FURIOUS SIX: Lessons on Elevating a Stale Franchise

· Films & Video Games

Furious Six

I was chatting with a buddy about the franchise as of late, and it inspired me to write a little note about it.

Quick clarification: This is not a review, even if it’s going to sound like one.

In my last post, I mentioned that all in all, this summer’s blockbuster season has been, while not necessarily great, not nearly as terrible as a lot of people currently think or will think it is – and that a chief reason for the disappointment was due to the “failure” of the films that were highly anticipated. But what is missing from the general analysis was the assortment of pleasant surprises that came along: one of which I’m going to discuss here (spoiler free of course).

For the record, just to dissolve any confusion, the order in the franchise goes like this (personal scores attached).

1. The Fast and the Furious – 6.5
2. 2 Fast 2 Furious – 4.5
3. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (which takes place in the future) – 6.0
4. Fast and Furious (I know…I know…) – 6.3
5. Fast Five – 7.4
6. Furious Six (which catches up to Tokyo Drift) – 8.9

I didn’t review Furious Six, though my Cinekatz pal Nick did (also spoiler-free). I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s worth checking out. I actually had a chance to see it early but I passed on it, chiefly because I had fallen a little behind on the franchise, mostly giving up after the fourth film which I remembered being kind of fun but mostly forgettable and underwhelming.

Reviews started coming in for this one and they turned out to be surprisingly positive. Curious, I got a copy of Fast Five and watched it. It’s actually pretty good. Granted, its second act stumbles and wallows in a state of identity confusion, forcing the family group dynamic rather than naturally evolving into one and we get a sense that the film didn’t really know what to do with all the characters it brought together from the previous films, but the final action chase with a giant safe saves the film (and it’s awesome).

There are two action scenes in Furious Six that top it. And you can see this movie without having seen the previous ones. It does a good enough job explaining to you who everyone is that you shouldn’t have trouble.

What the film essentially does is to take a mulligan on the premise of Fast Five – to bring all the good guys together and put them up against a bad guy. Unfortunately, most of these characters (with the possible exception of Jordana Brewster’s still super-hot Mia Toretto aren’t very likable. That’s mostly the chief reason the other films were so forgettable and sub-par and something Fast Five seemed conscious of, but unable to work around. This time, the film uses simple storytelling to build the stakes and plays with the problem simply by making fun of the supporting characters.

And it’s amazing how simple laughter in good taste but at the expense of characters you don’t care all that much for make you start to care about them. Remember American History X when Ed Norton’s super racist Neo-Nazi monstrosity of a human being suddenly finds himself making fast friends with a black inmate over a hilarious one-sided conversation about make-up sex? Furious Six plays a similar trick, only it’s more for your benefit than theirs.

Not only that, but the sixth film seems to understand that given the franchise’s history with stupid dialogue and the level of talent at work here, less is more and actions speak louder than words. Characters prove that they care for one another by doing the kind of stunts that you can only find in a summer blockbuster like this. We see characters get hurt, proving they’re not invincible. We see them lose, which makes it all the sweeter when they win. It’s because of all these basic building blocks of good storytelling that you can not only forgive a film for its insanity, but actually revel in it.

Furious Six teaches us what kind of masterpiece even the dumbest of blockbusters can become if they’re done right. It doesn’t force you to turn off your brain in order for you to appreciate it. It makes you WANT to turn off your brain so that you can have even more fun than you’re already having.

Lately I’ve been a little down about how Hollywood culture is all about adaptations, sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, milking franchises, beating dead horses, etc. And while I remain adamantly and vigorously adherent to the fact that too much of such regurgitation is unhealthy for a movie culture, never let it be said that I don’t think they automatically diminish the quality of a film. My favorite film of all time is an adaptation of a book. My favorite superhero film is a sequel.

So as much as I want you all to check out even some of the indie stuff that I haven’t seen yet, I absolutely recommend Furious Six as well, even though it’s the sixth installment of a franchise that somehow managed to stay afloat despite such a mediocre run. And I also recommend you stay through the credits. The film will be out on DVD next week.

– Vivek

2 Comments

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  1. Nick Powell

    Very good points, V. Pacific Rim is also another fine example where going in, willing and wanting to turn your brain off, you enjoy it even more. But it’s fun, has humor, and never takes itself too seriously. Just as Fast Six does. Since we are getting a lot more sequels every year, I hope more people follow this formula.

    • Flying V

      I’d agree to that, provided that as franchises, they’re suited for it. Roger Ebert famously criticized “The Mummy Returns” for taking the characters that the first movie made interesting and dumbing them down to just another cast of action heroes. While I still love that movie, he’s totally right. The Fast & Furious franchise has always been about street racer and car chase action but they’ve never really knocked a movie out of the park until now.

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