So I'm definitely exhausted and have WAY too much work to do, but it's definitely POP CULTURE ESSAY TIME. Spoilers for the entire franchise to follow.
Let me get this out of the way immediately: I unabashedly adore the Fast/Furious Saga. I hate that it's called a 'Saga' without irony. I hate that it's this swelling, stunt-casted behemoth of a cinematic monstrosity.
And more than anything, I hate that it might be the most brilliantly written and devised slice of modern cinema in decades.
Today is the absolute highest of holy days in my cinematic landscape. No, I don't mean the release of Stagecoach- the original, over-the-top vehicle based action film from 1939. I'm obviously talking about the release of the Fast X trailer. While I know Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane are important in the 'kino' landscape, and while David Lynch himself is generally considered a master of absurd-surrealism- none of the above can contend with the brilliant, absurd or surreal that is this modern franchise.
Clocking in at Ten. God. Damn. Movies, this series of popcorn films has firmly established its willingness to be over the top. But I have five key observations about them that I think actually make them not only GOOD (subjective) but possibly (subjectively) BRILLIANT.
1) They are not too serious. This is usually trotted out as a "turn your brain off" kind of phrase when discussing modern film-going, but I actually don't think that applies here. I genuinely don't think these are mindless movies. They aren't filled with plot inconsistencies. They don't make dumb decisions and handwave the absurdity. It acknowledges its absurdity. Too often we view high concept cheese as insta-BAD. But the parts of cheesy movies that we hate are usually because the high-concept nonsense is utilized in a slapdash manner to explain in-world inconsistencies that we often wrongly attribute to plot failures.
But you can't call these plot failures here- the film understands its super-hero-level existence. The writers understand that these characters exist as near-gods (gods who genuinely care for each other, and the world around them, despite being rogues and scoundrels) in their own realm of storytelling. They achieve and often exceed exactly what they set out to do. And I think this is because:
2) The writing is twisting and complex, with a spanning narrative, and brilliant application of retroactive continuity that strengthens the existing narrative while actually having PAYOFF instead of just undoing mistakes. And when it is employed to undo mistakes, it feels earned instead of cheap.
It adheres to the rules of writing so well that it becomes a study in film theory. Chekov's Gun is observed, applied, eschewed and shot at the viewer in epic fashion. Three-Act-Structure is a spine that the film rips out and replaces with cyborg parts and nanotechnology.
3) They are shot meticulously, and with serious technical skill. We've loved big budget garbage films for decades, and a lot of these films are held up in the highest possible regard. James Cameron has built an entire career on making films that are effectively genre garbage that manage to stand the test of time due to characters, storytelling or iconic casting- and I believe the Fast Series delivers the same results in a far more crowd-pleasing way that also manages to not be downright condescending to its audience. An audience, mind you, that encompasses EVERYONE:
4) They are diversely cast films, that ignore commentating on the prospect with characters defying racism, sexism, bigotry against most protected groups, and even ageism. Featuring female-fronted action stars, past what is considered their Hollywood prime, doing stunts, fighting, shooting- kicking ass and NOT being distressed-damsels. Treating them like CHARACTERS and not answers to market research. [Note: I won't excuse some earlier gay panic in the series. Simply can't do it. The earlier 2000s-era films were a little less open-minded, but what is worth congratulating is that these flicks shifted with the social landscape without ever congratulating themselves, or using it as a marketing method and that's fucking rad.]
It creates a hopeful feeling, as opposed to dire, self-congratulatory bullshit like we get from Disney. And on the subject of hopeful:
5) They are films rooted in positivity and caring for each other. We love Dragon Ball for how Goku consistently befriends his worst enemies, and grows through the power of his shared family. But we laugh at Dom Toretto for doing the same thing. Both series, while suffering from some SEVERE POWER RAMPING, both understand that the strengths of its characters are the strengths of their support.
In summary? Fast Rules. It's big. It's dumb. It's cheesy. But I'm fucking JAZZED that it exists.
Okay back to work now.
- Alex // RGC