Why “Fast and Furious” Is The Best Movie Franchise of The Decade
When The Fast and the Furious hit theaters back in 2001, the overwhelming response of love and excitement took Universal Pictures by surprise. Box office receipts confirmed beyond a doubt, that dream leads; Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster, gorgeously delivered one of the major hits of the year.
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine anything other than the early beginnings of what has evolved into a global phenomenon.
Walker, the blond, blue-eyed heartthrob, who was a walking billboard of “surfer dude charm” had just finished stealing the spotlight from primed exports of Dawson’s Creek, James Van Der Beek, and Joshua Jackson, in 90s classics, Varsity Blues and The Skulls, respectively.
Universal was ready to do whatever possible to retain the services of an up and coming movie star, who modeled all the requirements worthy of a long-term investment.
As Walker once recalled, ravenous studio heads, including Skulls director Rob Cohen, and producer, Neal Moritz, all asked him what he wanted to next, and that’s how the idea based on a clip of an article that covered the world of underground street racing in New York City was prolifically hatched.
The bright-eyed actor loved the movie Donnie Brasco, particularly the lead role played by Johnny Depp. It provided the inspiration for undercover L.A. cop, Brian O’Conner, who infiltrates the illegal operations of a family of local disrupters led by Dom Toretto, who rule the streets when the sun goes down.
Cohen was commissioned to direct, and Walker was the only star to sign on even before the script was ready. The audition process for the actor to fill the shoes of Dominic Toretto was expectedly rigorous after the studio’s first pick, Timothy Olyphant declined the offer, citing the fact that he had just co-starred in Gone in 60 Seconds.
Vin Diesel was next in line, and despite his modest resume of secondary roles, the future action star wasn’t convinced that he was the right man for the job.
Personally, I would venture to say that the New York-raised Mark Sinclair, who later adopted his more recognizable stage name, was initially drawn to projects that contained more substance for the method actor that he envisioned he could be.
Of course we now know that Vin Diesel did accept the role of his lifetime, and it couldn’t be a better fit for the range he has since displayed with the screen presence that’s thankfully not reliant on acting skills.
Both Brewster who became Mia Toretto and Rodriguez who’s known as Dom’s ride or die, Letty Ortiz, were relative unknowns when they joined the growing cast of what was tentatively titled Redline, although Rodriguez had just made her triumphant debut in the independent film Girlfight.
After the runaway success of The Fast and the Furious, things took a weird turn. Vin Diesel refused to reprise his role for the second installment. Paul Walker was the only one who was contractually bound, and so the search for another director and a whole new cast of players was underway.
To say that the late great filmmaker of our generation, John Singleton, single-handily saved the Fast and Furious franchise from extinction is putting it mildly.
When Diesel bolted for bigger and better, the fate of a promising and lucrative film series that set the pace for future contenders was flatlining. But Singleton, who was enjoying his latest win with Baby Boy, starring newcomer and R&B crooner, Tyrese, became the unexpected hero in this scenario.
Known for his culturally-provocative masterpieces like Boyz n the Hood and Higher Learning, Singleton didn’t exactly fit the prototype of filmmaking that structurally bonds with an action genre that was strenuously disorganized and built around bubble-gum fare.
But Singleton was up for the challenge.
He proved his worth as an adaptable storyteller when he agreed to attach himself to 2 Fast 2 Furious with the prized accompaniment of his newly-minted star, Tyrese, who was also willing to partner with Paul Walker in another race for glory, set in sunny and balmy Miami.
Two years later, the highly-anticipated follow-up to the globally successful predecessor made an even bigger dent at the box office, which demonstrated the viability of a certified gem.
And then shit got weird again.
The third installment, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift made its unremarkable debut without any familiar faces from the original or the second installment. The reception was less than stellar as reviewers panned the lackluster flick for its flimsy storyline and forgettable characters.
Director Justin Lin was responsible for the dismantling of the omnipotent formula of a fledgling coming-of-age franchise that desperately needed rerouting from the hazardous roads ahead.
And the unexpected source of inspiration came from noted defector, Vin Diesel, who had experienced enough by the mid-aughts to realize how poetically profound it would be to return to the brand machine that created him.
Simply put, the bonafide action star who had a roster of hits like XXX, The Chronicles of Riddick, A Man Apart under his belt, was fast approaching the daunting intersection of a questionable mid-career that needed a drastic tuneup.
Diesel’s mysterious appearance at the very end of the Tokyo Drift signaled the impending saga in the works.
The Fast franchise needed to be revitalized, and Universal was more than willing to place enormous responsibility and trust in the vision board of Diesel and recruited executor, Justin Lin.
The rest is bedazzled history.
Fast and Furious activated the gold-minted second-wind, as the 2009 fourth installment was the sweet reunion that lined up the main players from the 2001 initiator.
Brian O’Conner was back as the LA cop turned FBI agent, who was poised to turn to the dark side for the love of Mia, and his loyalty to the code of the streets that were still ruled by Dom, with the added incentive of a family crisis involving Letty and the nemesis who had to be defeated.
The resounding global embrace of Fast and Furious, that was elaborately pitched as the first film of a saga of three was validation for what was to come.
The revised formula exposed background information to assign more depth to beloved characters who deserved a detailed roadmap that explains family ties and high-stakes for the future.
And the gamble was going to pay off until whenever.
There was no stopping the speed locomotive of Fast Five when it arrived in 2011 with the desirable ammunition of Rio de Janeiro, and the ambitious heist that invited old faces to face off with a new soldier of justice, who was employed to kick their asses from start to finish.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was the hefty star on the rise who proved to be a formidable force of profitability for thirsty studio execs, when he perfected his role as the demolition man. Johnson entertainingly haunted the Fast family in dramatic locales that demanded elaborate set pieces for action sequences that were second to none.
It made perfect sense to pair Johnson against Diesel in the epic brawl that devoured the biggest screen.
Movie critics were wowed by the astute prowess of a rejuvenated franchise that could’ve easily been vanquished before its time. And the raving reviews with the solidified cultish following was the currency that funded the monstrously zealous successors.
By the time Fast and Furious 6 made landfall on Memorial Day weekend of 2013 after a big splash of promos that included the coveted spot during the Super bowl festivities, the famed juggernaut was a well-oiled machine.
The sixth installment featured chiseled templates and a slew of veteran road warriors who were ready to terrorize the streets of London and beyond.
Unfortunately the fast and furious can’t outrun life’s unfathomable betrayals.
That was reemphasized on November 30th, 2013, just days after thanksgiving, when Paul Walker, a.k.a. Brian O’Conner, was tragically killed in a ghastly car crash, as a passenger in a Porsche Carrera GT, driven by his good friend Roger Rodas, who also perished.
Walker was on a break from shooting Furious 7, and had been attending an event associated with his philanthropic pursuits as the founder of a non-profit organization, Reach Out Worldwide, (ROWW), which he developed in 2010.
The casual drive he took with Rodas after things winded down was not supposed to end in the fiery inferno that engulfed the occupants of the famed sports car, that has a track record of being particularly difficult to maneuver even for the most skilled race car driver.
The unexpected passing of the beloved actor who had spent the span of his career playing the role that gave him worldwide appeal and adulation, sent shockwaves across Hollywood.
Walker had just turned forty a couple months before the horrific accident, and was hitting his stride in the industry that lusted after him back when he was reluctant to give up the dream of being a marine biologist.
The poignancy of his demise was hard to ignore when you consider that it was around the time that he was promoting the movie of his career, Hours, where he plays a widowed father stuck in a New Orleans hospital with his newborn daughter, as he fights to keep her alive amid the chaos of Hurricane Katrina.
There were also signed contracts to promising future projects like the reboot of the stalled Hitman franchise after the capable and miscast Timothy Olyphant tried and failed to bring Agent 47 to life.
The catastrophic aftermath stemming from the unfathomable loss of Paul Walker rested on the broken hearts of the Fast family, and his loved ones, including his teenage daughter, who gladly shared their real life hero with the millions of fans who got the photos they begged for whenever they asked Brian O’Conner for a smile.
The dire fate of an invaluable franchise that had been immersed in constructing a burgeoning saga was put on hold indefinitely. Bereaved cast members and crew under the guidance of Universal, collectively decided to take time out for the warranted period of grieving and reflection.
And this is the part that explains why the Fast and Furious is the best movie franchise of the decade.
When life hits you fast and furiously, the road blocks and speed bumps can be threateningly cumbersome, with unscheduled detours, and the uncertainty of regaining control.
The Fast family made a strikingly epic comeback with the unrelenting and loving support of Walker’s younger brothers, Caleb and Cody, who willingly stood in for their late brother with the help of CGI to finish filming the remaining scenes that were pending.
When Furious 7 was released to the world in the spring of 2015, the response was overwhelmingly emotional and poignant, based on the fitting and honorable tribute to the heartbeat of a devastated but empowered family.
They had successfully battled formidable foes on the big screen, until shit got personal.
The box office slam dunk of the eighth installment, aptly titled The Fate of the Furious was the notable return to business as usual without the safety net of Brian and Mia, and while film critics were kind, there was no escaping the gigantic elephant in the room.
The Fast Family was broken beyond repair.
The ambitious additions of big names like Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron only helped to magnify the disconnection between relatives, who sadly didn’t know how to act without the guiding light of their transcended compass.
Fast & Furious 9 will make its long-awaited debut on May 22, 2019, and this time long-time helmer Justin Lin will be back to infuse much-needed heart and soul to a franchise that desperately needs the love and attention from the only visionary who can put them back together.
But most importantly, The Fast and the Furious has become the cult classic that perfectly illustrates the blueprint that has been readily adopted by the present obsession with the phenomenon of diversity. And how showcasing co-stars from a relatable standpoint that goes beyond the “White gaze” can reap the reliable payday.
The motivation leads back to familial bonds and unyielding devotion to a fallen brother, who left too soon, without the consent that took him away forever.
The Fast franchise is unique in its longevity and the authenticity that went beyond contractual obligations. The intense love affair was unavoidably bumpy, but the mantra of “ride or die” was never in dispute.
It’s rare to find that level of commitment anywhere, especially in the cutthroat universe of show business.
You can hate on them all you want, and even stew in mockery over how bad acting gets rewarded, while bitching about the outrageous number of installments with more offshoots waiting in the wings.
But you can’t deny the remarkable viability of this family, and how the decade of ups and downs solidified why we must give props to the greatest to ever do it.