Tuesday, February 24, 2015

In Asphalt, Nitrous, and Rubber: Fast & Furious (2009)

“I’m going to enjoy what happens next.”

Let’s get this out of the way: the title of the fourth movie in the series, Fast & Furious, is not a typo. They just dropped both “The’s.” And they did that because F&F may be a sequel, but it’s also intended in many respects to be a reboot. But it’s not. But it is.
            Basically, the movie doesn’t necessarily ignore the events of 2F2F per say, but it doesn’t exactly go out of its way to remind you they happened either (and Han’s brief appearance for the opening action marks TD as still in some future). Brain is an FBI agent now, because, as he explains/doesn’t explain, they recruited him. And they probably did something about his legal troubles, too. Whatever. How and why the FBI chose to overlook Brian’s fugitive time isn’t what we’re here for. F&F promised to return us to the saga of Brian and the Torettos.
            Brian’s skewompus path from LA cop to interstate fugitive car ronin to FBI guy is just one bit of weirdness done to return to that saga. We also have fugitive Dom leaving Letty because things are getting too dangerous (unrelated to the both of them nearly being pancaked by a tumbling tanker of gasoline in the previous scene, that’s just sort of a standard hazard), to hearing of her murder, to returning to the States seeking the truth in about three successive scenes, which is all very eventful. Also, he turns out to be a Sherlock for specific car-related scenarios, which is great. But whatever, it all still brings us back to where we wanted to be—Dom v. O’Conner, Criminal v. Cop, Muscle v. Import.
            And while we also return to the LA underground racing scene, there’s an intent to approach it with a more critical thematic eye. Where the first movie was in large part about the discovery of a secret world for the outsiders and the cast-offs, F&F highlights a critical issue in that secret world—it’s easy to exploit and even dispose of the residents. The villainous Braga knows drivers, the outcasts and the cast-aways can be killed, and no one with the power to do anything about it will be the wiser. Brian only is aware that Braga is a drug smuggler with a mysterious car-related invisible pipeline, he doesn’t know that the drivers are always murdered after a run, and presumably have been for years. For Dom’s part, the first dirtbag simply notes “This ain’t your scene anymore.”
            But then, there is a reason the secret world needed to exist in the first place. The first movie was a bit unclear on exactly why Brian let Dom go in the end (except that, like Bodhi, he’s just too beautiful a bird to be contained). While 2F2F posited a connection between this act and his history with Roman, here, when Mia asks for an answer, he admits he isn’t sure why he did it. In the end of F&F, however, Dom isn’t just at risk of containment, he’s betrayed and failed by the system. Systemic failure necessitated the creation of the secret world in the first place, but this particular failure isn’t one Brian’s willing to let stand.   
            All that aside, though, the question that still demands to be asked is if we wouldn’t be better off with F&F coming right after the original. Shouldn’t this movie be 2 Fast 2 Furious? The answer is: No, I don’t think so. I mean, for one, the series’ time in the wilderness yielded arguably its best movie (even if it also yielded its worst), and also, while not the series best, I do like the drug tunnel chases, which are only presentable with 2009 tech, and would have likely been garbage in 2003. Was it worth Carter’s weaksauce defeat to get Fenix’s glorious demise? Abso-fucking-loutely! But primarily, as I previously noted, expanded the universe, and that expansion starts paying dividends here. Small dividends, to be sure, mostly in that Han’s presence makes us go “Sweet, it’s Han! Dom really did know him!” But it’s a start.

I Laughed: Seriously, Fenix’s death. That’s how you dispatch a villain.

Soundtrack Lowlight: Nu metal was well and truly dead by this point, so the series started being mainly soundtracked with hip hop and reggaeton. From this the series draws a fair bit of its identity, and therefore, I’m retiring this bit.

Car This Not-Quite Car Guy Would Take: As a child of the 80s, I’m almost obligated to go with Tego and Rico’s Trans Am—KITT! The Knight Rider car! But I feel I have to commemorate the fact that for the first time in the series, the iconic O’Conner car, the Nissan Skyline isn’t painted like a fucking Slice can. It’s just blue. Blue is great. The Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R it is.

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