The The Fast and the Furious franchise is one of the strangest Hollywood franchises around. Its “revival” after four films has resulted in higher budgets, higher grosses, better critical acclaim, and Vin Diesel making increasingly bold claims about the films.
With this discrepancy between old and new, with the franchise more popular now than ever, it seems fitting to inspect the franchise synoptically and rank them accordingly.
And yes this includes the upcoming The Fate of the Furious.
2009’s confusedly-named Fast and Furious, the fourth in the franchise, is the lowest-energy addition to the series. It is also the least memorable in terms of character and set pieces. The film is, in some ways, a redux of the original The Fast and the Furious. It tries to inject some new spirit into this rivalry plot between Dom and Brian, but it doesn’t succeed in doing anything better than the original, save for some well-staged set pieces.
The original film in a franchise is rarely this low on a list, but this is why the Fast & Furious franchise is so intriguing. The original film laid the groundwork, yes. It established family and NOS and racing. It had Diesel and Walker. But it isn’t that great of a film. While having some well-done racing sequences that feature some special effects that, for 2001, don’t look terrible, the film lacks direction. It is a film about racers, and it did not know the potential that the premise had.
John Singleton jumped onto the first Fast sequel, and he did a fairly good job at it from a racing standpoint. The races are the same as in the original but with more flair and energy. The story is not much. In fact, it is dead boring. But the introduction of Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris is a plus. Still, the franchise was a few sequels away from standardizing its formula. Drug dealers and back-street racers aren’t enough to create a compelling film in this instance.
Tokyo Drift is the most interesting of the films temporally. Originally conceived as a prequel, the film was eventually ret-conned into taking place just before the events of Furious 7 (or, maybe, the end of Tokyo Drift occurs in the middle of Furious 7). It is a confusing and anachronistic choice, but it was a way to keep Han around for a while. The film gets credited for trying something different yet doing it the same way. But without the core cast involved, there is something missing to the film in retrospect.
The newest addition to the franchise is meant to jumpstart it (again) following the death of actor Paul Walker. Without him, the film loses some of its grounding. The characters seem to be compensating for the absence in ways that feel unbalanced. And, overall, the film lacks the consistency in set pieces that the best films in the franchise possess. There are some great sequences and the plot is incredibly over-the-top, but the film feels less in its element.
If we consider Fast & Furious 5, 6, and 7 as a trilogy of sorts, then Furious 6 is the lull in the middle. It is the Two Towers, so to speak. It still has its moments, and great moments at that, but it is not like the wall-to-wall thrill rides that it is sandwiched between. The narrative lacks focus, even for a Fast & Furious film, leaving the climactic moments with less of a visceral impact. The last few set pieces in the film, though, are awesome, both in the traditional and informal use of the term.
2. Furious 7 (dir. James Wan, 2015)
While it might be the Citizen Kane of the 21st Century, Furious 7 doesn’t quite take the top spot. Still, the film is arguably the most successful in the franchise. It was a massive crowd-pleaser, and the critics took it favorably as well. Not to mention it is the highest grossing film in the franchise, and a $1 billion-grossing film at that. It is a wildly entertaining guilty pleasure film, even if it makes little sense and goes overboard by the final half hour. The Abu Dhabi portion alone is worth your time.
Fast Five is the gold standard of films that are both Fast and Furious. It has the best ratio of embellished action set pieces to wacky nonsensical plotting. It is the most cohesive and satisfying film that the franchise has to offer, the height of guilty pleasure pleasure that one can expect from F&F. Fast Five is the first instance in the franchise where the creative powers behind the franchise harnessed tone perfectly. The film is just self-aware enough to have fun with its audience, but not so self-aware that it is a parody of itself.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)