The year was 2001, and a new movie called Fast & Furious premiered with mixed reviews. The movie was actually intended to debut a new teen heartthrob and megastar in Paul Walker, but Vin Diesel – whose real name is Mark Sinclair – was a crowd favorite and unexpectedly stole the show; it spring-boarded his career, much to the surprise of Universal Pictures. The movie was mostly for young people whose disbelief was easily and graciously suspended, and who generally don’t care about details; instead, lime-green Hondas with body kits and dual exhaust would more than suffice. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and it was the most fun action movie I’d ever seen.
Over a decade later, it still is.
Love it or not, the Fast & Furious franchise is the defining action series of my generation. Introducing us to the fictionalized world of underground street racing, the series speaks to the hearts of pubescent teenagers who love cars but don’t own one, love sex but don’t have it, and love action but spend their days doing schoolwork. It has its problems – its biggest being that it’s objectively terrible – but they don’t matter. The didn’t matter then because we were young, and they especially don’t matter now. The reviews, plot holes, acting – none of that matters when nostalgia is the lens through which you view something.
We grew up with Furious. Keep your Die Hard‘s and Lethal Weapon‘s – even Terminator doesn’t sync the same with 1985-born me. For some of us, Fast & Furious struck the timing of our lives just right, like a precision driver drifting a corner. I grew up with this action series the same way I grew up with American Pie as a comedy. I was in high school when Jim was learning about sexuality; I was in college when the gang spent a summer on Lake Michigan after their freshman year; I was watching American Wedding the same weekend as my friends were getting married. I was living in Tokyo the first time I saw Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Not only were the movies popularized in our formative years, we also grew up with the actors who portray their characters. Vin Diesel was a relative nobody before this series made him a movie star. He was 34-years-old when the franchise started, and now, at the age of 47, he’s a household name and a few years shy of “looking good for his age.” Paul Walker is the most outstanding example because we saw the entire arc of his career, all the way back to when he said, “Dude, I almost had you.” If you watch the Paul Walker tribute you’re not just seeing him grow up, you’re seeing you, too.
Even the late additions coincidentally had anchors in my teenage years before being cast in the series. When Tyrese Gibson was introduced in 2 Fast 2 Furious I saw an R&B singer with 3 albums to his name who was the actor having dance-offs with Usher on the “My Way” music video. He had 2 movie credits to his name, Love Song and Baby Boy. Dwayne Johnson was the reigning WWE Champion when Fast & Furious first premiered. Let that thought sink in – he was still The Rock, the most popular character in wrestling, probably back when most of us loved it most. He would get his first shot at anchoring a film in 2002’s The Scorpion King, when everyone was critical whether this goofball wrestler could be a “real” actor. And can you forget Chris Bridges? Ludacris’ early-2000’s discography included Back for the First Time and Word of Mouf, and was exactly what you were listening to in the years you came to know Furious. Word of Mouf‘s song Growing Pains says it well: “just to reiterate, dog, those was the days.”
The beauty of Furious is that it never tries to be “good.” It does the opposite by being unabashedly bad. Its over-the-top antics, exaggerated portrayals of archetypes, and raise-the-bar action sequences don’t feign thoughtfulness or depth, but simply ask the question “what would be the most fun.”[quote_right]”Furious exceeds expecations by exactly meeting them.”[/quote_right] The movies do exactly what the audience expects and make them the grownup equivalent to cartoon formulas like Voltron or Sailor Moon. There’s practically no way you can spoil a Furious sequel, because if you’ve seen even two of the movies you can likely predict the outcome of each scene in the following movie. And it’s great because they want you to.
In Furious 7, Hobbs sees the war going on outside his hospital window, and looks down at his full-arm cast. You know he’s going to flex, rip it off, and join the fight. There’s a scene with a drone and a helicopter shooting at the team. You know they’re going to crash cars into them. You know, they know, and they know you know. Furious exceeds expectations by exactly meeting them. Enjoying Furious is based on the excitement of “They’re gonna do it! They’re gonna do it! Yes, they did it!” That’s why the series succeeds – it’ll always give you what you want, no surprises.
The Fast & Furious franchise can go on forever, long overstaying its welcome with most moviegoers, and I hope it does. To a generation of fans who grew up with street racing – despite never having seen one in real life – this series reminds us how we felt as teens, the crazy things we loved, and the silly things we valued. They’re memories worth cherishing, and every 2 years we can relive them in a movie theater. Dom’s words will never ring truer:
“Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.”
Except we get more than 10 seconds. We get a full 2 hours to spend with some familiar friends. Did I say friends? I meant family.