I believe The Fast and the Furious is the greatest movie franchise of all time. Astonishingly, this sentiment is not shared by all car enthusiasts. But at the very least we should all care about these movies, even if critics are quick to regurgitate the same tired complaints about the saga: the stunts are unrealistic, the driving doesn't remotely consider physics, the dialogue features uninformed automotive jargon, and no family could actually get along that well.
The biggest criticism from autophiles, however, is that as Hollywood keeps pumping out sequels, the movies aren't even about cars anymore. It's that last word that gets me: "anymore."
As the next installment—F9— races toward its Friday, June 25, release date, how about a quick recap of the major plotlines? The Fast and the Furious (2001) is about a cop tracking down stolen DVD players. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) is focused on busting a drug lord, which is basically the same theme as the [sequentially] next film, Fast & Furious (2009). Tokyo Drift (2006), as the name implies, has a heavy drifting theme, but it's a unicorn that doesn't really vibe with the other storylines.
By Fast Five (2011), Dwayne Johnson has been introduced, so naturally the plot escalates from catching drug lords to . . . stealing from them. Avoiding repetitive themes of the previous titles, Fast & Furious 6 (2013), Furious 7 (2015), and The Fate of the Furious (2017), are all about saving the world from terrorists (yes, three separate times). Cars are simply the tool on which this team—nay, family—relies to save the planet. Or catch drug lords. Or find DVD players. You get the idea; it was never about cars.
"Any time family has been the foundation of the episode, usually the audience is able to connect to something, aside from the cars,” Sung Kang, who made his series debut in Tokyo Drift playing the beloved Han, told me.
He's making a return appearance in F9 which, after a couple of delays, is finally arriving in theaters (and is definitely not marked on my calendar). Most important, Kang said, "The franchise has always been inclusive of different ethnicities, so when people see this movie, throughout the world, they're able to see their face onscreen. That's really important. It gives people some type of connective tissue to the storyline and the characters."
None of this is to say cars don't play a critical role. The diverse crew of misfits naturally gravitate together because of a love for cars and a love for driving. What starts out innocently enough as a collective passion for speed eventually leads to mutual respect amongst the cast as they realize their individual talents serve a greater purpose when they work together. Strip the franchise down to its body in white, and the team's kinship acts as the structural adhesive holding it all together. Welds that won't blow, if you will.
The automotive community does not always act as an entirely inclusive group, but it is often romanticized as a collection of enthusiasts who are able to get along though a love of cars. At your local “Cars & Coffee” meetup, you'll find both beaters and Bentleys. The joy from attending isn't derived purely from stimulating your eyeballs; it's the social interactions that makes them special. Both the cars and the drivers come with their own rich experiences and stories to share. The Fast and the Furious taps into that line of thinking.
The common flaw of Fast critics is heading to the theater (or the streaming video) with the wrong expectations. Endless one-liner quotes, unbelievable action sequences, and a continual pursuit of one-upmanship are denounced as faults when really they're part of what make the Fast & Furious franchise so lovable. Life's most enjoyable moments are often rather simple. Greasy takeout. Twisty back roads. Cheap beers (ideally Corona). Fun movies! All are made even better in the presence of friends. If we let our highbrow moviegoer guards down, the franchise will speak clearly to our simple ape brains: Car fast. Car furious. Me like.
To those who believe it's time for the saga to end, I say bring on 10, and 11, and however many masterpieces they decide to make. The series has shown it is willing to step it up a gear when haters are confident it ran out four shifts back.
Indeed, there are as many reasons to love The Fast and the Furious as there are excessive gearshifts in any of the flicks' quarter-mile races. The franchise has helped create a new generation of car enthusiasts, while, for two decades now, also serving as a time capsule of automotive trends. To top it all off, it's packed with invaluable lessons: Respect the driver regardless of their ride. Appreciate a fine body regardless of the make. Success comes from the collective efforts of a team, not an individual. And above all else, there's only one thing in this world you can never turn your back on: family.