will be the final film featuring Paul Walker, following his untimely death in November of 2013. Though we know that Walker’s Brian O’Conner will not be grimly written out of the franchise but rather tastefully retired, it should be noted that this vacancy does open up an opportunity for somebody else to join the Toretto family. Still, Walker will forever be a major part of this franchise and his absence in the forthcoming “Fast” films will undoubtedly be felt.
But we still have one more film with Walker, and early reviews have been wildly ecstatic, some considering it the most exciting film of the franchise yet. We will be running our review this weekend, but before we get to breaking down “Furious 7,” we wanted to quickly revisit the six “Fast” films leading up to it. Below you will find the official Reel Reactions ranking of “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, listed from worst to best. Now, please, take this ranking and their respective grades with a grain of salt. We love this franchise here at Reel Reactions. We really, really do, so don’t take these write-ups and grades as the ultimate truth – all six (and soon, seven) of these films are outrageous fun and survive on their individual giddy merits and their cumulative ones as well. We will be watching, loving, debating, and ranking these films until they finally run out of gas (though we seriously doubt the end will come any time soon).
Where will “Furious 7” fit into this ranking?
Convoluted, ultra-serious, and frustratingly inconsequential, the franchise’s fourth film (though third chronologically) gets points for finally bringing Vin Diesel back into the fold, but ultimately gets bogged down in continuing the franchise’s now skewed storyline and undercutting the family dynamic that would come to define this everlasting series. Marketing itself as a “New Model [with] Original Parts,” the much-reviled film did zoom to the finish with $363 million worldwide, thanks in no small part to the reassembling of the first film’s entire ensemble, including the always-great Michelle Rodriguez, though in a substantially limited part. Still, on the heels of the slightly less dour “Tokyo Drift,” the seemingly first true sequel to the 2001 original is as ineffectual as it’s dumbly truncated title relying on forced set-pieces to reunite Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner. And somehow, even in the action department, this installment barely satisfies with a nifty prologue having been entirely spoiled by the film’s teaser trailer and a hardly convincing climax that’s geographically an eyesore. Worse yet, the film’s villain is revealed through a shoulder-heaving rug-pull shortchanging the brilliant character actor, John Ortiz. Even franchise die-hards and car fetishists know they’re witnessing a seriously subpar entry; “F&F” barely has enough gas to get it to the end credits. The best part in all honesty? The cliffhanger ending, which would provide the game-changing fifth entry with its first barrage of insanity. [3/10]
The ‘guilty pleasure’ of the franchise, John Singleton’s brainless follow-up puts Paul Walker front and center, coerced back into law enforcement in an effort to clear his criminal record after letting Dom evade arrest in the first film’s final moments. The sequel brings in a couple of new characters, like the eye-catching Eva Mendes and then-serious rappers Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris – who have come to add a great deal of energy to the later installments – but without Vin Diesel, “2 Furious” feels limited right from the start. It doesn’t help that Singleton, who a decade earlier looked to be one of the medium’s most promising new voices, can’t bring any life to the writing or to the set pieces. Distractingly low-fi and drudgingly shallow, “2 Fast 2 Furious” is summed up by the stage name of its co-star: Ludacris. It’s well-intentioned and doesn’t pretend to be anything more than mindless, but time has been pretty brutal to this 2003 feature, rusting its millennial shine. Unlike Rob Cohen’s original, its fetishistic appeal fails to rev many admirable engines, even in an endearingly unassuming way. [4/10]
A desperate departure at the time – and chronologically, the last of the first six films – “Tokyo Drift” went ahead without primary involvement from neither Vin Diesel nor Paul Walker and forewent all of the periphery characters from the first two installments. Instead, the film introduces Lucas Black as Sean, a cocky Southwestern hick sent to live with his father in Tokyo after he totals his car in a racing accident. After meeting Twinkie (Bow Wow, in an effort continue the singer-turned-actor casting that this franchise adores), Sean becomes fascinated by the drift-racing scene, ultimately befriending the enigmatic Han (Sung Kang) who teaches him how to drift. Generally, the film provides very little that the first two didn’t, but under Justin Lin’s direction, the racing sequences finally feel like they’re amply front and center. The film gets a lot of mileage out of the sleek cars and the necessary change of scenery, even though Lucas Black is as stiff as a board and Bow Wow feels weirdly out of place, but “Tokyo Drift,” is a stylish venture and will be remembered as the training wheels for Lin’s now-high profile (he has two episodes of “True Detective” Season 2 coming up and “Star Trek 3”). Also, given the storytelling route the franchise has continued with, “Tokyo Drift” actually stands a bit stronger than it did nine years ago, with Han’s character having been enriched by his involvement with the Toretto family and the loss of his beloved Giselle (Gal Gadot) in “Fast & Furious 6.” It might have disjointed the storyline, but on it’s own, “Tokyo Drift” is flashy fun, and features a fan-loving, and quite clever, cameo from Vin Diesel in it’s final moments. [6/10]
Following “Fast Five,” which more or less did the impossible (more on that in a second), “Fast & Furious 6” delivered an abundance of absurdity on a scale never before seen by the franchise, but at the expense of the intelligence it’s immediate predecessor excitingly teased. Again scripted by Chris Morgan and directed by Justin Lin, it saw a retread made by the former and a leap made by the latter; a wrap-around plot involving a still-alive Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) assisting a team of mercenary drivers who have wreaked havoc around the globe while the Toretto clan pursues them in exchange for full pardons from Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), “Fast 6” mostly goes through the narrative motions in an effort to tie together it’s incredibly epic set pieces. Each action sequence builds on the previous one concluding with an eye-widening, multi-faceted pursuit down a tarmac that lasts some twenty-plus minutes. Six entries in, this franchise has mostly left its street racing roots behind, but Lin instills his “Fast” swan song with a lovable sense of a juiced-up madness that other blockbuster filmmakers only wish they could replicate. We’d be fooling ourselves if we didn’t believe that James Wan will do right by Lin’s standards with “Furious 7,” but number six did raise the action to an all-time high. [7/10]
The one that started it all, Rob Cohen’s high-speed summer getaway raced to nearly $150 million at the domestic box office (unadjusted for inflation, mind you) well before Universal Pictures had any idea what kind of monster they had on their hands. Sleek and iridescent on the surface, but sufficiently grungy in its throwback aesthetic, Cohen douses this early naughts hot-rod flick in B-movie grime, rejuvenating a seemingly bygone cinematic style. Referencing it’s exploitative 1950’s predecessors, Cohen tricks viewers into inheriting his naturally perverse point of view, but he’s also able to convey the high-octane pleasure of the film guilt-free, which results in resounding, unassuming joy. Led by a hot quartet of relative newcomers – Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, and Paul Walker (who had just worked with Cohen on “The Skulls) – “The Fast and the Furious” keeps it’s pedal pressed to the floor, rarely daring to tax the brain, but alluring audiences to take part in it’s unabashed fun, mining out the Limp Bizkit-loving, juvenile delinquent in all of us. In mid-2001, who would have ever guessed that in fourteen years, this would be the first in a long-standing, incredibly lucrative and wildly popular big-screen franchise? [8/10]
Despite always being major pulls at the box office, the first three “Fast” sequels were mostly failures in pushing the franchise in a new direction. “2 Fast 2 Furious” rerouted from grungy to clunky, “Tokyo Drift” is the lowest grossing installment to date, and “Fast & Furious” felt utterly aimless even with the entire original film’s cast on board again. But it speaks to the longevity of the franchise when fandom is retained through three mostly dire sequels and the creative team can manage to usher in a new tonal era come entry number five. “Fast Five” was the first to leave the redundant street racing behind, dropping it’s mostly perverse and nihilistic eye, while advancing into a new genre entirely: The heist film. This is the smartest film in the franchise by a large margin, mirrored with exceptional craftsmanship by the now seasoned Justin Lin, emerging from the shadow of mediocrity that his direction embodied on the last two films, handling the climactic robbery sequence with near balletic grace. Yes, there are of course still fast cars and scantily clad women, but the Brazil-set entry is more about cementing the familial vigor that has now dominated the more recent two and upcoming seventh film, and deftly combines abundant humor (thanks in large part to it’s huge cast, which unites just about every character who has ever had a part in the series) with physics-defying action. Also, as a bonus, “Fast Five” ushering in Dwayne Johnson as Agent Hobbs, a wildly charismatic addition who, through a comic self-consciousness, provided an excellent single-bodied foil for our reckless protagonists. He’s remained a major component of the series since, leaving new testosterone trails of his own in his wake. [9/10]
“Furious 7” hits theaters nationwide this Friday, April 3rd.
Article by Mike Murphy