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An intelligent action movie - be still my heart!,
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This review is from: Fast & Furious [DVD] (DVD)
I came to the F&F franchise late and unintentionally (see F&F5 review), having been disappointed by the usual "fare" in this sub-genre (and the blockbuster genre overall, to be honest). Maybe it's because I'm female (shock, horror) although I do know what e-diff and slip-diff are, but I get instantly bored with something that is just a montage of car chase/crash/explosion clips strung together without context, cohesion or connection. I can do that myself on my laptop without forking out hard-earned cash at a cinema or to buy a DVD of it.
It's always hard for sequel series/franchise movies or however you want to label them. Fans/viewers know perfectly well that the studio has no interest in us other than cash-cows to fleece (sorry to mix metaphors) of our hard-earned money so always approach the follow-on films with a degree of suspicion; "going to the movies" certainly isn't reasonable in terms of cost, I can tell you - and that's without having 2.4 kids pestering and whining for snacks, wanting to watch the 3D version with spectacles and the rest of it - and to then go and buy the DVD afterwards because we liked it that much, well...we expect a certain level of care and respect.
The further down the line you get from the original, the harder it gets to stay original, even if you do a derivative of the original (Puss in Boots from Shrek) or prequel it (Prometheus). For every Toy Story 3 and the Ice Age franchise and Star Trek: Into Darkness, there is a myriad of...Prometheus, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek4, Die Hard 5, Dark Knight Rises and so on that epitomize the phrase "you should have quit while you were ahead" or bluntly, "yes, you have hit rock-bottom, stop digging!"
F&F3 (Tokyo Drift) did so-so box office and was lacklustre enough that the franchise was clearly heading for straight-to-DVD land. A huge part of the potential for success for F&F4 was that the original central cast came back (the tagline was: new model, original parts), allowing for continuity and meaning that an established "universe" existed that could be built on rather than having to start from scratch and trying to get the audience into being interested - and one step further than that, actively care about the characters - all over again.
A big chunk of kudos goes to the writer, Chris Morgan (who has, quite rightly and sensibly, been retained as the writer for 4,5,6 and 7) who kept all the needed elements for the franchise: car chases/crashes/explosions/ stunts of varying degrees of loudness/HD colour/rapid motion, but he also gave F&F4 subtlety, irony, pathos, emotional depth and proper characterization, which is pretty amazing considering some studio suit was probably pestering him, "look: chase, crash, boom, chase, crash, gratuitous [and therefore offensive] pointless sex scene with lots of bare boobs close up, chase, cash, bigger boom. Money, money, money! What do you mean, telling a proper story!?"
In the series' internal chronology, F&F3 actually takes place after F&F6, but that's a technicality (since they didn't know at the time if any further movies would be made if F&F4 tanked). F&F4 picks up a few years after the events of F&F1 and F&F2, but follows on from that. What makes F&F4 a cut above are:
There is no Star Trek solution - unlike where the central cast make Lazarus look like a rank amateur and routinely come back from anything including total vaporisation to the sub-atomic level - Letty is murdered. Full-stop. It isn't a mistake; there isn't a feel-good get out clause (unconscious Jane Doe/in a coma) at the end or post-credits. This gives the movie its emotional power, its pain, its angst.
There is sex-appropriate behaviour: when a misandrist left-wing "feminist" explained to my great-grandaunt the concept of "equality between the sexes" (by which she meant preferential treatment), my great-grandaunt (former suffragette) looked her up and down and barked, "Men are apples, women are oranges; to criticise one for not tasting like the other is the definition of lunacy, my girl." I've never forgotten that and nothing drives me away faster from "page, stage or [big or small] screen" than movies that have been beaten into submission by the bigoted doctrine that is Political Correctness, a nonsensical visual where men notice pastel colours, clothing, hairstyles and accessories and talk about their feelings and the non-white/non-Christian man is always a living saint never the evil bad guy and so forth and you can practically see them cringing as they utter the crap or being strapped down screaming and having the manliness and masculinity sucked out of them via I/V before they're allowed in front of a camera...
In F&F4 Dom, Brian, etc., - they are grieving, angry, vengeful - and it is dealt with in appropriately masculine ways by bristling, snapping, snarling, punching and yet always having each others' back and flank. Its subtle bromance without being as knowingly tongue-in-cheek as the TV series Hawaii Five-O - Season 1 [DVD] nor as pretentiously pseudo-philosophical as Point Break [DVD]. Not a bro-hug or "maddle" (man-cuddle) in sight, thank you, thank-you, thank-you. There are situations in which violence is the answer, or at least makes you feel better, and if you or your loved one are the victim of the wrongdoing, your opinion is the only one that counts.
Finally, there is context: I work in a stressful, sensitive career where I routinely hear foul-mouthed wastes of oxygen screeching and my eyes are assaulted by people who wear handkerchiefs with delusions of grandeur over grotesquely skeletal or fat tattooed flesh. I do not wish to pay my good money to sit through 90 minutes of the same. F&F4 has bad words but they are in context, and skimpily clad females/nice eye-candy muscle-tone but there is no litany of verbal filth like in Die Hard 3, where Willis and Jackson come across as if their mouths were a burst raw sewage pipe, or pointless misogynistic sex scenes - even the physical fights are in context and not gratuitous.
There is also the fact that Morgan has been careful to interweave continuity and connection to make the story flow to match Vin Diesel's apparent aim for a 3-chapter visual novel, if you take 1 as chapter 1, 2 as chapter 2 and 4 as chapter 3 (ignore Tokyo Drift for now). For example in F&F1, Brian abandons Mia (and Dom) to protect them; although in the story Dom and Brian have a big fight about several things including this fact, Chris Morgan points us in a nicely understated way to the subtle irony that the whole outplaying of this movie F&F4 stems from the very fact that in the beginning Dom does the same thing to Letty that Brian did to Mia (and him) but Dom can't see that. It is the eternal protest, "but that was different!" And there is also the angst quotient - O'Connor has to make a choice between (sorry, Harry Potter quote) doing what is right or what is easy in a situation each of us could believably face.
And of course, F&F4 does work as a standalone if you stop the DVD at the right point, so if you decided F&F5 really isn't your thing, you can take 1-4 as the complete "story" trilogy;, but it deserved to do as well as it did at the box office and showed that handled in the right way, the franchise could go on. Although it is a "street race" movie its a definite cut above the rest of the genre, and worth a watch by a wider audience that includes those of the XX-Chromosome like me and those who don't know a dipstick from a yardstick.
(NB - differential is what enables cars to go around corners, so, yes, up there on the "is it important?" scale)