What’s The Deal With The Fast & Furious Movies: An Explainer

05.22.13 148 Comments

Fast & Furious 6 opens this weekend. With a runtime of 130 minutes and Super Bowl commercials full of tanks and neck punches and cars driving out through the nose of exploding airplanes, it appears to be so huge and filled with big dumb action that it will make Pain & Gain look like Amour. I have never been more excited about anything in my entire life.

But how did we get here? How did a franchise that started over a decade ago with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel racing for pink slips turn into a series of globetrotting heists where everything anyone touches turns into a fireball you could see from space? And didn’t Han die a few movies ago? Is he a ghost?

Well, luckily, as one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, I am here to explain all of that to you. Kind of. Mostly I am here to make stupid jokes. If you learn anything at all in the process, let’s just call that a bonus.

Title: The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Summary: Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is an undercover police officer who has been sent to infiltrate the criminal street racing gang led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). In the process, he falls for Toretto’s sister, Mia, which pisses everyone off a lot and they drive cars really fast and hijack trucks and then at the end Brian has the chance to bring Dom in but he lets him drive off into the sunset.

Is Vin Diesel in this one: Vin Diesel is in this one.

Important and helpful analysis: The Fast and the Furious is a pretty simple movie, especially when you compare it to the other films in the franchise. There’s a close-knit group of criminals, the undercover cop investigating them gets too close, etc. etc. etc. Nothing we haven’t seen in a dozen other films in the cops and robbers genre, just with more NOS. It’s strange to go back and watch it now. I keep waiting for, like, a hovercraft with flamethrowers to come screaming into the shot and torch an entire city block.

How far we’ve come, huh?

Title: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Summary: Brian is caught by the cops, who threaten to charge him with a ton of the crimes he committed in the first movie if he doesn’t help them with their investigation into a Miami drug lord. Via street racing. Obviously. He recruits his friends Roman (Tyrese) and Ludacris (whose character probably has a name) to help him, and they take down the bad guy and save Eva Mendes, who is also in this movie and looks very pretty from start to finish.

Is Vin Diesel in this one: Vin Diesel is not in this one.

Important and helpful analysis: What is my favorite part of 2 Fast 2 Furious? Is it Tyrese’s character’s refusal to wear sleeves, to the point that a solid 20% of his wardrobe appears to be cut-off denim dress shirts? Is it the fact that there is a scene where Ludacris officiates a jet-ski race with a bullhorn? Is it the scene where the drug lord tortures an underling by dropping a rat in a bucket, placing the bucket over the underling’s chest, and using a lighter to heat the bucket so the rat will be forced to try to eat its way out through the poor dude’s sternum (a torture tactic also used in Game of Thrones, which is pretty much where the similarities between 2 Fast 2 Furious and the HBO fantasy series begin and end, unfortunately)? Or is it the fact that Tyrese and Paul Walker catch the bad guy in the end by launching a muscle car off a pier and crashing it into his escaping yacht?

Probably that last one, I suppose. Although it wouldn’t have killed them to have had Ludacris standing on shore with a bullhorn as it happened.

Title: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Summary: Texas high school student Sean Boswell is sent to Japan to live with his dad after he gets arrested for street racing against the oldest brother from Home Improvement. (Not joking.) Once he gets there he offends the Yakuza, becomes friends with Lil Bow Wow, and learns how to “drift” with the help of a mysterious Korean dude named Han Seoul-Oh. (Still not joking.) Han dies after a high-speed chase through Tokyo, so Sean challenges the Yakuza kingpin’s son, DK, to a race down a mountain, which he wins when DK goes flying off a cliff. Then the Yakuza are all “Welp, guess that settles that” and leave him alone. Because of street racing.

Is Vin Diesel in this one: Vin Diesel is kind of in this one.

Important and helpful analysis: There are three things you need to know about this movie:

1) As I have said a number of times, there are not nearly enough films that contain the words “Tokyo Drift” in the title. A week or two ago, a bunch of Twitter pals and I went on a two-hour run where we spitballed some movies that would be dramatically improved by this phrase, and here is what I took away from it: The best possible titles for movies are Driving Miss Daisy: Tokyo Drift and Seabiscuit: Tokyo Drift. Feel free to play this game yourselves, either in the comments of this post, at a fancy cocktail party, or wherever. It is a blast.

2) So Vin Diesel was in the first movie of the franchise, but he bailed on the sequel to go become an “action star” or something. Fine, this happens. (See also, xXx.) Then the studio decided to make a third movie that featured none of the original cast and took place in a Tokyo high school, because of reasons. Again, fine. But at the very end of this movie everybody’s all “Yo, you are the best at racing, Sean. p.s. There’s this dude who wants to meet you,” and he pulls up to the starting line, and there, in a big old American muscle car, is Dominic Toretto, who looks at him and says “Ayomumblemumblemumble” (or something to that effect). Point being: Vin Diesel is back now.

3) Everyone who lives in Japan is apparently either a member of the criminal underground or an attractive girl in a neon skirt.

Title: Fast & Furious (2009)

Summary: The gang’s back, and they’re hijacking fuel trucks or something. Dom receives word that his girlfriend and crew member, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), has been killed, and he proceeds to go apesh-t. As he’s going apesh-t, he runs into Brian O’Conner — who is back to working with the F.B.I. — because it turns out they are both looking for the same guy. Small world. Anyway, they decide to work together, then Dom finds out that Letty had been working with Brian and the F.B.I., then he goes apesh-t again, then they team up to take down the bad guy together, and the movie ends with a long car chase through caves and the bad guy getting smushed like a bug between two cars.

Is Vin Diesel in this one: Vin Diesel is in this one.

Important and helpful analysis: There are two giant elephants in the room when it comes to Fast & Furious. The first is that the people in charge of this franchise clearly did not expect it to make it this far, because their sequel-naming strategy is all over the place. I will give the titles 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift passes because they fill me with pure, unfiltered glee in a way I really can’t explain, but naming the fourth film Fast & Furious is infuriating because (a) it means that I — and even my cable guide, sometimes — get confused as to whether someone is referring to the first film, The Fast and the Furious, or this one, and (b) FAST & FOURIOUS WAS STARING YOU IN THE FACE THE WHOLE TIME, YOU FOOLS. God. It’s like I have to do everything around here.

And the second major development is that Han is alive again, because it turns out the events in Tokyo Drift actually took place in the future, after Han had been a member of the Toretto crew. (This is what Vin Diesel was mumbling about at the end of Tokyo Drift.) If you are wondering if I find it a little hilarious that a franchise about blowing stuff up and driving hecka fast also asks the audience to accept a somewhat confusing chronological two-step smack in the middle, the answer is yes.

Title: Fast Five (2011)

Summary: Everyone is in Brazil now. And they take down another crime lord. And The Rock chases them. And there’s almost no street racing at all because the franchise is about heists now. And Mia is pregnant with Brian’s baby. The end.

Is Vin Diesel in this one: Vin Diesel is in this one.

Important and helpful analysis: Here’s how you can tell Fast Five is a good movie:

[deep breath]

It opens with a 15 minute scene where Dom and Brian yoink expensive cars off of a speeding train that a truck eventually crashes into and then the whole thing smashes into a bridge and blows up and Dom and Brian survive by driving a sports car off a cliff and into a river, and it closes with a 20 minute scene where Dom and Brian yoink a safe out of a downtown police station using super-fast cars and proceed to drag it behind them through Rio and do hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property damage in the process, and between those two scenes The Rock chases both of them all over Brazil and they get the handprint they need to access the safe from the bikini bottoms of a female member of the team who had her ass grabbed by the bad guy and at one point Tyrese says the sentence “This sh-t just went from Mission: Impossible to Mission: In-Freaking-Sanity.”

And if that terrible run-on sentence doesn’t sell you, allow me to also point out that the Japanese title of the film is Wild Speed: MEGA MAX. There is nothing bad about this movie. Nothing. And Fast & Furious 6 looks even bigger and more ridiculous. I can’t wait.

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