Here’s what I need you to do: Find a person who has not seen any of the Fast & Furious movies — anyone: your parents, your neighbor, a stranger at the grocery store — and try to explain the timeline of the franchise to them. Not the order of the films. The actual chronology of it all. Because once you get through the first two films and you have the pleasure of saying phrases like “Ludacris officiating a jet ski race,” things start to unravel real fast. It’ll go something like this…
See, the third movie, Tokyo Drift, which features none of the cast of the first two movies except for a brief Vin Diesel cameo at the end, actually takes place between the sixth and seventh movie, and in the sixth movie, in a mid-credits scene, we learn that Han — a character who died in the third movie but was back for the fourth through sixth — was actually killed by Jason Statham as revenge for things that happened in the sixth movie, and then Statham is the bad guy in the seventh movie, but by the eighth he’s a good guy and then he gets a spin-off with The Rock. And also another character dies in the fourth movie and is not in the fifth but is back as a villain in the sixth but it turned out she had amnesia and…
It’s madness. You’ll look like some sort of maniac. It’s a movie franchise that started out with street racers stealing DVD players and now features those same street racers as top-level off-book government operatives who stop a cyber-terrorist — Academy Award winner Charlize Theron! With braids! — from stealing a nuclear submarine. The Rock punches a torpedo at one point. Ludacris is now the world’s greatest computer hacker. It’s really quite wonderful.
And here’s another fun twist: That whole shift, the chronological two-step and the move from small-time crime to high-level operations, is explained in a 20-minute short film that was written and directed by Vin Diesel in 2009, just before he rejoined the franchise. It’s called Los Bandoleros. It takes place at some unspecified time between the first and fourth movie. It introduces Han and loosely explains how he and Dominic Toretto know each other. It’s floating around online. I am not making up any of this.
The plot of Los Bandoleros, in brief: Dominic Toretto has fled to the Dominican Republic after Brian lets him go at the end of the first movie. There is a massive fuel shortage on the island. Everyone is very upset about it. Most of this is explained in a voiceover by Tego Calderon’s character, also named Tego, who opens the film in prison. Nothing is going too great. And so, the people turn to the one man who can help them…
Is it kind of perfect that Dominic Toretto is re-introduced into the franchise while cranking away on a car and explaining the inner workings of the engine to small children in his deep gravel-coated voice? Yes, of course. But there’s no time to get too far into any of this, because things are happening very quickly now. In short order, Dom:
- Agrees to help
- Calls in reinforcements
- Has a large cookout where someone says grace first
- Breaks Tego out of prison
- Does that thing people do in crime movies where he and an associate enter a restaurant through the kitchen and glide through the staff in slow-motion
- Meets with a politician who tells him that the problem is deeper than he realizes
- Utters this objectively perfect line of dialogue: “You know at the end of the day, people are gonna get what they need. You can’t move forward without fuel… and no one wants to be left behind.”
Which is all great. Some real classic Fast & Furious stuff in here, just playing a medley of the hits for the fans. And we could talk about this, too, but there’s no time for that either. Remember the bullet point about reinforcements? Well…
There he is. Han Lue. The character who was introduced and killed in Tokyo Drift, brought back for three movies, killed again, disappeared for two movies, and is back a second time — alive, without time-shifting tricks — in the ninth movie. This is actually his first appearance, chronologically. (Although, if we want to be technical here, and why wouldn’t we, director Justin Lin says Sung Kang’s version of Han also appeared in the 2004 non-Fast & Furious film Better Luck Tomorrow, so there’s that.) He explains how they know each other, kind of, saying they did some work together in Mexico and that Dom calls him in for “the fun stuff” and that Dom’s exploits as a street racer were known far and wide before that. He’s the one who helps Dom break Tego out of prison. And he’s not the only familiar face that shows up. Because, while Dom is at a club in a VIP section with his arms around two beautiful women, in walks…
Correct. Letty is back, too. And Dom immediately leaves the two girls to kiss her. And they rekindle their romance by frolicking on a beach. Even though he bailed on her with no notice at the end of the first movie and appeared to be moving on just fine. This all makes much more sense when you remember that Vin Diesel wrote and directed this little film.
And I love it. I love all of it so much. I love that it answers so many questions raised by the opening of the fourth movie. (“Why are they stealing fuel trucks in the Dominican Republic?” “Why is Han from Tokyo Drift with them?” “How does Han know Vin?” “How and why is Letty there?” “What was Dom up to for the five years between the first and fourth movies?”) I love how everything that happens here sets off the rest of the franchise which, again, now has them saving the world on behalf of a secretive government official. I love that Vin Diesel took it upon himself to write and direct a short film that ties all of it together rather than attempt to explain it all in the actual mega-budget movies that make up the franchise. I love that Letty tracks him across the country out of love and then he bails on her again after the police start poking around, which leads to her alleged death and amnesia and gets Brian O’Conner back in the fold.
But mostly, I love explaining all of this to people who don’t already know it. That’s all I’m doing here. This was mostly just for me. And now you know it all, too. Please include all of it in that explanation of the timeline I asked you to try back in the first paragraph. People will look at you like you lost your entire mind. It’s a blast.