Believe it or not, there is an emotional core to the Fast and the Furious Franchise. It’s the bromance between Dominic and Brian that really drives these movies forwards. (See what I did there?) 2Fast and Tokyo Drift showed us that just slapping characters in cars and having them race for absurd reasons like “honor” and “to win more cars” and “honeys” doesn’t mean anything if we can’t get behind the Point Break-like bromance between criminal and police officer. Which is why those two movies are so weak within the franchise themselves, they have destroyed the emotional core of the movies.
Essentially it’s Romeo and Juliet, but for guys and with far less killing.
The world didn’t really NEED a Fourth Fast and Furious movie when it was announced that Vin Diesel, reprising his role from Tokyo Drift and Paul Walker, inexplicably no longer opening a garage with his friend Rome from the end of 2Fast. But it was a reminder that the movie itself, which at this point was given three more chances to shine than other movies people were demanding more of… say Dredd or Firefly, which has active fan bases of people demanding more, rather than an executive saying… “Hey, that last movie did ok… let’s get Vin Diesel back.”
Sorry, mini-rant over.
The fourth movie starts simultaneously with a nod to where it had been before and with a bold new vision into the future of where the next four movies are going to take us: with a heist. Not just an heist, but with Dominic and his crew, last seen in the original movie, (Plus Han, connecting us to the previous movie) trying to take down a tanker full of Texas Tea… Black Gold… you know the stuff. After a wild chase that involves, ultimately, a tanker full of gas exploding, Dominic decides the heat is too much, and leaves his crew, not before Han leaves with a scene and a line that lets us know that soon he’ll be training a young Paul Walker stand-in, Lucas Black.
Meanwhile, Brian O’Conner is now working for the FBI, having had his name cleared at the end of the other movie, and with the FBI completely forgetting that having a clear name is fun and all, but he did go undercover and let the guy he was watching go, which is pretty much the only rule when you go undercover. Don’t let the guy you’re watching go. There isn’t another rule, other than that.
Anyway, Brian is trying to take down a drug dealer named Braga, but none of this is important because Dominic’s Girlfriend, Letty is murdered, thrusting him back into action and into the path of Brian, because it was Braga who was responsible. Fortunately, Braga just happens to be having a street race to see who is going to help him smuggle Heroin, and the FBI, forgetting the reason that Brian needed his name cleared to begin with, enters him in the race, along with Dominic. They race, Dominic wins and gets a chance to smuggle heroin (and get closer to Braga.)
It keeps going like this, but the shorter version: Letty was working with Brian to clear Dominc’s name, there’s more cool car races, they stop Braga, and then, shocker among shockers, the FBI lies and DOESN’T clear Dominic’s name (who Brian was going to let run, again) and the movie ends with Brian and Dominic’s crew (minus Han, who’s Tokyo Drifting) preparing to bust him out of prison.
Whew. That’s quite the journey. There’s a lot more plot in there than the previous movies.
This movie shifts us back away from the fancy cars and adventure into a more streamlined story about the bromance of Brian and Dominic. They start the movie apart, and back in their original roles. This movie is less a “sequel” to the previous three and more of a reboot that puts the pieces back into square one, while lightly acknowledging that several events occurred previously. By putting Han into the action and having him start out by leaving the group to start the events of the third movie, they’ are simultaneously putting those events in play for a future installment (more on that on my analysis of Fast 6) and the removal of Rome helps to eliminate the events of the second movie, for the time being. (He’ll show up again. Which is good, I like Tyreese Gibson) But this shifts the action back into where it belongs: the bromance between the two main characters.
Here we have a stripped down version of their relationship. No longer enemies, they are moving towards the same goal of taking down the drug dealer, albeit for different reasons. Brian, now emotionally invested because of Letty’s death, is once again caught in shifting loyalties, but we have a removal of the code that was present in the first movie for both parties: Brian is no longer torn because his identity is exposed, and Dominic doesn’t have a real crew to be loyal to, just his dead girlfriend. He even choses not to expose Brian during several opportunities, ostensibly because they can take each other down, but in the long run it’s no secret who Dominic is: he was pretty famous in the world of illegal street racing long before Braga came along.
This is never more evident as the two characters are slowly coming together. Really this movie could have chosen to have them meet up at the first race that was a proving ground for their driving skills. However, rather than focus on the car racing issue, the movie focuses by having them meet up in the apartment of a criminal, as their two opposing views come into play: Dominic is going to kill a man for not giving information, the same information that Brian needs to continue his investigation into Braga. At this point, Dominic doesn’t realize that Brian is trying to do the same thing, and they have the same goals, and his actions, essentially “bad cop” by dangling a guy out of the window, result in furthering both of their goals.
The movie also reminds us about the characters with some subtle cues early on. Brian, having joined the FBI, is first seen clad in grey, chasing down a street punk. As he starts to fall back into old patterns, re-ignited by the return of his old brofriend, his wardrobe shifts more and more to what we are familiar with, including the shoes he uses to press the gas pedals, which is why most of us are in the theatre. Dominic is first seen not wearing his usual street clothes, but is in a more formal button up shirt. Both characters start the movie literally “out of character” and it is not until they are reunited that they can become who they really are, and the characters we want to see.
In the end, though, we have a shift in loyalty as Brian once again risks it all for Dominic. Remember, though, it is the criminals who have always been loyal: Letty died trying to clear Dominic’s name by working for Brian, and it is the justice system that failed Dominic by failing to honor the code - the deal they made with Brian to free Dominic. Brian is attempting to make things right.
Tomorrow: The second movie is finally acknowledged, Letty’s true fate is teased, and… Can you smell… what the Rock… is Cooking?