My Fast History With the First Furious Movie
As of June 22nd of 2021, the Fast & Furious franchise will officially be 20 years old… I mean… Wow! That to me is absolutely insane! I remember back when I was still living in Wisconsin being roughly 10 years old and one of the first movies my family ever bought on DVD was 2001’s The Fast and the Furious. By the way, yes, I still own this DVD to this very day. Back then my dad had a very select few movies he would use to test and calibrate his home theater surround sound system, whether it be select scenes/sequences from the movies or the entirety of their runtimes.
My dad’s preferred DVDs/VHS tapes for his home entertainment tests included basically any title that was audio-engineered by THX, he absolutely loved playing their test videos and listen to how immersive their audio designs were. The opening scene to Road House was another favorite my dad would enjoy listening to countless times over with its five iconic electric guitar notes. The Fast and the Furious also joined his roster as he would relish listening to every tiny detail of the high octane races; when it came to hearing the roaring engines to the pistons firing, my dad was in bliss from start to finish.
When shipping semitrucks are being hijacked, it’s up to Los Angeles police officer Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) to find and arrest the culprits. Soon Brian must decide where his loyalty really lies when he becomes enamored with the street racing world he has been sent undercover to infiltrate and take down. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) seemingly at the center of it all as he rules the roads after dark. Will our hero find his way out of this chaotic whirlwind of lightning fast cars, spontaneous love, and furious gunfire raining down on him?! You bet your ass it’s worth seeing to find out!
(Yes, I did want that to sound as ridiculously cheesy as possible. Thanks for asking.)
We’ve Come A Long Way
It’s honestly been a few years since I’ve watched the original seeing how it holds so much sentimental value to me, after my dad passed away it became a difficult movie to revisit without having him by my side. Another reason why it’s been so long is because I had seen it at such an absurd amount in my youth I feel as though I could replay the film frame by frame in my own mind picture perfectly. However to my surprise when revisiting the very first entry in this now 10 film long series, including Hobbs & Shaw, I now experience it in a somewhat different light. After seeing exactly where this franchise goes in catapulting beyond the realms of reality, abandoning all forms of realism in exchange to be on the cusp of science fiction with just how outrageous they can get in some of the most fun ways a summer blockbuster can get… going back to where it all started feels like venturing into a completely different world.
In the sequels we find ourselves driving through the air from one skyscraper to the next, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is punching torpedoes on ice, satellite controlled zombie cars are chasing after our leads down in the city streets, Jason Statham is going from villain to hero between flicks; it’s a freaking madhouse of excitement! Then when we rewind the clock a little bit, here we are in a tone that now seems rather grounded in comparison to the later sequels. Our heroes can actually get hurt and legitimately fear death as opposed to by the time we reach the latest installment, I’m fairly certain most characters who have “died” are resurrected. Our leads actually abide by the laws of physics and gravity, which by now have vanished almost entirely. It’s quite the trip having that mentality knowing where the franchise’s direction has gone since its inception, yet somehow simultaneously still injecting familiar elements all these years later.
On the surface, yes, this is a knockoff of Kathryn Bieglow’s Point Break from a decade prior; a good looking young cop has to go undercover, infiltrating a small group of adrenaline junkies in order to find out who is perpetrating a string of robberies, but along the way he forms a friendship with the leader of the criminal gang and a romance blooms with someone who’s also associated with the criminals. We’ve seen this premise before, it’s nothing new. Yet, for what it is, it’s still a fun ride… No, that is not a pun. Don’t start with me!
Despite this being a familiar formula, the film does its best to inject a good pace to the movie while tweaking the structure ever so slightly so we don’t ever feel bored by the recycled premise. The screenplay does a decent job at balancing cool racing action spectacle along with developing the characters, fleshing out the story to show how this underground street racer gang isn’t simply a bunch of punks, but they’re practically a family. Making things more and more complicated for our lead when he has to figure out whether he can still take down the friends that opened up a whole new world of racing while slowly embracing him into their home.
It’s About Family
What defines this film as more than just a cynical update to another already great movie is the characters. Truthfully it’s all about the makeshift family formed between Paul Walker’s Brian being the conflicted yet eager racer, Vin Diesel’s Dominic is the cool enigmatic leader, the fierce yet lovable Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Matt Schulze as the hot headed Vince, Jordana Brewster’s soft spoken and witty romantic interest Mia, the smoothly gravel voiced Johnny Strong’s Leon, then lastly the neurotic and brainy Jesse played by Chad Lindberg. Everyone here plays an integral part of rounding out the family and complimenting one another’s performance.
Yes, at this point in the franchise, it’s become abundantly clear that these movies hammer in the family centric themes. But with the first installment, it really does feel like this bizarro car obsessed family simply living their lives while also finding their spiritual escape through racing. This is a family, as quirky as it is, and we actually do become invested in these characters with the bonds connecting them together. Are they the most well-developed characters ever written? No, they are all the typical archetypes one would find in an undercover cop crime thriller/action flick. Again, harkening back to Point Break or Stone Cold. The movie still succeeds though by giving its characters personalities and fleshing them out just enough to get a sense of humanity behind the cliché. Plus the cast is just terrific at bringing this world to life, playing naturally off each other in every scene.
Paul Walker – Brian O’Conner
When going into re-watching The Fast and the Furious, I originally thought it would be rather difficult to see Paul Walker again; given the movie in general already holds a soft part in my heart from nostalgia, then to see a major part who has since passed on back in his youth, I was expecting a fairly depressing experience. To the contrary, I still had a blast. All pretenses returning to this picture quickly dissipated while watching Paul Walker being his fun and charming self again. He’s terrific because at no point am I seeing someone else like Keanu Reeves reprising that specific archetype. No, this is 100% Walker at his “Walker-iest” and I am all for it.
There’s just something about Paul where he does essentially play the “everyman” type, yet with such a laidback presence that it’s comforting and we can easily see ourselves in his shoes. He seems like the kind of guy everyone would want to be friends with because he projects this warm and inviting persona onto the screen. When his character (Brian) is chasing after that adrenaline rush, it’s as though we’re experiencing that intense rush as well. Probably my favorite moment of Brian’s, and his most relatable, is truly a brief instance that in the blink of an eye then one might gloss over it; it’s when Brian races against Dominic for the first time and the scene ends with Brian nearly blowing himself up with the use of Nitrous Oxide to give his car a speed boost, resulting in his car spinning completely out of control.
When the camera closes in on Walker’s face he appears terrified beyond belief, almost in a state of shock and awe. His eyes seeming as though they’re still trying to comprehend what just happened as his body and even his breath tremble from the pure adrenaline rush he just experienced. Like I said, it’s a small moment, but it feels brilliant as it provides a quick chuckle while simultaneously giving incite that this street racing life could mean life or death yet excites Brian to pursue it even further. Paul executed that little moment flawlessly, bringing a level of humanity to the character. It also contrasts wonderfully with how his character progresses later on as he becomes less and less afraid when behind the wheel.
Vin Diesel – Dominic Toretto
After playing this character for two decades now, Diesel is simply synonymous with the Fast & Furious legacy. I’m fairly certain that Dom is Vin Diesel’s ‘James Bond’ in the sense that when people think of a certain iconic character they instantly picture one very specific actor who practically owns the role, no matter how many times he may be recast in future reboots to come. With any franchise that will inevitably be the case. Sean Connery is James Bond. Clint Eastwood is Harry Calahan. Hugh Jackman is Logan/Wolverine. Vin Diesel is Dominic Toretto.
Vin Diesel’s performance in this first entry has truthfully stuck with me after all these years as one of the best examples to the ‘sympathetic antagonist’ type. I know it’s incredibly debatable whether or not one should classify his character as a villain, but technically speaking he is in terms of being the criminal culprit Brian is searching for. Maybe ‘anti-hero’ is the more apt descriptor. Either way, the character of Dom is about as basic as one can get yet Diesel brings in a natural charm with a splash of heart while also continuously hinting at this angry beast inside ready to strike at any given moment if provoked just enough.
Whenever he’s on screen he steals the show as all eyes are constantly fixated on him. Diesel commands every scene he’s in with a suave edge and I think the layers provided by the actor are somewhat overlooked. For instance, when Dom gets into his past about his father, the pain that Vin displays in his voice really sells this man’s internal struggle. Or when we hit the third act and certain revelations are learned about Brian’s secret, Diesel does a phenomenal job in his physical performance without a single line of dialog portraying a man ready to snap without going over-the-top or hammy with it. We see how much this character wants to unleash a world of hurt that he’s already feeling within himself while so many other dilemmas are going on at the same time. Dom is a solid character made all the better by a clever performer.
Before Marvel Did It
One of the funniest things my family and I didn’t realize about this film for years was the fact that there is an after-credits sequence involving Dom’s fate after the events of the movie. Honestly it blows my mind a little bit any time I discover an after-credits scene in any flick made before the year 2008. I know it wasn’t necessarily unheard of for select features to include a quick scene after the credits, but ever since Marvel Studios implemented that strategy into the mainstream, it’s just commonplace now. Before being a current trend, an after-credit scene was a special treasure hidden away for anyone who actually stuck through watching the entire credits. Now it’s an expected commodity with any blockbuster released.
Alright, I’m going to say that approximately 90% of the effects work shown in flick are pretty damn good as there is a ton of superb stunt driving going on throughout the whole runtime. Because there are real cars performing these incredible acts with terrific minds behind the wheel, these action/racing scenes are a hell of a lot of fun to watch. When we see cars crashing into one another or spinning out or weaving in and out of moving traffic, it gets the blood pumping! Seriously, I give all the practical/onset special effects a solid ‘A’ grade.
Then when we discuss the other 10% of the special effects, which is strictly the CGI… it’s not very good. Thankfully those effects are sparing and occasionally the CGI does work, mainly when it came to creating a camera path traveling into the engine of the cars; an idea that works for stylistic reasons. Actually I think the majority of the CG utilized in the picture was for stylistic purposes like with the first street race between Dom and Brian as the color design to blur out the backgrounds seem to be intentional, but the entire sequence also looks extremely fake. I think if the technology were where it is today or if the designers of the scene had more time to work on the visual effects then maybe they could have found the right look for what they were striving for without leaving the impression that a computer rendered it.
An element I was surprised to have a newfound appreciation for was the scene transitions when shifting from day to night or night to day. I don’t think I’ve ever really noticed those before, but they were really stylish and well done. I know it’s a tiny detail, but it was one that impressed me in its editing and execution. I dig it.
In regards to the musical score mixing electronica with instrumental symphonies, hip-hop and industrial stylings; it’s pretty good and I enjoy it. When it comes to the soundtrack, however, which is a song compilation that is aggressively of its time… I also enjoy it, but for wildly different reasons. The songs included in some of these scenes where probably anything else could be playing, are so unapologetic with their inclusion that I honestly found it strangely charming in a weird way. When some of these obviously early 2000s alt-metal and rock bands are blaring from the speakers, I can’t help myself from smirking and having a good time with it. Even though a lot of the soundtrack was never necessary, it adds to the charm as the movie wears its dated nature proudly.
The Fast and the Furious after 20 years is still a sh*t ton of fun! As an action movie, it’s got plenty going for it with all the car chases and races while making sure to give enough heart in the characters so we don’t simply see a retread of a recycled premise. The film also works as a bit of a time capsule from the cars, the clothes, hair styles, early combination of practical and digital effects of the era, and most definitely in the music. Is the 2001 film my favorite of the Fast & Furious series? I’m not so sure as I do have another entry I enjoy a tad bit more. However, the first movie will forever remain the closest to my heart because of the time my family and I shared countless hours in delight watching it again and again. Especially when my dad was particularly hellbent on making sure his sound system was absolutely perfect, using this movie to fine-tune it meticulously. I miss those days and wish I could have watched this with him one last time because I know he’d still love the hell out of it too.
The Best of the Fast & Furious
That’s All Folks!
The Fast and the Furious… now officially a classic in the action genre? What do you think though? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wonder if this is a remake of the Roger Corman flick from the 1950s? It’s not. Comment down below and let me know! Anyways, if you so happen to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a furiously fantastic day!
© 2021 John Plocar
John Plocar (author) from Weatherford on June 12, 2021:
Understandable that the Fast & Furious flicks wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, I just find them to be some mindless fun.
And wow that's pretty amazing honestly! Was it fun to watch and then compare seeing it in the actual movie?
Sam Shepards from Europe on June 12, 2021:
Cool, I've watched the entire furious series over the years, but never been a real fan. Not really a car lover etc. Still something always made me watch them, guilty pleasure action entertainment. Will probably rewatch them all again when 9 is out. As a side note, I don't live in the US so I was pleasantly driving into a movie set in Iceland around 4-5 years ago. I was driving to my next travel destination and I saw helicopters and army jeeps and trucks and then I saw a car chase on ice being filmed. I was there with a friend so we ended up parking our car at the set and walked to the top of a hill to watch.