If you believe the Fast & Furious movies are loud, dumb movies about loud, dumb drivers racing loud, dumb cars, you’re wrong — Vin Diesel speaks very quietly in all of them. Also, you’re missing out on one of the most sublime pleasures blockbuster action movies have to offer.
If I sound like I’m proselytizing, it’s because I am. I was once an unbeliever myself, but was saved when my wife, for reasons unknown — I can only imagine it was divine inspiration — decided to get a few friends together to watch what was then all seven films in the Fast & Furious franchise. Over two days, we ate, drank and watched the epic saga of Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Connor (the late Paul Walker), Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), and their crew-family in an epic saga that left us mega-fans (and quite drunk). Since then, we’ve genuinely asked people this question, verbatim: “Have you accepted the Fast & Furious movies into your life?”
Because if you do, your life will be richer for it, especially if you watch them in their proper order: The Fast and the Furious (2001); 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003); The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006); Fast & Furious (2009); Fast Five (2011); Fast & Furious 6 (2013); Furious 7 (2015); The Fate of the Furious (2017); and then last year’s delightful spinoff, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham, respectively. (The next installment, simply titled F9, was due this May but has been delayed until 2021 for obvious reasons.) And you need to watch all of them, despite the fact the first four movies range from just fine to godawful.
Watching four mediocre-to-bad movies as a gigantic prologue before five great movies may sound insane, or too heavy an investment to make for the payoff. I get it, and I admit if you skip to Fast Five and simply start watching from there, you’ll have five perfectly enjoyable viewing experiences. But you’ll also be denying yourself the chance to experience the transcendent cinematic experience that the Fast & Furious franchise has to offer.
A large part of it is simply the story, which is far more serialized than you might expect. The movies are chapters in a single, ongoing epic that continually draws upon the past in ways that are immensely satisfying if you start from the beginning (and that includes Tokyo Drift, which is so bad that none of the first two films’ stars appeared in it, other than the briefest of cameos by Diesel). The characters and their relationships evolve, of course, but there’s so much more: Bad guys become good guys; characters die but then mysteriously return from the dead three movies later; an increasing number of bald action superstars join the cast. Most importantly, the Fast & Furious films are absolutely genius in taking moments from previous films, then retextualizing them for jaw-dropping twists whose impact is maximized — or wholly dependent on — having seen those original scenes.
If you have any awareness of pop culture, chances are you’ve seen the trailers for the recent F&F movies, and chances are you know they’ve mostly left the street racing behind long ago, but there’s a real joy in meeting Dom, Brian, Letty and the rest of Dom’s crew as a gang of petty thieves and street racers, and watching them slowly evolve into an elite team of superspies who have saved the world on multiple occasions, usually through a great deal of car-based superheroics.
For example, if you watch Furious 7, you’ll see Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) hack into the security systems of an Abu Dhabi mega-hotel with a device that hijacks every single camera in the world. But these scenes are significantly more entertaining if you’ve seen 2 Fast 2 Furious, where he’s merely a good mechanic. Seeing these guys literally drive cars out of an airplane and parachute onto a windy European highway to chase terrorists is ridiculous and ridiculously cool, but it’s a much richer viewing experience when you’ve been with them from the beginning, when their biggest problems were winning street races.
There’s still more. After enduring the diminishing returns of the first three films, you’ll cheer more loudly when Diesel and the main cast return for Fast & Furious, and you’ll appreciate how these small-budget street racing flicks improbably evolved into billion-dollar-grossing box office smashes more largely. If nothing else, although Paul Walker’s Brian isn’t the most nuanced of characters, the more time you spend with him, the more emotional impact his beautiful, genuinely moving send-off will have in Furious 7, after Walker’s tragic death in 2013.
I’ve seen this scene a dozen times, and it never fails to make my eyes well up. Not to mention, as the final moment of that original two-day F&F binge, it made me, a person who had never once cared about the actor just 48 hours prior, straight-up sob. I’m also not posting the scene so I won’t spoil it in hopes you heed my advice. So enjoy the rad trailer for Furious 7 instead.
In essence, the Fast & Furious franchise is much, much more than the sum of its parts, but only when you watch all the movies in their proper order. Unfortunately, there’s no one-stop site to stream them all — your best bet is to rent or buy them on Amazon or iTunes, the latter of which offers a bundle of the eight core films for an extremely reasonable $50. In these trying times, I beg you, please let the Fast & Furious movies into your life. They won’t save your soul, but there’s a reason Dame Helen Mirren has cheerfully made multiple cameos in them as Jason Statham’s character’s mother, and that’s because they’re just great fun.
Now go, and may the blessings of Dominic Toretto be upon thee.