My absurd initiation into full-fledged ‘Fast and Furious’ fandom.
The Fast and Furious franchise is one of the most successful properties in Hollywood, but aside from a late-night screening of Furious 7 that I was barely awake for, I’ve managed to remain ignorant of its mythology. So when the Alamo Drafthouse announced the Fast & Furious: Second Gear marathon on April 13, screening the five last films in the series’ chronology — more on that in a second — it seemed like a great time to learn how this band of car thieves ended up becoming a world-saving family of lovable rogues over the course of 12 glorious, explosive, very loud hours.
At the start of the event, the theater’s hosts — two superfans who talked their bosses into letting them sell tickets to this thing — explained that the series truly came into its own through the work of director Justin Lin, who took over with 2006’s The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift. Then, to blow my mind, they explained that while that film is the third installment in order of release, it actually takes place between 2013’s Fast & Furious 6 and 2015’s Furious 7 — and, if the audience was up for it, they’d like to screen the films between Fast Five and The Fate of the Furious sequentially, rather than in order of release. The theater erupted in applause for the first, but definitely not the last, time on that thunderous Thursday. What follows are my notes from my initiation into full-fledged Fast and Furious fandom.
11:53 a.m.: After a briefing from our hosts, we’re on to the adventure. I recognize Vin Diesel, who’s just been convicted of a crime that’ll have him behind bars for a long time. But then his friends show up to bust him out — somehow without even hurting anybody else. These guys are good, and to make sure we understand that, the guy who plays Perd Hapley on Parks and Recreation appears as a newscaster to tell us what happened.
12:01 p.m.: After busting Vin out of the pokey, our heroes are off to Rio, where they begin planning a train heist. They figure out how to steal cars off trains, teaming up with some Mad Max–looking masked raiders to sneak the cars off a moving train undetected — but Vin, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster are car thieves with a conscience, and they quickly end up in a battle for their lives against the Mad Max guys. Brewster takes off in one of the cars, and things get hairy for Walker, who’s left dangling from a truck — but then Vin Diesel speeds to his rescue in a chic roadster, saving his pal’s life just in time for them to dive out of it as it lands in the river. Holy crap.
12:14 p.m.: We get our first glimpse of The Rock, who is after Vin and friends, and who is playing a character I assume doesn’t have a mirror, since he’s wearing a goatee that nobody would choose to have on his face.
12:16 p.m.: Cut to an office where a gentleman in a suit explains how the Portuguese colonized Brazil while the Spanish failed. It doesn’t have to be all vroom-vroom-splode — we can learn, too.
12:38 p.m.: Now we’re basically in Ocean’s Eleven, with a team assembled to plan One Last Job before they finally get out of the game. The team looks awesome, though: They’ve got Tyrese and Ludacris, Wonder Woman and a badass named Han, and they’re gonna need them because their first stop is a warehouse where women in their underpants sort big stacks of cash, which our gang sets on fire to antagonize the guy in the suit from earlier.
12:51 p.m.: A bomb goes off while a cop is pooping.
12:55 p.m.: They go to a drag-racing party where they spend a lot of time looking at butts — then Vin bets his car against another dude’s car in a race. And because he’s such a great racer, they don’t even waste our time showing it. They just cut to Vin with the other guy’s car.
They go to a drag-racing party where they spend a lot of time looking at butts.
1:03 p.m.: In this movie, butts are apparently not just for staring at. They’re also a plot point. They need the handprint of the guy in the suit to crack his vault, so Gal Gadot puts on a bathing suit, and when he puts his hand on her butt, he’s fallen for their simple trap. Gotcha!
1:06 p.m.: Rock and Vin get in each other’s face at the drag race, and they definitely look like they want to kiss, but they don’t. Luckily there are a lot of movies to go.
1:19 p.m.: Everybody learns that Jordana Brewster is pregnant, and they’re all super happy for her, which is sweet.
1:27 p.m.: Okay, a lot’s been happening: Vin and The Rock get into a fight, and Vin surrenders rather than kill The Rock with a wrench. They get ambushed by the private army of the man in the suit, and The Rock looks like he’s doomed — when Vin and his team fight them off, and then Vin offers his hand to get The Rock to his feet, and I get legit goosebumps.
1:30 p.m.: The Rock joins the gang!
1:42 p.m.: I don’t think this is how physics work, but Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are 10 minutes into an amazing chase scene where they’re tearing through Rio dragging a police vault like a giant wrecking ball, so who cares? I am starting to understand the appeal here pretty hard core.
Fast & Furious 6
2:15 p.m.: We’re into Fast & Furious 6 now, and Michelle Rodriguez is apparently back from the dead. (Apparently she was dead.)
2:17 p.m.: We’re not even five minutes in, and The Rock is already getting down to some serious police brutality.
2:33 p.m.: The Rock has just recruited the whole team to become superheroes (their power is “cars”) to stop a gang of British thieves who could end the world. Everybody (in the theater and in the movie) seems pretty excited about that.
2:41 p.m.: The British thieves just flipped Paul Walker’s car! They’re even better than our heroes. This is like Rocky III, where they took it easy while the hungry, British Mr. Ts are out there showing them up.
2:51 p.m.: Ludacris and The Rock meet a racist British guy at an auction, and I bet he’s gonna regret it.
2:56 p.m.: Yep, he regrets it.
3:04 p.m.: The Rock intimidates a British guy by crushing him with a handshake. This scene should be in every movie.
3:16 p.m.: It’s time for this movie’s butts-n-cars scene at a drag race. I’m guessing this is a thing in these movies.
3:35 p.m.: Ludacris’ caller ID has The Rock as “Samoan Thor,” which is the best The Rock joke I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot.
3:42 p.m.: So the British guys have a tank, and they’re crushing people on the freeway with it, and only our guys can stop them — and Dom instructs his team to “take their attention away from the people,” which is the moment he became a hero.
3:43 p.m.: I just noticed that he’s “Dom” to me now and not “Vin.”
3:59 p.m.: Dom and Hobbs — which is the name of The Rock’s character, I know that now — are fighting side by side against the British gang’s leader and a truly gigantic Danish guy, and it is the most satisfying thing in a very satisfying movie.
4:02 p.m.: Gal Gadot sacrifices herself for love, and poor badass Han is watching as she plummets to her death to save him.
4:06 p.m.: Dom just busted through a burning airplane in his car, and everybody in the theater just cheered. People busting through things at high speed is to these movies what masks are to Mission: Impossible.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
4:36 p.m.: We’re in a totally different time and place as Tokyo Drift begins! One of the kids from Home Improvement is a high school bully of this kid named Sean who apparently gets picked on for doing a bad Southern accent at school. They race, and it wrecks both of their cars, so Sean gets sent to live with his dad in Tokyo.
4:51 p.m.: I’m pretty sure these Japanese kids are gonna bully the hell out of this nerd.
4:56 p.m.: Drag race + butts scene.
4:58 p.m.: And the bullying begins, as Sean hits on somebody else’s girlfriend and then tries to start a fight even after both the girl and his new friend Lil Bow Wow tell him to lay off. Good plan, Sean. This guy loves other people’s girlfriends and getting bullied. I’m pretty sure I’m rooting for the bullies.
5:03 p.m.: Hey, Han is there! Han just gave him his car to race. Good luck, Han.
5:04 p.m.: Han should not have given him his car.
5:11 p.m.: So Han’s girlfriend dies, and he moves to Tokyo to mourn by hanging out with high school kids.
5:25 p.m.: Han explains his backstory, and it actually does match up with what we saw in the last couple of movies.
5:45 p.m.: We get into a life-or-death chase where Sean and Han, plus the bullies, have to use their racing skills to survive a deadly encounter, and it finally feels like a Fast and Furious movie.
5:50 p.m.: And Han died! Which I knew would happen because the post-credits tag after the last one gave it away, but it’s still very sad. Poor Han. He deserved better.
5:59 p.m.: Sean challenges the bully to a race to settle their beef once and for all, and the bully’s Yakuza boss uncle makes him take the deal. Sean puts a Nissan engine inside the body of his dad’s Mustang. Dominic Toretto would not approve.
6:07 p.m.: Sean wins! This movie is The Karate Kid Part II with cars instead of karate.
6:38 p.m.: We’re two minutes in and the looking-at-butts scene is already here. They come fast and furious in this one.
6:41 p.m.: Help, Iggy Azalea is on the movie screen. Dom and Leti are at a place called “Race Wars,” but not the scary kind (except for Iggy Azalea).
6:47 p.m.: Jason Statham just blasted Hobbs out of a window and he fell five stories onto a car. I am 100% sure he will be kicking ass again before the end of this movie.
7:03 p.m.: Jason Statham, who is the one who actually killed Han in Tokyo Drift even though he’s not in that movie (it’s kind of confusing), went to his funeral to taunt Dom, and they just collided into each other playing a game of chicken.
7:07 p.m.: And now Kurt Russell is in this franchise! This is the perfect use of latter-day Kurt. I’m amazed it took seven movies for him to show up as a shadowy government agent who needs Dom’s crew to save the world yet again.
7:15 p.m.: They just parachuted all their cars out of an airplane, which is ridiculous but also amazing? “Ridiculous but also amazing” is definitely what these movies are going for, but it’s very impressive that they’ve managed to stay on the right side of that this whole time.
7:38 p.m.: Hearing Vin Diesel give an inspiring speech about how they’re a family makes me want to join a ring of international roguish car thieves, just for the camaraderie.
7:55 p.m.: We’re in Dubai now, and Dom just drove a car from one skyscraper into another and then did it again. I have no idea what the hell I’m watching anymore.
8:06 p.m.: Oh, man, Paul Walker just did a good-bye scene with Jordana Brewster, and I know he died while they were making this movie, and I’m actually getting genuinely choked up.
8:16 p.m.: But never mind that, because The Rock just shattered his cast by flexing his arm.
8:40 p.m.: They’re all on the beach and saying good-bye to Paul Walker while he plays in the ocean with his kid, talking about how everything is gonna change now, and how dare this movie make me cry.
The Fate of the Furious
9:04 p.m.: The preview screening of The Fate of the Furious is starting and I am so excited.
9:14 p.m.: We’re off to a good start because Dom is in Cuba, and he just raced a car on fire into the ocean.
9:17 p.m.: Charlize Theron is here and she has a plan for Dom — and it looks like it’s gonna work, because she showed him something on her cell phone that just made him look even more tired and cranky than usual.
9:19 p.m.: The Rock is giving an inspiring monologue to people we can’t see about how he picked them because they are great warriors, and I am 99% sure he is yelling at a bunch of little girls.
9:20 p.m.: I was right. I am getting so good at The Fast & The Furious. I am a Fast and Furious genius.
9:29 p.m.: We’re only about half an hour in, and everything we saw in the trailer — Dom betraying the team, Charlize Theron as the villain, Statham and The Rock teaming up — has already happened. We’re in uncharted territory from here!
9:36 p.m.: The Rock is trying to break out of prison by punching it. It’ll probably work.
9:54 p.m.: Spoiler alert! We know why Dom betrayed his family now, and it involves the Brazilian lady cop he hooked up with back in Fast Five, who’s living as a prisoner inside a room that looks like it came from IKEA on Charlize Theron’s invisible airplane.
9:55 p.m.: Sentences like that last one are why I skipped seeing these movies for so long, because it sounds very dumb when you say it like that, but it all works.
10:10 p.m.: Oh, wow, we’ve got a swarm of Walking Dead–like zombies, but they’re all self-driving cars instead of people. This is legitimately creepy!
10:48 p.m.: Tyrese is surfing on the Russian tundra on a Lamborghini’s door, so just in case you were wondering if the new one would have weird stunts, it does.
10:54 p.m.: Jason Statham is killing his way through Charlize Theron’s invisible airplane with a baby strapped to his chest and it is both thrilling and also somehow moving? This movie works on a lot of levels.
11:03 p.m.: Proposal: After this scene in which Dom has to jump his car over a submarine in order to avoid a heat-seeking missile, we should use the phrase “jumping the submarine” the same way we use the phrase “jumping the shark,” except instead of meaning the moment that something that used to be great got corny, it describes the moment that something amazing managed to, despite all odds, stay super satisfying even though it has to keep finding new ways to top itself. Because this is great, even though we’re way past the point when these movies should be exhausting. I’ve just watched five of them in a row, and I am ready to rent the other three tomorrow. Fast and Furious forever.