Friday, January 30, 2015

In Asphalt, Nitrous, and Rubber

A new year means a new project to work through when I’m not caressing creative work, a survey to undertake and reflect upon. What shall this survey be? Perhaps I ought go to the other end of the spectrum from Miyazaki, eh? In this age of ultra-franchise, mayhap I should look to one of those? And perchance it should be one I love, and yet many who know me find that love confusing? Yes, you are cordially invited to join my ridiculous, longwinded study of The Fasts and the Furiouses.

More than once, it’s been assumed my F&F love is a joke. And I’m not going to deny there isn’t an ironic element to my adoration, but can something be a joke and genuine at once? Life, especially a life lived a quarter mile at a time, is often about containing those contrasts. But it is a contrast that can be tough to reconcile. I’m not a gearhead, though a friend has asserted that enjoying these movies does actually make us Car Guys. And I think that’s actually the case, because while I’m not encyclopedic on makes and models and I’m not much a one for tuning, I do like and admire cars, though my local area being fond of blandly utilitarian sedans and SUVs and old cracker luxury cars doesn’t give me much of an opportunity. But, I have six proudly curated fake garages in GTA Online, so clearly I have an itch that needs scratching somewhere.
            One thing I for sure and for certain am, however, is a car chase guy—I like speed, momentum, kineticism, and real stunt work, which are increasingly rare in this age, as more and more films climax with a huge CG attack on a major city. I also like comic-esque continuity universes, lovable rogues and outsiders, expansive casts, crime stories and heist stories, secret worlds, hand-to-hand fights, and people with skills they’ve developed. And you know what, I sometimes like unearned portentousness, and silly charming gravitas.
            I also happen to like video games, the aesthetic of which I think F&F has best integrated. Usually when we say “video game aesthetic” in relation to a movie, we’re taking about some bloated CG sequence, a weightless climax that feels like a boss fight more than anything, or a quest structure built on collecting items. Here, though, I mean a sense of appealing, adolescent amoral escapism, and a flair for awesome and improbable sequences. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the climax of Fast & Furious 6 is a lot like the climax of Full Throttle, nor that it looks like in Furious 7, Brian O’Connor will find himself in a predicament much like one Nate Drake faced in Uncharted 2.
            As an aside, I think GTA would be well served by being more F&F and less faux-Michael Mann burdened with dorm-level satire.
            There is also a joyful escalation of awesomeness in the movies, an obvious need from everyone involved to top what came before in clever, inventive ways. From assembling the ultra-team (we may heap acclaim on Disney/Marvel’s acumen in making standalone movies leading to the giant team-up, but F&F pioneered the form), to bringing in The Rock, then both Gina Carano and Joe Taslim of The Raid: Redemption fame, to now Tony Jaa and, of course, this summer’s great promise, Chev “Crank” Chelios himself, Jason Statham oh my god The fucking Transporter versus The F&F crew fuckin’ A dude!!
            Ahem. Anyway. In the eternal race to give the audience More, it’s great that some think that doesn’t have to be a bigger CG attack on a bigger city.
            So join me, if you will, as I NOS my way through The Fast and the Furious series in release order (not in continuity order, yes such a thing does exist, and yes, it is important). Fortunately, not being at the whim of Disney’s stingy release strategy, it’ll go much faster. No pun.

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