“The Gang’s All Here.” That’s the best way to describe Fast & Furious, the fourth installment of the franchise that brings back the original core four to the series. Only Paul Walker returned for the second film, while Vin Diesel was on board for the third in a 60 second cameo. That cameo set in motion what would become the franchise as we know it now. Rumor has it that Diesel did the cameo to secure his rights to the Riddick character that he played in Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick all to gain a bit of producing control over any future installments in the Fast franchise. This would prove to be a significant move because we now know, Diesel has been the main driving force moving the series ahead and this film is a nice start to what the films would become. It’s not perfect and it has some moments when it drags but it really is a return to form to how the franchise started and is a good jumping off point for where they were headed.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift grossed a disappointing $62.5 million in 2006 and remains the lowest grossing film of the franchise. When the film underperformed, I don’t think anyone really expected Universal to move ahead with another entry but bringing back the original cast that made the first film a hit had to be enticing to the studio. The good thing about the film is that it feels like we never really left any of the characters. The film doesn’t begin in a way that says “let’s catch up with old friends”. We’re thrown right back in with them and it’s almost like they never left.
Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Walker) haven’t seen each other in five years when their pursuit of a common enemy brings them together in Los Angeles. Brian is after the guy because he’s a key witness in a case the FBI is working on. Dominic’s reasons are less lofty: he wants revenge. This guy’s capture results in Dominic and Brian competing in a race for the right to become a driver for a drug kingpin. One wins but the other finds out a way to work his way into the gang anyway. Once under cover, Dominic and Brian agree to an uneasy truce as they pursue goals that are not mutually exclusive.
Although the reunion is originally antagonistic, the best thing about Fast & Furious is the reignited chemistry between Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. This was missing from the first two sequels and bringing them together again here proves to be the boost the series needed. This feels like there is more at stake when these two are together and that notion of family that was introduced in the first film is reestablished here because the real family (real life and fictional) is essentially back together.
Justin Lin returns to the director’s chair and the promise he showed with the previous installment is simply amplified here. He ramps up the action in a big way from the start with a rousing opening action sequence that offers up some of the best action since the first film. The first 20 minutes is actually expertly handled in regards to action and building up to a plot twist that had fans seething at the time but, as we know, it would all be rectified soon enough. The action sequences and car chases are well choreographed. The street race with Brian and Dom is a highlight as well and is a bit of a final send off to street racing being a major plot point in the franchise. It’s interesting to see the seeds that were being planted here because the action hit a new peak beginning with the next installment.
The main problem with the film is that there are moments when the pacing drags. At 105 minutes, the film feels a bit too long and is basically pieced together by the next big action sequence. There are attempts at character building moments and while some work, others fall flat due to certain performers not getting enough screen time. This is more a problem for the women in the film, who aren’t given much to do. It’s great to have them back but apart from the opening sequence, Michelle Rodriguez has very little to do (although it is memorable) and Jordana Brewster falls into the rut of being the girlfriend/sister. This is a problem that is handled much better in future films.
On the plus side, Gal Gadot gets thrown into the mix as Gisele and while she’s not a master thespian, she exudes charisma and sex appeal, something the franchise does very well. Also back on board is Sung Kang as Han from Tokyo Drift. He became a fast fan favorite and it’s nice to see him mixing in with the original gang.
There is a bit of fan service that works in the film’s favor. Fast & Furious is actually considered the weakest of the new era of sequels by most fans but I think it does a good job of reintroducing us to the reasons why we embraced the first film and it’s a solid start to how massive the franchise would become.