By Anthony Miglieri
I’ll skip the usual dillydally: the Fast and Furious franchise is a miracle of modern science. It began with a what is widely considered a Point Break knockoff, discarded star Vin Diesel for the sequel, discarded everybody else and moved to Tokyo for the third film, reunited its original cast in the fourth film, went nuts and went globe trotting in the fifth film, and hasn’t looked back since. The connective tissue throughout this madness: shiny automobiles, insufficiently clothed buttocks, and Family.
As a refresher: the surprisingly massive cast of main characters includes Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Ready? The following is my slow and carefully considered ranking of all eight Fast and Furious films so far.
(Spoilers [and liberal use of parentheses] down the road)
8. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Tokyo Drift, the third in the franchise, is the only episode that I outright dislike. Although the introduction of Han is valuable and some of the drifting scenes are interesting in how they offer a graceful counterpart to the full-throttle racing of the rest of the series, Lucas Black as main character Sean Boswell has the charisma of a wet mop, none of the other characters are worth remembering, and the plot – which ends up involving an uncle in the Yakuza – is handled too seriously for its silliness. Strangely, this film has trouble embracing its ridiculousness as well as does the previous film, 2 Fast 2 Furious, as well as the rest of the series starting with Fast Five do. Also, you don’t realize how much you miss the magisterial presence of Vin Diesel until he’s only in the movie for the last 30 seconds.
7. Fast and Furious (2009)
Before I created this list, I did a bit of research: I rewatched this (the fourth in the series) and Tokyo Drift, since they were the two that I had always identified as my least favorites, and had only seen once apiece as a result. Although their list positions didn’t change, I actually ended up liking each one a little more than I did before. I still don’t think this curiously titled and relatively grounded episode is necessarily good, but its great opening heist sequence, the introduction to the “Letty’s death” plot, and the reunion of the original film’s cast at least partially balance the utterly forgettable and bland villain, drug bust plot, and muddled climax. On an anecdotal tangent: when I ignited my television to relive this film, I was immediately greeted by Tom Hagen and Virgil Sollozzo on AMC, the channel I happened to have left off on. Yes, I turned off The Godfather to watch the fourth Fast and Furious, so great is my sense of duty to you, dear reader.
6. Fast and Furious 6 (2013)
This one follows the general gist of Fast Five in that it continues to ramp up the action and superhero vibes, and it is pretty good at doing so. The most important point in this entry is the revelation that Letty is still alive(!), and its handling of her amnesia storyline is actually well done and emotionally affecting. As is a trend in this series, the specifics of the plot and the villain, Shaw (Luke Evans), are fairly forgettable, but a few excellent examples of vehicular mayhem, especially one involving a tank on a highway, as well as my what is perhaps my favorite car in the series (Dom’s red Charger Daytona), make 6 worthy.
5. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Coming off the successful original, 2 Fast 2 Furious decided to go in an almost completely unrelated direction, replacing a lot of the previous film’s tension and seriousness with more familiar buddy movie tropes. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy this film more than most people do and more than I probably should, because I certainly do. Besides featuring infectious chemistry between Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor and Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce, as well as a halfway (or third-way) decent villain in crime lord Verone (Cole Hauser), this film is notable for how it plants the seeds for the all-out nuts stuff that goes down later in the series. Myself, I simply like watching Roman Pearce launching a thug out of his 1970 Dodge Challenger via nitrous-fueled ejector seat, Brian giving Rome the bird from his neon green Mitsubishi whilst speeding down a crowded freeway in reverse, and the duo jumping off a conveniently placed ramp in a Yenko Camaro to crash into the baddie’s yacht. What more needs to be said? Nothing, that’s what.
4. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
At this point, I would like to address the fascinating nature of these film’s titles. At various points in the franchise, the “The’s” would disappear, reappear, and in one instance, be replaced by “2’s.” I would further expound upon this unreasonably complex topic, but I’m saving my notes for my dissertation. Anyway, both “The’s” are fully intact in the The Fast and the Furious, and in a pseudo-philosophical way, these two seemingly insignificant words represent the seriousness that would very soon be purged from the series. In this first film, street racing is depicted as a dark, seductive world and the racers are modern day gunslingers. While I do feel that the eventual transition into action movie madness is when the series finds its true calling, I still think that this first film is mostly well done and engrossing. Also, the final sequence, in which Dom’s supercharged black 1970 Charger and Brian’s blazing orange Supra face off in a slo-mo cloaked drag race, may be the franchise’s most iconic moment.
3. Furious 7 (2015)
Like Fast and Furious 6, Furious 7 continues to up the insanity quotient that was raised through the roof by Fast Five. Suitably, the set pieces, including cars falling out of a plane and a car leaping between skyscrapers, are insane and satisfying. Granted, 7 is a bit overblown: the shakily photographed hand-to-hand combat sequences are too abundant, there is one villain too many, and the nearly 40-minute finale could have used some trimming. However, Jason Statham, as main villain Deckard Shaw (brother of Fast and Furious 6 bad guy Owen Shaw), is certainly the best villain of the series so far, mostly because he is Jason Statham, but also because of the absurd(ly awesome) way that he connects with and helps validate the existence of Tokyo Drift (whose events are revealed at this point to have taken place between Fast and Furious 6 and Furious 7). Yes, Fast and Furious sometimes employs the plot twists of soap opera and the timeline antics of something like The Terminator, but it has so far been all the better for them. However, the greatest and most unique aspect of 7 is its emotional depth. That’s right, emotional depth: although undoubtedly amplified by the fact that Paul Walker’s death in the middle of production forced rewrites of the script, the elements of Brian’s very tastefully executed sendoff and Letty’s continual reawakening (remember, she was assumed dead in the fourth one and revealed to have amnesia in the sixth one) make Furious 7 a legitimate emotional anchor for the saga.
2. Fast Five (2011)
Defying all expectations as well as the lackluster fourth installment, Fast Five hit moviegoers like a hearty dose of NOS when it came out. Heck, even critics embraced it, bestowing upon the fifth episode the first ripe red tomato that the series had yet earned. Being a fan of the grittier original film in my younger days, I was slow to embrace the sudden turn into all-out absurdity that this film introduced as the new norm for the franchise, but I now see it as a stroke of near-genius. First off, the set pieces rock, especially the high-speed desert train robbery near the beginning and the gracefully destructive vault-dragging heist at the climax. Fast Five also marks the first appearance of the Rock as Luke Hobbs, muscle-bound government agent and master one-liner slinger. Ever since this entry, the Rock’s presence has made for a macho and hilarious momentum that helps keep the series fresh. I also think the craziness introduced in this film is a perfect fit for the, let’s say “less-than-Oscar-worthy” acting that the Fast and Furious films have always had. Nobody ever asked Diesel to be anyone else than Diesel (and why would they?), but since Fast Five, the plot and acting have been pitched at just the right level, so as to maximize his and his costars’ talents. Unfortunately, after each time that I have watched Fast Five, I could not recall the villain within hours of finishing it. Ah, how I yearn for a Fast and Furious flick that could have it all…
1. The Fate of the Furious (2017)
To me, this represents the simultaneous saturation and maturation of the franchise’s stupidity. By this, I mean that The Fate of the Furious is the best entry so far at being awesomely off-the-wall. Finally, we have the entire crew wielding machine guns and deterring nuclear war. I mean, it was only a matter of time, and Fate delivers nearly every silly second with panache. There are also a couple ridiculously satisfying non-vehicular action sequences involving a prison break and a baby, respectively. This is also the funniest Fast yet, as we are treated to serving after serving of the hilarious macho comic stylings of the Rock’s Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard Shaw (who is a good guy now). This film also pulls off a great feat for the franchise: it features a villain who is actually interesting in the dastardly hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron). Also, in a series that has continuously woven surprisingly complex storylines, the premise at the heart of Fate is refreshingly bold and concise: Vin Diesel is a bad guy now! Icing what I believe to be the most satisfying film in this franchise, this one even has the most gloriously ridiculous title of the franchise. The Fate of the Furious might not have quite the emotional heft of 7 nor the sense of ingenuity of Fast Five, but to me, it is the most satisfying mixture that any Fast has yet pulled off.
Supposedly, there will be two more entries; yes, the Fast and Furious saga will someday number in double digits, a feat befitting the amazing ridiculousness of the films themselves. Nowadays, a lot of folks fawn over the the MCU. Myself, I prefer to live life a quarter mile at a time. FFU forever.