It is amazing to me how some movie franchises can last for as long as the entire Fast and Furious series has. As of this writing, there have been a total of eight full-length movies, a spin-off film with Hobbs and Shaw, a short film called Los Bandoleros and an animated series as well. The series of movies that started it all wasn’t that big of a critical nor financial success. But all of that changed with the advent of the fifth film, Fast Five
This is in large part to the Fast and Furious totally changing their tone and focus. Instead of targeting the street racer cultures and the cars, the franchise became a mishmash of heist and spy thriller plotlines. Add to this is how most of the main characters, such as Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Luke Hobbs, seemingly having superpowers like pinpoint driving, nigh invulnerability and sharpshooting, among other abilities. It was never pretentious about the change and all the films seem like the revel in the balance of absurdity and camp they have.
It’s because of this that the entire Fast and Furious series is now a billion dollar franchise. The movies have been mostly critical hits and financial successes. I guess a lot of the success does have to do with Vin Diesel basically steering (no pun intended) the Fast and Furious to where it is right now. He recognized that the entire tuner car scene wasn’t mainstream enough so the Fast and Furious became the way it is right now.
I don’t mean to poo-poo on Vin Diesel changing the series nor am I trying to say I hate the current state the franchise is in now. However, I just like the older movies in the franchise precisely because it focuses on the tuner culture.
Now, before you try to correct me and say that the Fast and Furious’ plots were never about the races and it was still more about heists and action and all of that, you’d be right. The first movie was all about Paul Walker’s character trying to infiltrate Dominic Toretto’s gang of hijackers. The second film had the Paul Walker character once again working undercover to bring down a drug lord. So, yeah. The films were never really about the fast cars, the underground racing circuit and all that. Or weren’t they?
While there was a story to back things up and the plots never really did focus on the races, a part of what made the Fast and Furious movies super entertaining to me were the cars and the races. In fact, you can even say that the cars driven by the main characters were co-stars in the films. All the cars driven were iconic in their own right. It was probably even the first time a lot of people who didn’t know about the tuner scene see what was possible with tuner cars. That included me… and I desperately wanted to know more!
I was never a gear kid growing up. The cars that I liked looking at were the standard American and European sports cars like the Chevrolet Corvette, Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari Testarosa. That was my basic limit to understanding what a fast car looks like. But when I saw the first Fast and Furious film, I was exposed to so much more.
I didn’t know what a Toyota Supra, Mitsubishi Eclipse or a Mazda RX-7 were and, to be frank, I didn’t really know what they were after seeing the film. But I knew that I wanted to know more because they looked so cool and they drove really, really fast! This probably led to me actually wanting to learn about cars and how to tune them. While I never could do that, I had so much fun learning about that stuff.
Fast and Furious also drew me in into watching probably one of my favorite animes of all time: Initial D.
Initial D was kind of like a godsend to me after the first Fast and Furious film as there wasn’t really anything out there that was focused on the tuner or underground street racing scene. The anime was more focused on the cars than Fast and Furious and I really liked that. Whenever there was a new car introduced, I wanted to know more about it. I also appreciate that they even had “normal” cars in the show, like Shingo’s Honda Civic SiR thrown in. This showed that even a car as simple as that could become a beast on the road, if you knew what you were doing.
Even with my discovering Initial D, I still liked watching the Fast and Furious movies as they still put a lot of focus on the cars. This did all kind of change as the series went on. The movies started to focus on Vin Diesel and Paul Walker’s characters and “family” as they put it. This did make sense because Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift was essentially the series’ biggest flop and it just so happens to be the one that didn’t have any of them in it. Shame really. I really liked the races in Tokyo Drift a lot because I was hooked on Initial D by this time. Not so much the characters but the racing and driving stunt work were good.
It’s probably because the films now put the main characters up front that the cars feels like more of an afterthought now. Oh, we still see them break out vehicles like the Subaru WRX and the Ford GT40. But they then include some sci-fi cars like Owen Shaw’s Flip Car (which is basically an F1 car but can withstand head-on collisions and cause other vehicle to fly). This is even worse in the Hobbs and Shaw spinoff as there are hardly any cars in this film!
I can appreciate what the Fast and Furious movies are now. I know they’re not to be taken seriously as realistic takes on how physics really work anymore. I can also appreciate the stronger lead into action and the car stunts are still executed really well. But for someone who actually liked the original formula of the series, a crime drama that’s set in the underground street racing and tuner world, I feel like the original thing that drew me into the series is already gone.
I know the Fast and Furious franchise has seen lots more success with the change and I can still enjoy them even today. But I just like the original films more because, while they weren’t masterpieces by any measure, they led me to my current appreciation of good old tuner cars. I might not have the dough to get me one of those dream cars nor modify my existing car. But I could live vicariously through the films before. I can’t live vicariously through a group of spies trying to outrun a submarine in a tank-like vehicle on ice.
I just don’t think that’ll ever happen.
Do you like the older Fast and Furious movies that shined a stronger spotlight on the cars? Or do you prefer the more campy, outlandish action movies they’ve become? Let me know in the comments section below!