I’ve been making my way through a rather quick marathon rewatch of The Fast & The Furious franchise. Partly because these were guilty pleasures in college (and in a way described certain points in my collegiate arc) and partly because supporting this franchise is a direct budgetary contribution to its sibling franchise, Riddick (aka Fast & Furious Space), which I care more about. [I claim that Riddick represents Fast & Furious Space both to point out that their budgets apparently are inseperable in the last few iterations and also because it’s something of a compliment to both franchises. The things both franchises do well are ultimately shared between the two franchises, and ultimately so are many of the faults in both.]
So the first three films of The Fast & The Furious describe a particular arc of my college experience. The first film (The Fast & The Furious) was an important movie of my Freshman experience. The second film (Too Fast, Too Furious or 2 Fast, 2 Furious) as an interesting undergraduate step between sophmore and junior efforts, and the third film (Tokyo Drift or The Fast & The Furious Tokyo Drift) was right on the border between my undergraduate and graduate experiences.
To be honest, Tokyo Drift was where I gave up on the franchise, the first time around, and a large part of why I’m curious to marathon the whole franchise and finally see what I missed since Part 3. Tokyo Drift felt like the quintessential “straight-to-DVD” death of the franchise and I have a hard time seeing how the franchise managed to make its way all the way to Seven entries. I’m curious to find out.
But I started the marathon with the three I already knew, and in doing so in a very fast weekend shotgun approach I feel like it is somewhat obvious where at least some of the flaws lay. Essentially, films one and two have a fairly straightforward three act structure. Let’s call it: RACE!, Car build/Character build, and Heist. Both films start with overly important races, lead into “car porn” car builds that happen to coincide with character building (and some additional racing), with finally a heist set piece for finale. (The differences between the first two films are primarily in the heist. The first film’s heist is subversive in that the nominal goal of the protagonist is to stop it and the implicit goal of the near-protoganists is to pull it off and yet neither succeeds, whereas despite its twists the second film has a much more straightforward heist.)
The obvious problem with Tokyo Drift, in marathon shotgun retrospect, is that while it delivers a good Act 1 (RACE!), with some subversions, and an okay Act 2 (Car build/Character build) with fewer subversions but somewhat more interesting honesty, it ends there! It’s missing it’s third act, according to the formula established in the first two films. Where’s the HEIST? The worst part is you clearly get the sense that even the writers knew they were missing it. The final scene (spoiler alert) brings in a much needed cameo of vin Diesel’s Dom and this is clearly the beginning of the Heist, but the movie ends there, as if on a cliffhanger that the writers clearly imagined might be resolved in a Tokyo Drift Part 2… which doesn’t end up happening. I’m very curious to see how four through seven deal with Tokyo Drift and that’s certainly a part of why I started this marathon in the first place.
(Aside: one other formula break in Tokyo Drift that leaves it feeling lesser and inferior a product is the trend of “featured rapper”. Film one uses Ja Rule to interesting effect and film two uses Ludacris to an awesome effect (who I am told returns in the series and whom has a great narrative role in the Forza Horizon 2 spin-off). Film three: Bow Wow’s under inspiring performance as token black guy in Japan. He does well with the material he has to work with, but that’s not saying much, particularly about the material of the script…)
So yes, the biggest problem, I think, with Tokyo Drift is that it feels like the disconnected prequel to some better film in the franchise. There’s a lot of build up of (the annoying) Sean’s character, but certainly not enough substance and more importantly based from the efforts of the franchise’s first two films no ultimate Heist and sort-of resolution. Anyway, the marathon will continue as I watch parts four through seven for the first time, and maybe I’ll have a few too many words on that subject as I journey into the modern iterations of the franchise…