… Furious(ly late)

(NOTE: Nobody has brought them up, but I figured I may as well. I am aware of the short films Turbo-Charged Prelude and Los Bandoleros, but I have not bothered watching either short film because I’m not THAAAAT much of an enthusiast in this franchise. Still, in either case, I’ll never say never, but I don’t see why I must go out of my way and will opt not to.)

Would you believe me if I said I had this completely typed down, accidentally fell asleep, and by the time I woke up, I had to go to work? Well, don’t believe that first part, but the second and third are truth. Anyway, it’s been known by now by y’all that speed ain’t my forte.

In either case when we left the rival for the Rambo series for “Most Confusingly Titled Franchise”, the Fast & Furious scene was at an all-time low with its picture The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. And I was luckily able to imply that the series obviously took an upturn in my view within its last few franchises…

Fast & Furious (2009/dir. Justin Lin/USA)

… Just not quite yet. While still feeling like a step in the right direction for the franchise by returning to most of the source of its personality (American muscle cars, American muscle heads, American… you get the point), this film is kind of the anti-thesis to the main argument I have against another film I hate, Speed Racer. That being “if you’re going to have a film centered on cars with no intention of filling it with further substance, do not make the proportion of that car action be lesser than the rest of the crap”.

Well, shit, this movie is filled with car scenes and lengthy ones too, thankfully. The only moments it takes a breather is to imply a certain character of the franchise is killed and I otherwise have no literal memory of the story except its ending and bits and pieces around the middle.

But what is unfortunate is how those car action sequences are no better shot than the first film (I don’t know what the hell happened with returning director Justin Lin, but he does not fuck up the cinematography in the rest of his work for the franchise, I swear to you). And his editors, while not entirely making a mess of these scenes like the Transformers franchise, don’t seem to have a good sense of what they’re aiming for with their work beyond just keeping the cars in frame (and covering too much of the 2.35:1 frame, which really bugs me when you don’t give yourself as much leeway with the widescreen standard).

And then there’s the dubious fact of Gisele (Gal Gadot)’s introduction to the franchise as just some lady who really wants to get down with beefcake Dom than having any personality (and in the later films, when they go a 180 to give her actual shit to do, she still lacks personality as a character). But we also get introduced to my favorite characters of the franchise, slapstick pair Tego and Santos, played by Puerto Rican musicians Tego Calderon and Don Omar respectively. I have not heard a single note of their music, although I am told a song appears in the next film by Don Omar and that honestly puts me off. One of the biggest criticisms you can quote from me on even the best movie of this franchise (which I will reach soon) is how the soundtrack sounds less like music aiding the mood and more like a Reggaeton/R&B mixtape by your friendly neighborhood bro. Except in the case of Furious 7 (which I saw last night and will review soon) in which case, it sounds like a mixtape trying so hard not to be conspicuous but just coming off as failing in its manipulative mission (Seriously, even if you’re Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Lars von Trier, or Quentin Tarantino, if your music has lyrics in it, you better work right or your movie will sound like shit).

So, yeah, it’s a step in the right direction and it’s not like I’m not disappointed by such fantastic car scenes like the opening semi hijacking that we recall cheering for our characters so hard back in the franchises’ beginnings. But it’s not quite at its full potential yet.

Fast Five (2011/dir. Justin Lin/USA)

Ok, so now I will be more honest with you dear readers than I usually am, about a certain bias I have. Don’t worry, it’s not at all negative and it lifts the franchise higher than I would have expected if it didn’t have this handicap, especially this particular picture.

I am a strapping young heterosexual lad with no romantic interest in men and I am comfortable enough with my sexuality to state that Dwayne “The MOTHERFUCKING Rock” Johnson is one of just two guys I totally have a screen crush on and puts that heterosexuality at a challenge (the other guy is Michael Fassbender, if you must know). I will watch any fucking movie you toss at me if the Rock is in it and not give a fuck. Hell, the people who made the G.I. Joe films probably knew that when I find The Rise of Cobra to be one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and decided to bait me into its terrible sequel by having the Rock star in it and you know what? I didn’t hate watching it because IT’S THE MOTHERFUCKING ROCK!

Think I’m gay because of this? IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK!

Anyway, moving on, just the fact that the Rock is in this picture giving a hilariously uptight wide-eyed barking performance that leads Luke Hobbs to being my favorite character of the franchise neither distracts me from the fact that while I love Fast Five, I still can’t exactly call it a “good” movie, nor the other primary strengths that Fast Five has that lift it above being a “bad movie I hated” to a “bad movie I’ll watch again (though probably use the fast-forward a few more times than usual)”.

In the parlance of Hobbs himself, I’ll give the dessert first: The characters are still not fully… dimensioned really and never become so as of the latest Fast and the Furious picture. But their roles and relations with each other have never been clearer than they have been in this picture and their chemistry is even a lit in the most comatose of performances like Gadot’s or Jordana Brewster’s as Walker’s girlfriend Mia. In the vein of the infamous productions of Happy Madison, Diesel has clearly started making the Fast and the Furious franchise paid vacations for him and his buddies, but they clearly incorporate that enough that we care about characters and register that if they matter to each other, they matter to us.

There’s some really lovely photography of the Rio de Janeiro scenery. Like, for once, the movie takes advantage of its exotic locale to make it feel like its atmosphere and even takes pride in it for the whole initial confrontation between Hobbs and Dom. It almost feels as aware as Cidade de Deus.

Plus, while the movie just tries to arrange itself in the form of a heist film and comes off a bit jagged in that structure, it’s one big heist setpiece is also my single favorite: I will merely sum it up as a full-on physical implausibility involving cars doing things there is no way cars will ever be capable of doing and yet the editing, sound work, and cinematography are all able to make it less believable and more exhilarating and astounding, even in complete disregard of the wreckage and collateral damage and casualties it causes. Seriously, the climax of this film alone is worth the price of admission (and for a drinking game, drink every time you are certain they just killed innocents. You will be another one they killed by the end of the film).

The veggies though, other than the obvious collateral damage, and the still constant problems of the writing…

This movie shouldn’t be 2 hours and 10 minutes long and it ought to go fuck itself for all of that bullshit padding to make a film longer than it deserves to be. The story is unnecessarily long and intricate for something which will not at all be full of any sense by the end of the picture… and even worse when what it neglects are car races that it teases like one that Dom uses to win a particular car… much more so when it is so obviously adopted to the furthering of the franchise such as in…

Fast & Furious 6 (2013/dir. Justin Lin/USA)

The final ride for Justin Lin in this franchise, but also the strongest point this series has had yet (even in consideration of Furious 7). It contains basically all of the weaknesses of the previous picture but amps up enough of the strengths of it to drown those weaknesses out.

More emphasis on action setpiece after action setpiece (like fucking really), more chemistry between characters to believe these actors are all as close as they were in real life (as well as an emphasis on the ensemble of the plot for all of these characters now), more cinematography and smart editing for the picture (oh my the editing and the sound mix just makes me dream so hard of engines). Even the CGI is worth a damn and if a layman were only interested in one of these films for a thrill ride, I’d insist THIS were the picture he check out.

Still paper-thin characterizations, still doesn’t deserve its 130 minute runtime, still unconcerned with the collateral damage… But it is certainly a worthwhile ride.

And so we come to the present with Furious 7 and see what will come with it…

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