Last weekend marked the release of the eighth film in the Fast & Furious franchise, Fate of the Furious. It broke box office records, beating out Star Wars: The Force Awakens to become the highest grossing global opening in history. However, I didn't see it. Why? I didn't have to. The even numbered films in this franchise are always trash. Let me explain.
Let's start at the beginning. The Fast and the Furious was a truly innovative film, one that brought underground street racing culture and the idea that the people involved are a 'family' to a wider audience. That single film also did more than any in recent memory to advocate for car culture. It may also have been responsible for the meteoric rise of Toyota Supra values as well as making it nearly impossible to find an unmodified Mitsubishi Eclipse anywhere in the county.
Naturally, that called for a sequel, the horribly named, and just plain horrible 2 Fast 2 Furious. This film didn't have Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), which is its first issue. It also started the problematic path of the film's stars getting the promise of the government clearing criminal records so that street racing can bust huge crime syndicates, something that totally happens daily in the world's police forces. It made a yacht full of money, but it was a garbage movie.
That means hopes weren't high for the third installment, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. They should have been. Tokyo Drift, which is the third film in the franchise but takes place between film six and seven, is fantastic. No, there is no Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and barely any Vin Diesel (he's uncredited and makes a brief cameo), but that doesn't really matter. It's a great look inside drifting and Japanese car culture. It might actually be the best movie in the entire franchise.
Fast & Furious, the fourth film, somehow has Brian back with the FBI and Toretto is hijacking tankers in South America. Dom's girlfriend Letty is murdered and was haphazardly revealed to be working for Brian and the FBI. The return of the original cast was problematic, at best, a mess at worst.
Thus, the pattern was established. The next movie would likely be good, but should I see it in the theater and risk two hours of disappointment? I thought not. So I stopped seeing any and all F&F films in theaters, only watching them when I deemed the time right, which mainly meant when they were on cable or I was on a plane. It proved to be a smart decision.
Fast Five introduces Dwayne Johnson/The Rock (good or bad, depending on how you feel about The Rock) as Luke Hobbs, a government agent who takes a liking to the gang and the film has more outlandish, impossible scenes. It's also the movie that became more of an Oceans 11 sort of series that uses fast cars instead of George Clooney. That doesn't make it less fun to watch (this one is actually good!), but it does make car culture more of a tangential element than a core facet of the movie.
Fast & Furious 6 is like Fast Five, but less believable and less fun. Letty come back from the dead (presumably because Michelle Rodriguez wanted to make more money on the franchise?) and has amnesia, so, of course, she's now a villain who feels conflicted about everything. Dom and Brian make yet another agreement with the government for the team to clear their criminal records (how often does this happen? And why do they keep getting records?).
Then there's Furious 7. Brian and Mia are settled down with kids. The gang tries to live normal lives. But they can't do that, no sir. They get roped back in to a wild lifestyle. They go to Abu Dhabi and jump a Lykan Hypersport from building to building. It's unbelievable to think that people who were street racers in Southern California just a few years earlier are suddenly the US's first choice for international espionage and defence, but somehow it works?
Paul Walker also died in the middle of filming Furious 7, which required rewrites and workarounds to finish the film and effectively write his character out of the series. The tribute to Walker at the end of the film was touching and a very tasteful sendoff.
As of this writing, I have not seen Fate of the Furious per my earlier discussed policy of how I now watch these movies, but judging from what friends have said, reviews, the trailer, and the rule I shall now call the "Odd Numbered Furious Decree", it sounds like my instincts are correct. I won't put any spoilers in here, but this seems more F&F6 than Tokyo Drift, and that's a shame.
Hopefully they keep proving me right and F&F9 (Fine Furious? Nine Fast?) will be insanely good.