A ‘Fast & Furious’ Expert and New Fan Reflect on the Franchise’s Wildest Rides

The “Fast & Furious” franchise has revved its engine through theaters for the past 20 years, burning rubber on box office records and hitting the NOS on the careers of Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and the rest of the “Fast” family. The series’ latest entry, “F9,” drifts into theaters Friday, and longtime fans and newcomers alike will be able to enjoy the adrenaline high of the franchise’s increasingly jaw-dropping thrills.

Two Variety staffers, one a “Fast” expert and the other a new addition to the family, buckled up and watched the entire Fast Saga to prepare for “F9.” Social Media Coordinator David Viramontes and Online News Editor Jordan Moreau compare their thoughts on the eight “Fast & Furious” films, plus the “Hobbs and Shaw” spinoff, and how well they hold up today.

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The Fast and the Furious

Moreau: All I knew about the “Fast & Furious” franchise was that the movies were about cars and family, but, wow, these people really like driving dangerously and eating barbecue together. This movie sets the stage for the future while keeping the stakes low by having them steal…DVD players? Unfortunately, I’m not a car expert so I have no idea what living your life a quarter mile at a time means, nor do I know why “double clutching” is better than “granny shifting.” There are also just as many moments of toxic masculinity and women in bikinis as there is burning rubber and early 2000s fashion in this movie.

Viramontes: I’m glad you caught onto the not-so-subtle themes of family and fast cars, but as a self-proclaimed “Fast & Furious” expert, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the franchise’s other enduring theme: enjoying ice-cold Coronas. Seeing a young Vin Diesel bring a world-weary gravitas to his “I live my life a quarter mile at a time” monologue is especially fun, possibly topping any of his other speeches in the series. It’s interesting to see how the films’ ultra-macho street racing scenes evolve (or don’t) in the following films, but this movie does reek of early 2000s male gaze.

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2 Fast 2 Furious

Moreau: My immediate thought upon watching this was, “Where is Dom and the gang?” I thought Vin Diesel was in all these movies. Besides having the best possible name for a sequel, this movie was nearly identical to the first. The action ramped up, and Brian jumping the boat at the end teased the jaw-dropping action to come, but the generic villain and plot didn’t have me at the edge of my seat.

Viramontes: I, too, used to believe that “2 Fast” was on the bottom half of my “Fast & Furious” rankings, but I rewatched director John Singleton’s oft-maligned sequel with an open mind. Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce is a series mainstay as a fast-talker who can get out of any situation, and the sequel does some heavy lifting to advance Brian’s career as a conflicted cop. The least believable aspect of the film, however, is that Cole Hauser plays an Argentinian drug lord.

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The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Moreau: First, no Dom. And now, no Brian. Luckily, this movie makes up for it by introducing Han, the slick, smooth-talking racer who’s always eating snacks. Finally, a character I can relate to. This seems to be the turning point in the series where the drama matches the drift-tastic racing scenes, and I gasped when Dom made a cameo at the end.

Viramontes: It’s hard to overstate the cool factor Sung Kang brings to the role of Han. He just oozes confidence. I need to shout out director Justin Lin, who makes his franchise debut with “Tokyo Drift” and directs the next three films, plus “F9.” If I were in his position, I also would have made the decision to restructure the timeline of the films to keep Han alive.

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Fast & Furious

Moreau: Dom’s gang is back! And so is Han?! The timeline started to confuse me, but I’ll enjoy seeing Han race with the crew before he dies (and somehow comes back to life in “F9” from what I’ve seen). Killing off Letty was a real head-scratching moment. The franchise so far doesn’t treat its women characters very well, and her death only served as motivation to push Dom’s arc forward.

Viramontes: There are several criticisms this series seems to escape, and its treatment of women definitely deserves more scrutiny. For all the praise it gets for its diverse cast, it still relies pretty heavily on the objectification of faceless bikini-clad women. Aside from the opening heist, much of this film’s biggest moments feel restrained. But that’s ok, because the next film is perhaps an action masterpiece.

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Fast Five

Viramontes: “Fast Five” sets itself apart from previous “Fast” films because director Justin Lin centers the action around the well-trodden territory of the heist genre. While I have my reservations about Dwayne Johnson’s place within the “Fast” family (his character pushes the series into a less family-friendly space and into a more violent and bloody affair), it’s hard to deny his mega-star wattage alongside the electric feel of seeing the main characters of all the previous films. And who could forget the franchise anthem “Danza Kuduro?”

Moreau: This is where the series really got me. All the coolest characters from the earlier moves are back, plus I’m already a fan of Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs. He fits right in with the rest of the macho cast, and this felt like a true “Avengers” team-up movie. The action really found its groove, and Dom and Brian pulling a bank safe through the streets from the backs of their suped-up cars was like beautiful, action-packed poetry.

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Fast & Furious 6

Moreau: These people are like superheroes now, and their cars can withstand almost any gnarly crash. When Dom jumped out of his car across a highway to save an amnesiac Letty, I burst into applause from my couch. This movie finally stepped up the villain, too. Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw went after the one thing Dom holds more sacred than fast cars: his “Fast” family.

Viramontes: What I also love about the sixth film is that the franchise really zeroes in on the high-tech angle. Going as far back as the original, special gadgets have always been a vital component of the cast’s arsenal. But now, the cars themselves are high-tech weapons.

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Furious 7

Viramontes: If “Fast Five” is where the franchise establishes a core “Fast” family, then the seventh film is where they figure out the villains. Who better to take on Dom and his gang of street racers than a family who protects their own just as fiercely? Not only does director James Wan give Paul Walker a fitting farewell, he manages to deliver some of the franchise’s best action scenes.

Moreau: I knew this was Paul Walker’s final movie, and they sent off Brian in a heartfelt way that made sense for his character, who was beginning a family of his own and starting to settle down. All of the movies travel the globe, but this one really felt the most international. The forest chase in Azerbaijan and the Abu Dhabi skyscraper fight scenes were stunning. Plus, Hobbs rips his arm out of a cast and drives an ambulance over a predator drone. What’s not to love?

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The Fate of the Furious

Moreau: This movie hit a speed bump for me. Cipher’s grand plan of blackmailing Dom, stealing nuclear codes and hijacking a submarine felt like they were jumping the shark. Also, who decided Charlize Theron should have dreadlocks, and shouldn’t Dom’s son be older if he and Elena had a relationship back in “Fast Five”?

Viramontes: The death of Elsa Pataky’s Elena Neves falls right in line with Hollywood’s “fridging” trope, killing women characters to give the men something to do. It’s not uncommon for members of the “Fast” family to come and go between movies, but was there not a compromise that saw her walk away without being killed?

(from left) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw," directed by David Leitch.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw

Viramontes: Deckard Shaw’s shaky position in the “Fast” family notwithstanding, this entry lacks the heartfelt earnestness that defines the movies, and the jokes here feel centered in a meanness that clashes with the rest of the films. That said, the daisy chain of tow trucks that brings down Idris Elba’s helicopter fits right in alongside the series’ signature action set pieces.

Moreau: I actually saw this movie in 2019, and it sparked my interest in “Fast & Furious,” despite not knowing Hobbs’ and Shaw’s origins. I found the competitive banter and one-upmanship between the two macho characters to be pretty amusing, and Vanessa Kirby’s Hattie Shaw needs to join the main series in a sequel.

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“F9” and Beyond

Moreau: They say space is the final frontier, so I hope Dom and the crew go fully sci-fi and take a spin in some suped-up space cars. There could even be a villain who cracks time travel and the gang could go back in time. And finally, please give Dom’s baby a mini Dodge Charger.

Viramontes: The family has already traveled the globe, but the one place their adventures have never taken them is under the sea. It would also be a blast to see them infiltrate a high-stakes, luxury casino, like in “Casino Royale” or “Ocean’s Eleven.” And lastly, are we ever going to learn about Dom’s mother? There’s clearly fertile ground to uncover in the next films.