Who could've predicted that the 2001 film The Fast and the Furious - a flashy neo-Noir about the underground car racing sub-culture - would, over the decade following its release, give rise to a critically-respected global box office juggernaut?
Fast & Furious 6 is the fourth installment to be directed by Justin Lin, who is responsible for moving the series away from race drama terrain and towards the heist/thriller genre on an international playing field (starting with Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift). In Screen Rant's official Fast & Furious 6 review, our Ben Kendrick goes into detail with his breakdown of why Lin's film amounts to good old popcorn movie fun.
Some people rally against these movies for being exercises in over-indulgence, be it due to the metal-crunching spectacle, the beautiful cast of men and women - who play criminals that are ripe for ogling - or the exotic vehicle and bullet car inventory. Sure, the Fast and the Furious series can be summed up as a guilty pleasure (no more, no less), yet Lin's so-called shallow blockbusters don't seem to generate the same passionate negative responses as, say, Michael Bay's collective filmography.
We've come up with three main reasons as to why this franchise has become a modern pop-culture touchstone.
1. It's a Superhero Franchise in Disguise
Superheroes are the spiritual descendants of deities and regular people (who land themselves in extraordinary circumstances) found throughout ancient mythology. They are, in essence, anthropomorphic metaphors whose personal struggles, conflicts, turmoil, and tribulations reflect the universal experiences of the general human population at any time in history. Comic book superhero movies are all the rage nowadays, in part because more filmmakers have come to appreciate their value as meaningful examples of storytelling.
Fast and the Furious characters like Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) possess super-human qualities - like the ability to jump from moving vehicles going hundreds of miles per hour and land with nary a scratch - but what really makes Dom as much a superhero as Batman or Iron Man - even without a costume (we'll say his odd-fitting tight shirts don't count) - is his higher moral calling and devotion to family. The rest of his crew, likewise, must wrestle with matters like parental responsibilities, love, greed vs. generosity, and their obligations to other people, all of which are presented in a context that reflects life in the 21st century.
No denying, it can be fun to mock the ridiculous action and melodrama found in each and every installment of the Fast and the Furious series. However, at the end of the day, these movies qualify as dyed-in-the-wool superhero movies - and well-made ones at that:
- They show people doing genuinely extraordinary things.
- The characters and their problems aren't a secondary concern to the plot (ex. Fast & Furious 6 really IS about Dom attempting to repair his fractured family).
In that sense, they're more successful than some of the more densely-constructed comic book superhero movies that get caught up trying to do too much (*insert your superhero movie of choice here*), which leads me to my next point...
2. They Never Forget What They Are
There's rarely (if ever) a hint of embarrassment in the way the better Fast and the Furious movies are put together. Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan - more so than their predecessors (Rob Cohen, John Singleton, etc.) - do not pretend to be using a sophisticated collection of character types and tropes in their storytelling. Instead, they enjoy getting to create "low art" and play everything straight without a hint of irony, hipper-than-thou sarcasm or self-awareness. (True, this can make for some unintentionally hilarious moments, but that's just part of the fun.)
Lin's movies, for example, are full to the brim with scantily-clad women, chiseled men, hyperactive editing, bombastic action and pulsating musical accompaniment; basically, everything that people typically identify as being "wrong" with Hollywood movies nowadays. Yet, because these films are so honest and unapologetic about what they have to offer, it allows these elements to feel all the more organic to the proceedings. Hence, Fast and the Furious movies don't attract the same criticisms of fan service and inappropriate pandering that other blockbusters tend to get (see: Alice Eve's strip-down in Star Trek Into Darkness).
Funnily enough, because the cast and crew of the Fast and the Furious series are so earnest in their presentation of low-grade entertainment, they are better able to produce something worthwhile. Ironically, they're more successful than some filmmakers who set out to make artsy fare or get wrapped up in the importance of the subject matter they are exploring onscreen.
People such as Lin and Morgan recognize that pulpy and action-driven storytelling really ought to be... well, pulpy and action-oriented, and their devotion to the cause - in combination with improved skills in that style of filmmaking over the years - has contributed to this franchise becoming a well-liked money-making machine.
3. They Embrace Diversity
Every one of the Fast and the Furious movies' casts are composed of sex symbols - who are dressed to show off their physique - yet their ranks include people of different genders, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Many a tentpole franchise revolves around a cast of good-looking actors and actresses, yet in this case they are distinguishable in ways besides personality. Commercially-speaking, that is a smart move that helps to attract a larger crowd (and avoid complaints about trying to force in more non-white characters).
Similarly, from a creative perspective, this franchise spreads a positive message about the importance of unifying across the divides of race, gender, nationality - or even the line between law-abider and criminal - in order to accomplish a greater goal (like, say, taking down a terrorist profiteer in Fast & Furious 6). Both the men and women in these films have special talents and just about every one of them serve a larger purpose in the story (even when it's a simple one).
The Fast and the Furious players also compliment each other, in terms of their capabilities and strengths; hence, the maternal Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) is portrayed as being just as admirable as the tough-as-nails auto expert Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez).
Most of the male and female characters are stock types that some tend to dismiss as stereotypes - yet because the cast and the filmmakers respect them - while letting them participate in the fun - they feel closer to real people. (Besides, not every one fits into a box - after all, when was the last time you saw an Asian character portrayed as a cool and handsome guy with no real fighting abilities, a la Sung Kang as Han?)
The Fast and the Furious movies are fun and flashy entertainment that better succeed at being relevant pop-art than other blockbusters or related mainstream films. In the end, that's what I feel sets them apart from similar popcorn movies, and has contributed to the longevity of this franchise (which is about to cross the $2 billion mark, worldwide).
Be sure to share your own theories about the wild popularity of The Fast and the Furious in the comments section.
Fast & Furious 6 is now playing in theaters.
Fast & Furious 7 opens in U.S. theaters on July 11th, 2014.
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