There are few properties that seem to have grown as organically as the Fast & Furious franchise. From its humble beginnings as a Point Break clone with street racing to taking down a submarine with vehicular warfare, there’s also no franchise that has grown so increasingly over-the-top without losing its core values. Every movie in the mainline series feels like it belongs (though some less than others) and comes with either a new character to root for or a change in the dynamic of Toretto’s “family.” That said, let’s go through all the movies and see how those changes and additions have fared for each in ranking this almost two-decade long franchise.
9. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
As an introduction to Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), 2 Fast 2 Furious offers very little substantive narrative for the series. It’s notable for being the worst film in the franchise, as well as for lacking an appearance by Vin Diesel. Dominc Toretto himself opted out of doing this sequel due to the quality of the screenplay, and instead did The Chronicles of Riddick. The bright spot of all this is that Roman and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are established as having plenty of history, which leads to subsequent sequels not having to rely on recent moments for characters to reflect back on.
It’s not all bad as far as movies go, but John Singleton clearly wanted a slice of Miami culture, and he tries his hardest to get it. There’s a lot to cringe at, and the film definitely hasn’t aged well, but despite its cash-grab appearance of rushing into a sequel without the lead, 2 Fast 2 Furious still has a moment or two worth remembering. The film also features a couple of stunts that feel at home in the franchise, including driving a car onto a yacht, and a ‘scramble’ sequence that has the police chasing two cars amidst an abundance of other street racers. It will be interesting to see if a character like Monica (Eva Mendes) ever makes a future appearance, because this series is all about mining its past.
8. Fast & Furious (2009)
Let me begin by saying that the Justin Lin-directed movies in this franchise are incredible pieces of blockbuster cinema. We wouldn’t even be at the point we are today if Lin and Chris Morgan didn’t start setting the series on its way with Fast & Furious. This entry brings together Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and Brian (Walker), as well as the rest of the crew, with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster). Along with characters that would later appear in Fast Five, including Shea Wigham and John Ortiz’s characters, the most important addition would be Gisele (Gal Gadot). She isn’t given a lot to do, but at least we have that little bit of establishing for the future movies to utilize.
Unfortunately, save for the early gas truck scene, Fast & Furious is underwhelming. John Ortiz is always fun, but as a villain he’s as by-the-book as they come as he forces Toretto and Brian into a generic sting operation. The movie has the unenviable task of trying to bring together the two leads after the events that transpired in the first film, reminding audiences of the chemistry they had while still maintaining distance between them due to their past conflict. It’s not an easy tightrope to walk, and it is unsurprising that the finished product is as boilerplate as they get.
7. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
While officially a Fast & Furious entry, this spinoff is not part of the main canon, and offers a sillier, less enjoyable deviation from the series. Starring Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the film dials further into the silliness than I think even Fast & Furious fans can abide by. It amplifies the cybernetic future that movies like Furious 7 and The Fate of the Furious have used as integral plot points, but the way it’s all handled feels so unearned. Two burly men think they’re the greatest at what they do and are never really taken down a peg when they face Brixton (Idris Elba), who also thinks he’s the greatest at what he does.
There are some good setpieces throughout, with Statham and Johnson having a lot of fun, but it’s just one of those movies that feels so removed from the franchise it spun off from that it feels kind of absurd to lure fans of the main series into seeing this. As our review suggested, this is a movie that might entertain those unfamiliar with the series, but it isn’t going to win over those already invested.
6. The Fate of the Furious (2017)
After the death of Paul Walker and the sincere goodbye that Furious 7 provided, the series needed to pull out all the stops. If anything, this is the most Fast & Furious entry. The melodrama is here in spades, and it also pits Toretto against his crew in order to save the one thing that matters most to him: family. Unfortunately, it also means turning his back on his original family, who are left in the dark as to why he’s gone rogue. This also means that the franchise is forced to do some shakeups in order to spread out the lead acting responsibility that was previously given to Diesel and Walker.
Due to behind-the-scenes fighting between Dwayne Johnson and Diesel, the two do not share scenes. Though Hobbs and Shaw get their great prison fight together, Hobbs and Toretto have no words for one another. Still, this movie is slightly entertaining, but only because of the main conceit that the crew has to go against Toretto and Cipher (Charlize Theron). Letty ends up with a good chunk of screen time, but her character simply can’t carry the load that Toretto can. Also, someone gave Roman more lines of dialogue (which is an absolute no-no, as he has had the perfect amount in prior films) and Scott Eastwood will never replace Paul Walker, as much as the series might try. But the set pieces in this are almost all great, so there’s that.
5. Furious 7 (2015)
It’s funny going back to this knowing that the series has essentially forgotten the fact that Deckard Shaw killed beloved drifter, Han (Sung Kang). Furious 7 opens strong, with Shaw out for revenge after his brother’s defeat in Furious 6. It continues strong with the addition of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), as well as fantastic set piece after fantastic set piece. The absurdity of God’s Eye (a piece of technology that allows whoever has it to see anyone, anywhere, at any time), the free reign that Toretto and crew have to stop Shaw and get God’s Eye, and every incredible action moment is what makes Furious 7 a really strong film. It’s also the first one since the second film that didn’t have Justin Lin directing, instead opting for one of the modern horror greats, James Wan.
If anything, the problem with Furious 7 is that it’s too much at times. The final car chase where they’re trying to stop God’s Eye remotely is only fun because of the banter — and it’s a stupid fun, for sure. Nevertheless, Furious 7 will always be enjoyed for dropping cars from the sky, pitting Toretto against Shaw for a final showdown (“The street always wins”), and the emotional sendoff of Brian’s character.
4. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
If the first movie gave us a glimpse into the world of street racing, and the second highlighted tuner culture, then Tokyo Drift is the glimpse into the drifting world of Japan. From the first race where speed is all that matters for Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), to the second race where he is utterly destroyed by DK (Brian Tee), this is not your average Fast & Furious movie. There are no characters already known, what we’ve learned of racing is thrown out the window, and we’re not even in America anymore. And yet, unlike Hobbs and Shaw, this still feels like a Fast & Furious film.
The third entry in the series marks Justin Lin and Chris Morgan’s first of many collaborations, as they fine tune the series to what it eventually becomes. Instead of the weight of an entire legacy of characters, they get to start small and keep things in their own bubble with a standalone sequel that maintains the melodrama of the franchise while diversifying the world of street racing. Tokyo Drift also introduces a new character for future iterations to love, Han Lue (Kang). The only complaint is about Lucas Black’s performance, which is unbearably annoying and sucks all the air out of a romantic subplot.
3. Furious 6 (2013)
Furious 6 fits well with Furious 7 due to its action-heavy plot, a companion piece that pits Toretto and crew against another team of highly specialized street racers. In enters Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), and the already complicated narrative of the Fast & Furious franchise expands from this point onward. Letty is back with amnesia after being presumed dead from the events for the fourth film, forcing the crew out of early retirement. Recruited by Hobbs to take down Shaw’s crew, the film turns into a distillation of Toretto’s “I don’t have friends, I’ve got family” mantra.
The set pieces are huge and tension-filled, showcasing tanks, cars with ramps built onto them, and the infamous absurdly long airplane runway. Furious 6 also features one of the few fight scenes that doesn’t involve cars, as Joe Taslim (known best for The Raid and The Night Comes for Us) takes on both Tyrese and Sung Kang’s characters, while Gina Carano fights Michelle Rodriguez’s character. There are double crosses and deaths, in addition to the post-credits scene that sees Deckard avenging his brother by killing Han — a moment that retconned Tokyo Drift’s events into taking place after all of the films before the sixth.
2. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
It all started here, and in a fairly different way than we know the series to be today. Brian is an eager young guy who just wants to be recognized by the street racing community, while Toretto runs a small cafe with his sister, Mia, that makes bad tuna sandwiches. It’s a time capsule in both its aesthetic and its plot (I mean, DVD players are being stolen, and this is a big deal in the world of this film), but the reason this film is so entertaining is that sweet, sweet bromance.
As Toretto and O’Conner become friends throughout the first thirty or so minutes, audiences soon realize that this isn’t just a movie about street racing — it’s a Point Break knock-off, and a damn good one at that. The way Brian struggles to keep both his passion for street racing and his passion for locking up bad guys is so adorable, especially when it all comes to a head in the film’s climactic set piece (which feels like the first truly Fast & Furious moment in the series). The way Toretto looks at Brian when he realizes that their friendship was a sham is heartbreaking for the characters, and might be Vin Diesel’s greatest piece of acting.
1. Fast Five (2011)
Home to one of the best set pieces in action cinema and setting the template for all future sequels, Fast Five is Justin Lin’s magnum opus. Centered around a heist against a very wealthy, corrupt man, the team is all here and they are firing on all cylinders. The film does a great job of understanding everyone’s role in the heist, as well as their roles in future films, and the camaraderie between everyone is both palpable and drives home the “family” component of the series that really gets fleshed out in this entry. The major introduction is Hobbs, who basically is the team’s gateway into working for the government, even though they spend this movie running from the police. But Morgan and Lin quickly establish corruption within the police force, which gives permission to a group of criminals like Toretto and crew to move between worlds relatively easily (it’s better to trust a criminal who says they’re a criminal than a criminal who calls himself a cop).
The action is always in service of the plot (which can’t be said about some of the other films, where it feels like the set pieces were created before the narrative). In Fast Five, we’re all building up to the big heist — and what a heist it is! Yes, the vault being dragged through a city doesn’t make a lot of sense, but what makes the sequence so incredible is watching each character fulfill their role in a very high-stakes action moment. There’s a base knowledge of physics that is barely applied to the vault being dragged by two cars, allowing for destruction that follows its own sense of logic, but regardless, Fast Five is the cream-of-the-crop for vehicular mayhem. It never loses itself in the action, because the action is merely a means to an end. Which is when this family excels.
‘The Kingmaker’ is a Probing Look at the Wife of a Despot
The Queen of Versailles, released back in 2012, was one of the best documentaries of the decade. Directed by Lauren Greenfield, it followed Jackie Siegel, the trophy wife of David Siegel, founder of the timeshare company Westgate Resorts. The film depicted the family’s construction of what was to be the largest residential home in the United States, which quickly went awry once the 2008 financial crisis hit their business hard. The documentary showed that Greenfield has a unique gift for understanding the lives and pathologies of the super-wealthy. Seven years later, Greenfield is back with The Kingmaker, another documentary portrait of a rich lady — one who, like Jackie Siegel, also had a cartoonishly evil husband and a weakness for both opulent residences and rare exotic animals.
The Kingmaker is a portrait of Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines from the 1960s to the ’80s. Imelda is known in the popular imagination as the supportive wife of that country’s dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for frequently meeting with world leaders, and for her extensive collection of thousands of pairs of shoes. This one is set on the other side of the world, but is just as instructive, not to mention entertaining.
Greenfield’s film catches up with the now 90-year-old Imelda, and depicts her life today as she luxuriates around her various estates, reminisces about late husband, tells stories about meeting with leaders from Reagan to Mao to Saddam, and pushes the political career of her son, known as Bongbong, who ran for vice president of the Philippines in 2016.
For the first half hour or so, The Kingmaker looks like an attempt to humanize and even rehabilitate Imelda’s image. She opens up about her mother’s death and her husband’s serial infidelities; he claimed he was constantly sending her around the world because he feared a coup, but really it was so he could conduct extramarital affairs.
We start to think this is, if not a puff piece, the equivalent of one of Errol Morris’ docs, where he gives a controversial political figure a chance to have their say while also challenging them.
But eventually things turn, and The Kingmaker lays out that the Marcos family had in fact engaged in massive human rights improprieties, from torturing political dissidents to rigging elections, to a scheme that entailed razing an entire residential area in order to build a zoo of exotic animals which were imported from Africa via bribes. Perhaps it was a clue early on when Imelda revealed how well she got along with the likes of Richard Nixon, Moammar Khadafy, Mao Tse-Tung, and Saddam Hussein.
The Marcos family also plundered billions from their own people, which paid for real estate all over the world, priceless art, as well as that famous shoe collection (The Kingmaker shows, among other things, that the Philippines could really use an Emoluments Clause.) What Imelda has to say now (she only ever refers to her husband as “Marcos”) makes it clear that she was not only complicit in the dictator’s crimes, but continues to defend and profit from them to this day.
And from what we see of the Marcos’ son, Bongbong, he’s a uniquely untalented and uninspiring politician who has inherited all of his father’s corruption, but none of his charisma. The Kingmaker also ties in with the modern-day politics of the country, as its current president, Rodrigo Dutarte, is shown as the true heir to the Marcos tradition, depicted as a Trump to Bongbong’s Jeb Bush.
The Kingmaker also recalls Joshua Oppenheimer’s great 2013 documentary The Act of Killing in the way it demonstrates how national myths are established and carried through the generations. We see schoolchildren reciting why the imposition of martial law was actually a moment of national glory.
Greenfield’s last film, last year’s Generation Wealth, was a big step down, lacking any focus and for some reason concentrating a great deal on people from the porn industry. But The Kingmaker is a return to form for the filmmaker, as it shows she’s honest enough to speak ill of her own subject.
‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past
Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.
After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.
The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.
The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.
However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.
A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.
Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?
The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.
‘Rojo’ is now available on digital formats from 1844 Entertainment.
‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire
Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.
Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous.
This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection.
Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom.
When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness).
These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us.
Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results.
Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.
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