Fast & Furious (2009)

Directed by Justin Lin
Written by Chris Morgan

I love the absurdity of this series, even if the on screen absurdity doesn’t really begin until this installment, with a bonkers of an opening action set piece. But no, what I mean by absurdity is how these movies fit together, or rather how they don’t, and yet how successful the series is and has become. Honestly, looking back after 4 films in the franchise, I don’t see how we even got here. After the success of the first film, the last two would certainly sink any franchise nowadays, although a quick look at the box office indicates that no, these movies, horrible as they may be, brought in plenty of money, which is nice that they kept the series afloat long enough for it to become good once again. Good, yes, but now absurd in completely different ways after bringing the gang back together!

Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) is back in LA, working for the FBI on a case to bring down a notorious drug lord named Braga. O’Connor infiltrates Braga’s organization as a driver, but soon finds himself alongside Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) once again, who likewise has joined the cartel as a driver in order to investigate the death of his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and ultimately enact his vengeance. Both old friends are working to bring Braga down, but for different reasons, and their collision course gets them both in hot water with not only the FBI, but Braga himself when their covers are blown and they must find a way to escape the resources of two well connected parties.

Fast & Furious is the first film in the series that truly feels like the series it has become today. Fast cars, movie stars, big explosions, the whole shebang. While the first three films were intriguing in their own way, they weren’t really action movies. Fast & Furious is an action movie which announces itself right from the outset with an impressive set piece that is the type of over the top action we know and love from the series today. There is even a nugget to connect this back to Tokyo Drift with a cameo from Han (Sung Kang), and a tip of the cap to his impending relocation to Tokyo (so I guess this film takes place in parallel on the timeline?). There is definitely more energy in this film, and I think bringing back the original cast is a major reason why.

Speaking of which, I think Paul Walker must have taken some acting lessons in between films, because he is much better here and feels way more comfortable and confident in the role of Brian. We see his arc playout and it’s the most interesting in the film, as Dom’s is actually lacking. Dom is just another thug running from the law and seeking revenge here, lacking the complexities shown in The Fast and the Furious, which is a disappointment, but Diesel’s charisma is a welcome return. Brian, on the other hand, sees a dichotomy of motivations here. He’s back in contact with his friend (Dom) and former lover (Mia – Jordana Brewster), and sees himself torn between his job to uphold the law, and his allegiance to the Toretto’s. Mia even presents this internal struggle in a line of dialogue, which may be a little obvious, but really highlights the transformation of Brian as a good guy to a bad guy. The anti-hero we’ve been rooting for all along.

Fast & Furious is the highest octane thrill ride in the series to date, although director Justin Lin trades some of that Nos with some of the narrative heft of the original. We don’t yet have a marriage of the two that compares, but Fast & Furious seems to be a leap forward in the franchise from the clunkers of 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, especially from an action and style standpoint. It feels more polished and more focused, which might be attributed to a returning director/writer team in Lin and Morgan. It is a strange feeling seeing this movie and having it feel like the series is finally actually starting after 4 films, but such is the case. Ready for the roller coaster ride to continue over the next 4 films in the franchise as well, and find out which further narrative absurdities are on the horizon.

★★★☆☆ – LIKED IT

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