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Racing across the finish line: A Ranking of the Fast and Furious Films.

Racing across the finish line: A Ranking of the Fast and Furious Films.

A blatant and mediocare rip-off of Point Break with cars. That was the initial negative reaction when The Fast and The Furious first released in the summer of 2001. Praise was given to Vin Diesel and Paul Walker for their complex performances but by and large this was a film that seemed destined to be dismissed and waved away by most people. 

Sixteen years later the Fast and the Furious franchise is unquestionably one of the biggest in the entire world, putting up staggering numbers, particularly in overseas markets. It's stars are among the most iconic in the world and the series has taken on legions of diehard and rabid fans. 

So I committed to finally go back and rewatch every film in the series.

Below is my humble ranking of that experience, my rankings of the eight movies that for better or worse define and make up the F&F series. I have spent the past week watching all eight movies in rapid succession. Some for the first time, others for the tenth, regardless all are fresh in my mind. These are my (surely controversial) thoughts and rankings. Enjoy. Or scream at me online. :)

8. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.

This movie is bad. This is(apparently?) a controversial statement to make, yet it seems inarguably true to me. Everything is off about Drift, nothing works like how it should, and the movie is just a haphazard, lazy mess.

Sung Kang's Han virtually single-handily saves the movie from being a complete flaming train wreck. His spark and cool, calculating, and mysterious character thrives and carries this movie. Make no mistake, Han is fantastic in this film, with Kang delivering a wonderfully captivating, electric performance that gives Tokyo Drift ALL of it's heart and soul. 

The problem, is that he is not the main character and thus is not in the film anywhere near enough. The problem, is that virtually every other character totally misses their mark and delivers awkward and stilted performances. None of which are worse than Lucas Black's performance as the films young hero. 

Lucas Black is not a bad actor and this is not an attack on him, but he is so clearly out of his depth here. The fact they have Black trying to portray a high-schooler is laughable. The dialogue he is forced to spew out is worse still, the delivery he choses to go with the worst yet. It is hardly the only bad performance in the film, it is however the worst and more than that the most important and thus helps to sink the film from the opening seconds, like a dead weight. 

Tokyo Drift ultimately just seems like the kid in class who thinks their far more clever, funny, and cool then they actually are. It's jokes largely fall flat. The film has time jumps and plot points that are never explained in any detail and that leave the whole thing a muddled and confused mess. Most of all the film just carries itself with this swagger of coolness and confidence it has no right too. 

Tokyo Drift is a movie with a powerhouse and wonderful performance by Sung Kang as Han, it imbues the film with a shot of cool mystery and tension. It is also the only good aspect of the film. There is a reason that Han is the only part of this movie that ever really shows up in future installments. He's all that works, he's all that anybody talks about, and he's all that anyone wanted more of. He's just not the entire movie and that's to the detriment of this bad, lazy, and sloppy film that EASILY ranks as the worst movie in the entire series. 

7.Fate of the Furious.

This movie isn't good guys. 

It's here, after eight films and countless antics that Fast and Furious finally jumps the shark and becomes a bad parody of itself. So much of what had made the series so special, so fun to watch before is twisted and distorted until Fate of the Furious is nothing more than a funhouse mirror version of itself, except no one is having fun anymore. 

Perhaps this was bound to happen. Perhaps the first film post Paul Walker would have felt empty and a little off no matter what, Fate was not the way to try to fix that. The characters who, while gradually growing into superhero versions of themselves always still kept that sparkle and touch of grounded humanity to them. It was always about family after all. Except in Fate it's not. 

The reasons for Dom's betrayal are misguided and laughable to say the least, particularly in the context of the things he's being forced to do. The reasons why he doesn't share any info with his family, especially Letty even more laughable and baffling. The action scenes are stupefying and eye-rolling to such a degree I felt my eyes might pop outta my head. The loss of Brian and Mia, something that of course couldn't be avoided deprives the film of so much of the heart of the entire series. 

Just bad. This film is a bad poorly done parody of what made Fast and Furious great. Vin Diesel is bad. Most of the supporting cast is one note. The most disappointed i've been watching one of these movies.

On the plus side Jason Statham is incredible from start to finish in this movie. Give me more of him please.

6. 2 Fast 2 Furious.

We Hungry. With this line Tyrese swaggered his way into the hearts of Fast and Furious fans everywhere. A ridiculous, cheesy, over the top film, 2 Fast 2 Furious is an homage to the cheesy and silly b-movies of yesteryears. It's the type of movie that largely isn't made anymore, mostly for good reason. There is something to it though. 

You can almost see everybody having fun with themselves in this film. The chemistry between Paul Walker and Tyrese is instantaneous and like a flash in the pan, bringing life and mirth to the entire films proceedings. Watching this, it is not shocking in the slightest to hear that Walker and Tyrese became life long close friends. The bond, the energy, the bad jokes it all builds up to an impressive relationship. You can feel the history, the connection between the two. 

The problem of course, is that the movie is bad. Not Tokyo Drift bad, good god not anywhere close to that. Walker delivers another good performance, the villain is solid and one of the series best honestly, but the film just isn't that great. Just like the b-movies of old it's ripping off, strip away the cheesy jokes and crazy antics and beneath it all just lays a shallow and sloppy experience. 2 Fast is in many ways a tale of two movies. A bad, mediocre, and entirely forgettable action film, mixed with an at times promising, humorous, and enjoyable buddy cop movie. Unfortunately there is far more of the former than the latter. 

Still, it gave us "we hungry" so we'll always have that.

5. Fast&Furious.

This is the pivot point in the history of the entire series. The moment where things started to change and where the old and new began to come together. It is also, like most turning points in stories a bit messy, rough around the edges, and a tad unsatisfying. 

Way better than most people give it credit for, Fast 4 is still ultimately plagued by it's inability to full commit to what it wants to be. It's an odd mixture of both the original and superior Fast and Furious and also the more action oriented and epic later films. It thus doesn't really deliver on either front, yet as someone who loves the more grounded and police approach of the original FF I dug the way this film took us back to our roots and delivered another slower more police oriented experience.

 Finally getting Dom and Brian back on-screen together was a joy, even if the movie didn't really do much with their first meeting. Honestly in many ways that describes the whole movie, a series of promising moments undone by a lack of buildup, tension, or meaning. 

Only in the film's final act, do these characters and actors really get some moments to shine. Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster's scenes of reunion as Brian and Mia in particular are fantastic, something you'll see me say a lot. They give this film an extra weight and add consequences to what's happening. Even Vin Diesel is given added layers and extra dimensions as he finally considers the consequences of his actions and decides to stop running and face his fate. 

The ending Fast&Furious was building too was a tough, emotional, and powerful one in which Dom finally accepts the course he's charted and the pain that brings. It was a finale that promised us a real and bittersweet conclusion that felt true to the events of the first FF film. 

Then the film basically undoes all of the lessons, growth, and sacrifice that have occurred with it's out-of nowhere ending scene. 

So close.

4. Furious 7.

It's hard to review this movie impartially. So much of it is wrapped up in the emotions and aftermath of dealing with Paul Walkers stunning and tragic passing in a car accident in the middle of filming. This dominates the entire proceedings and lays a gray melancholic cloud over everything. 

Perhaps that's not fair to the film, perhaps we should try to ignore all of that and just focus on what the film does right and wrong. All I know is that I can't do that. Paul Walker dominates this film from the first second he appears, everything is the last time he did this or that, the last conversation between characters, the last fight, and finally and most emotionally the last race. 

The actual film is a cartoonish, over the top film that strikes me as Fast and Furious coming dangerously close to just totally jumping the shark. So much of the final third of this film is absurd, unbelievable, and b-movie action film bad. 

The movie zigzags all over the place, delivering a very uneven experience of breathtaking highs and eye-rolling lows.

Jason Statham is wonderfully menacing as the villain, giving a memorable and deliciously evil performance that captivates every time he shows up. Particularly praise has to be heaped on his breathtaking and fantastic introduction which instantly became one of the coolest and most shocking openers I've ever seen. 

But this is a movie about Paul and ultimately what this movie means to you is going to come down to where the final ten minutes or so hit you. To what Paul and his life meant to you. Emotional, sad, and happy were how I felt watching the send-off to Paul,  the idea of giving Brian the happily ever after ending that Paul was so tragically denied in real life was a beautiful, touching, and fitting farewell. This is where he belonged, this is where he always belonged. That line by Diesel was perfect, he was family, he'll always be family. Walker and Brewsters scenes carry extra weight as we say goodbye to these characters and to this relationship that in many ways has been the beating heart of the series from the very first film.

The final soht of the film, of Brian slowly driving away, towards the sun, towards the new next chapter of his story was perfect.  

3. Fast Five.

Oceans Eleven meets Cars. The film that in all honesty likely saved the series. Arguably no film outside the first has been as important and defining as Fast Five. This was the film that took what Fast&Furious had started and committed fully to the idea of remaking the series as an action franchise with cars. 

Watching as so many of the characters from the series past reunited for this grand heist adventure was a joy. The new characters introduced were all smashing successes, it is entirely possible that Fast Five had the best cast and chemistry of any film in the entire series. Everything just flows and builds and gels together so well. It is impossible to watch Fast Five without smiling. 

The dynamic between Han and Geisle, Leo and Santos, and Roman and Tej are all perfect. Then comes the addition of the Rock to the cast as the cop tasked with hunting down our cast of anti-heroes and a palpable sense of tension and excitement is added to the proceedings. Right from the start we are all expecting a Rock and Vin Disel clash and when that titanic moment finally comes in the third act of the film it was far more visceral, brutal, and frantic than any of us could have imagined. That fight and the trail of destruction that was forged in it's wake, rank among the very greatest of the series moments. Honestly, the entire thing ranks as one of the best moments in any action movie of the past decade. The hype, expectations, and wishes of everyone going in to watch the movie helped make the wait and slow build towards the firework filled finale perfect. 

That said, the movie isn't as good as Oceans Eleven. It's honestly not really close. I say this while still believing Fast Five is a great film, but it takes inexplicable detours and unnecessary plot points derail it at times and keep the film from being the fantastic streamlined kinetic film it should be. The entire first thirty minutes or so is just a mess all around and Five is forced to deal with the terrible ending that closed Fast Four, this handicaps the movie in it's opening and it's only once the broad strokes of the heist are getting established that the film really hits it's stride. 

Still, no one can take away what this film did. Fast and Furious is nowhere close to the one billion dollar juggernaut without Fast Five, the series wouldn't have gotten the shot in the arm that it needed without this film and the introduction of the Rock, epic missions, and the cast of favorites that it brought to the franchise. Fast Five is plagued by a few missteps and odd moments but regardless, this was the film that showed that Fast and Furious still had life in it and that that life was pretty bright and also prone to knocking down all walls around it.

2. Fast and Furious 6

This film took the epic, sprawling action formula started in Fast Five and just about perfected it. The villain is better. The stakes are higher. The insane, unbelievable stunts are(somehow) even crazier and more mind-blowing. Everything clicks and works in a way that the series arguably has never seen before. 

Vin Diesel and the Rock shine in this movie, they are a joy to watch every second they appear, providing us with a fantastic yin/yang dynamic that provides for the backbone of this film. Luke Evans is wonderfully nasty as the big baddie, chewing through each and every scene he's in and ranking only behind his big brother Jason Stahem as the series best baddie. 

The return of Michele Rodreguiz's Letty after her supposed death at the start of Fast 4 is a welcome, if convenient addition to the film as well. Her and Dom's fractured relationship and slow bond over time helps to provide this film with a little bit of heart. 

The real heart of this film though is with Sung Kang's Han and Gal Gadot's Geisel. Their courtship which had started during Fast Five, comes alive here. With the history and foundation from that film laid, the two engage on a beautiful, funny, touching romance that is the sweetest and most heartbreaking thing the series has quite possibly ever offered. Throughout Fast 4 through 6 we have been waiting for when things will catch up to Tokyo Drift and Han's shocking death during the events of that film and throughout Furious Six you can almost hear the bell tolling louder and louder. 

To say that the finale is devastating and crushing for Han as a character is a massive understatement, ever since Tokyo Sung Kang has been forced to play an increasingly cartoonish version of his cool self. Finally, in this film those shackles are removed and Kang subsequently delivers his most emotionally raw, funny, and gut-wrenching performance of the entire series. The final shot of Han at Dom's BBQ during the films ending was among the hardest scenes to watch in the series run. I can not give enough praise to Sung Kang for the deft way he handled the grief, loss, and acceptance of his fate that occurs in Fast Six.

Disappointingly though, Brian and Mia's relationship seems to be a casualty of the films stuffed agenda. After a perfect and heartwarming introduction to the characters, Jordana Brewster, among the most talented and versatile actors in the series, is essentially sidelined for the entire movie, only showing up at the last second to serve as the damsel in distress. This decision to put to the side the relationship that has been the heart of the entire series up to this point is not only puzzling, but a massive disservice to Brewster and Walker who both shine brightest when they are able to work off their fantastic chemistry. Furious Six is weakened in this regard, a piece of it's spark, of it's heart has been lost.

That however is nearly all the negatives I can say about this film. It truly is a brilliantly crafted, fun, and emotional action film, that ranks among the best action movies of the past decade. A great funny, absurd, emotional, silly film.

It's just not the best.

1. The Fast and the Furious.

The original. The genesis of it all and also the best film in the entire series. Going back and rewatching all the films in the series no film surprised me as much as the first FF film did. This was the film that mattered more than any other. The one that the entire series is built off of, the core philosophy and themes embedded in Fast and Furious all started here. 

From's Dom's iconic "quarter mile at a time" speech in the garage with Brian, to the wonderful and small little moments between all the members of this makeshift ragtag family, to finally the true star of this movie, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewsters fantastic chemistry and relationship together, Fast 1 was just imbued with a magic to it that helped lift this film past all the other car racing clones around it. 

It's more grounded, more real, minimalist, and importantly more human in it's depiction of it's tale and characters than any film that followed it. Indeed, everything that comes after is just chasing after the magic of this, just doing their own unique twist on this tale. 

The original Fast and Furious is flawed, there are moments where the the graphics don't age great and times where the dialogue is a tad cringe-worthy, yet there is also something unmistakably special in how small and intimate everything is. Everyone gives their all in this film, Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster all give their best performances of the entire series here. The supporting cast helps and furthers the story, instead of overwhelming it like in later films. Briain's struggles with his duty as a police officer, his budding love for Mia, and his conflicted and messy friendship with Dom lead to a brilliantly complicated performance by Paul Walker that ranks among the best of any action film of this type. This film, which was clearly inspired by Point Break, took what worked in that movie and in many ways bested it. 

It feels the most out of place in a lot of ways. It is far sadder, more melancholy than the rest of the films. It ends in ambiguity and uncertainty instead of a triumphant victory as the rest of the films do. Fast 1 is the greatest film in the series, because it's the most well-acted movie, featuring genuinely great and earnest performances by everyone as the cast bands together to give everything they have and elevate the story. The Fast and the Furious is the best movie in the series, because it laid the road map for the entire franchise and because for the only time in the series, decisions are made, consequences are felt, and people are changed.

This is an odd through the looking glass film that gives us all one last fading look at a pre- 9/11 America and the confidence, swagger, and tiny bit of aggorance we all held that helped mask our caution and worry over an uncertain future and a rapidly changing world. Where the good guys aren't all that good and the bad guys aren't all that bad. Where life is lived just a quarter mile at a time both for the thrills and to block out the worry and fear over the transformations occurring around us. Where family and devotion to said family is all that really matters. That's the sacrifice filled and bittersweet story that is The Fast and the Furious and that's why it's the best film in the series.

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