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Fast & Furious Review

Fast & Furious brings the series back on track, and shows how far Tokyo Drift had veered off course.

Throw it in reverse! This week, Digital Trends is revisiting every film in The Fast and The Furious franchise before its epic conclusion in Furious 7, in theaters Friday, April 3. 

“Maybe you’re the bad guy pretending to be the good guy.”

When he was in his late 20s, maybe his early 30s, my dad threw his brother through a wall. I’m not totally sure why. Their father had died recently; it had something to do with that. It started simple enough, the two of them shouting about something or other, disagreeing about something basic. And then it escalated, to the point that my father lifted his brother up in the air and tossed him into a freaking wall.

I bring this up because it was on my mind while watching Dom Toretto toss Brian O’Connor into a bookshelf about three-quarters of the way into Fast & Furious, the fourth film in the Fast and Furious franchise, and the first one with both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker since round one. When I watched 2 Fast 2 Furious for the first time the other day, I noted how Brian and Roman Pearce’s scuffle in the California desert was like a typical sibling scrap; a lot of history, a lot of hurt feelings, but not a lot of desire to actually hurt the other person. Brian and Dom have brotherly love of their own, but the knockout brawl between the two of them yielded real physical pain.

Both men have lost something or someone in common: Letty, Dom’s lover and Brian’s friend. Few things can bring brothers to such savage violence like ghosts from the past.

This is what was missing from the last two Fast and Furious movies, Tokyo Drift especially. As much as this franchise needs its fast cars and furious fistfights, it needs Brian and Dom more. They’re the beating heart of what elevates these movies above typical action shlock. Brian and Dom have history. They have chemistry. When their fists wind up in each other’s faces, it hurts, and when their combined fists wind up in other people’s faces, it hurts so good. It doesn’t take much more than riding shotgun through Fast & Furious with Brian and Dom to fully appreciate just how far Tokyo Drift veered off course.

ff4-1The difference between Fast & Furious and its predecessors is immediately clear right from the jump, with a truck-jacking sequence featuring three of the best players in the franchise: Dom, Letty and Han. From the very first minute, we’re back in the fast lane with two of the best characters from the original, and the only worthwhile holdover from Tokyo Drift. Well, not the only worthwhile holdover; Justin Lin is along for the ride, too.

Recognizing the director’s eye for elaborate action and his ability to tug on the heartstrings given the proper plot points and characters, the Fast and the Furious franchise brought both Lin and Han into the “new model, original parts” era. It’s a fantastic choice; this very first truck sequence instantly becomes the best car scene in the series, trumping the original movie’s truck scene with Brian rescuing Vince from certain doom — and it’s all thanks to Lin’s ability to heighten the anxiety and intensity with each passing beat, armed with the exact right cast to pull off the heist.

The very first truck sequence instantly becomes the best car scene in the series.

Lin shows that he gets Team Toretto right from the jump, but how about Brian O’Connor? He proves that too, with a literal jump, as we see O’Connor wearing a suit and tie, bursting through a window, and pursuing a perp through downtown Los Angeles. This is not the Brian we last met in Miami, walking away from a successful mission to bust a drug lord with said drug lord’s cash lining his pockets. This is FBI agent O’Connor, a more serious man, someone who has another shot at making a difference in his line of work. Or is he? As Mia points out to him later in the movie, “Maybe you’re not the good guy pretending to be the bad guy. Maybe you’re the bad guy pretending to be the good guy.” The Miami heat is several years in the past, but the guy who stole a healthy sum of drug money still lurks in Brian’s pockets.

ff4-2Like the films following the original, the Fast & Furious supporting cast isn’t much to speak of, outside of the main players. The film introduces us to Gal Gadot’s Gisele Yashar, who we’ll see again in future installments; I didn’t care for her too much beyond the sight gag of seeing Wonder Woman flirting with Groot, to be honest. The villain, too, isn’t anything to write home about; as much as these movies kick ass and take names, they have a bad guy problem, where the antagonists fail to properly match up against the leads. Arturo Braga isn’t the worst villain of the series (that distinction still belongs to professional meathead Carter Verone), but he’s no match for Brian and Dom.

Then again, can anyone really match up against Brian and Dom? Walker and Diesel are so much fun together on screen, their real-life bromance so obviously infused in their characters to the point that even a 15-second brawl between the two of them keeps you at the edge of your seat, hoping they’ll come to their senses before they beat each other completely senseless. It’s been too long since we’ve seen them together, and I’m saying this as someone who only had to wait three days and three movies for their reunion.

Once again, I find myself feeling grateful that I’m late to the Fast and the Furious. While I wish I hadn’t missed out on this culture for so long, I’m equally glad that I didn’t have to wait almost ten years for the franchise to pull its head out of its tailpipe and load the two most important ingredients back in the tank. If I was a day-one fan, I would have wanted to throw these movies through a wall a long, long time ago. Instead, I’m ready to hug it out and ride directly into Fast Five.

I can already smell what Brian, Dom, Lin and the rest of the gang are cooking up next — and man, does it smell good.

NEXT: Rock and Rio!