After Hobbs & Shaw, a definitive ranking of the Fast & Furious films
The Fast and the Furious franchise is, in many ways, like a soap opera. It didn’t start this way, but it most certainly has transformed into one. It’s the rare film franchise that we’re willing to forgive for its stupidity. And as anyone who has witnessed the sight of parachuting cars can tell you, it is dazzlingly dumb.
This is quite the achievement, because we all know how easy it is to nitpick. For instance, while we break out our pitchforks every time Salman Khan arrives on screen with his bracelet dangling from his wrist, deliberately mocking the idea of what is real and what isn’t, we look the other way when Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson insists on wearing his beloved Under Armor, regardless of what film he is in, or what character he is playing.
We’re willing to accept bonkers leaps in logic, such as a man racing a nuclear submarine; a guy flying without the help of any special suit; or even pulling an airborne chopper with his arms and nothing else. We’re willing to forgive Jason Statham for killing the greatest character in the history of film - the potato chip connoisseur Han - and totally fine with him being introduced as a hero in the very next film. And most tellingly, we’re absolutely OK with a character who had died in the most violent fashion - Letty - being resurrected just in time for the gang to get back together.
We’re fine with watching big, bald men display toxic masculinity on (and off) the screen, while deftly shielding their fragile egos in public. No kidding, a recent Wall Street Journal report claimed that Johnson, Diesel and Statham all have clauses in their contracts which dictate how badly they can be beaten (up) on screen.
It is a magnificent magic trick - convincing audiences around the world to take a franchise whose two biggest stars are called Diesel and Rock seriously. And if Hobbs & Shaw is anything to go by - it’s the first film in the series to have a bonafide robot as its villain - things are only going to get more ridiculous from here on out.
And so, here’s taking a stab at ranking the Fast & Furious franchise, from worst to best.
2 Fast 2 Furious
The second film in the franchise was - appropriately for a film franchise that has been defined by legal wheeling and dealing - borne out of a contractual dispute. After the surprise success of the first film, Diesel was offered a staggering $25 million for the sequel, but he wasn’t satisfied by how his character was shaping up. At least that’s the official account. The end result is a film that couldn’t help but feel rushed and compromised.
The Fate of the Furious
By now, the franchise had fully embraced its newfound madness. It was attracting Oscar-winners willy nilly, while nailing them to scripts that included the hacking of people’s minds, and the above mentioned race with a nuclear submarine. The eighth film in the franchise was a disgusting display of excess, and a pitiable example of a series being overwhelmed by its own legacy.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Hobbs & Shaw is the sort of movie in which the plot takes a backseat in favour of quips and hijinks. Like most previous instalments, it is also the result of behind-the-scenes drama. Convinced that they were being overshadowed by each other, Diesel and Johnson had a falling out on the sets of the eighth film, and it was decided by the studio to keep them at an arm’s length from each other. In the end, the first (official) spin-off of the franchise can’t help but feel like a parody of itself, all flexing but no finesse.
The Fast and the Furious
Having rewatched the first film recently, I immediately understood why it became a runaway hit in the summer of 2001. The actors were fresh-faced and energetic, the plot was uncomplicated, and the action was novel. The film had a very distinct sense of place - South Los Angeles - and despite its many faults, it stuck to the core of its values in a very seamless manner.
Fast & Furious
While Fast Five is (falsely) credited with having reinvented the franchise, this distinction must in fact go to the fourth film, which distanced itself from the street racing roots of the franchise, brought back all the original stars, and pushed the series in the direction down which it is going now.
Fast & Furious 6
The sixth film in the franchise was sort of the Fast & Furious equivalent of the Avengers - a film that united the vacillating series’ different offshoots for an action experience that remains unparalleled, to this day. The final set piece has been massively mocked online, but it perfectly captures the essence of what makes these movies so enjoyable, and doubles up as a showcase for director Justin Lin’s talents as an action filmmaker.
When you think about it, the fact that director James Wan managed to turn in an excellent film is a minor miracle, considering the odds that were piled up against it. But even less is written about the fact that he managed to turn in a film at all. Wan was not only struck by the sudden death of star Paul Walker, but by the immense responsibility of completing his job, and doing it in a manner that wasn’t seen as disrespectful. He succeeded on every front.
A direct follow-up to Fast & Furious 4, the fifth film injected the franchise with fresh energy, mostly in the form of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. It came during a time when The Rock sort of made a name for himself in the industry for greatly improving several franchises’ dwindling fortunes simply by lumbering into them. But in addition to The Rock, the fifth Fast & Furious movie also has the greatest action set piece of them all - the bank vault chase sequence set in Rio de Janeiro
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
While The Rock and Vin Diesel argue about the decision to delay Fast & Furious 9 in favour of Hobbs & Shaw, I propose a counter argument: Hobbs & Shaw wasn’t the first spin-off of the series at all. That title must indisputably go to the third film, Tokyo Drift, which remains, to this day, the most egregiously under appreciated instalment of the franchise. It took the story to a whole new setting, introduced new characters, established its own identity while accomplishing a key thing that Hobbs & Shaw did not. It chose to honour the franchise’s legacy, instead of obnoxiously turning its back on it.