Fast & Furious
Justin Lin picks up the franchise once again in the fourth outing called Fast & Furious, after directing The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the third film in the franchise that only featured Dominic Toretto, aka Vin Diesel, in the closing few moments of the film as a reference to the other films. Fast & Furious could be seen as a return to what the strengths of the franchise are, and those strengths are in the leads and their relationships together. That's Diesel and Paul Walker who plays Brian O'Conner, and the supporting cast of Michelle Rodriguez as Letty and Jordana Brewster as Mia Toretto.
The question is does the film manage to recapture the strengths of the original Fast & Furious and return the franchise to form?
That's followed by the reappearance of Brian who is now back working for the FBI and he's working on a team who are trying to break into a drug running operation that's using cars to transport goods across the border from Mexico. When the time comes he'll be up for driving undercover for the bad guys.
Dom's plans aren't going so well though, the authorities are after him and it's getting too dangerous for him, his crew and his friends. so he abandons the operations and sends everyone their separate ways, including Letty.
Time passes and Dom is called back to the U.S. for reasons he just can't say no to. One of his friends has been murdered and he's going to find out who did it. That's where he and Brian cross paths once again, because his friend happened to be drug running for the same man that Brian's FBI team are trying to take down, and that's where they cross paths and reluctantly join forces once again.
The first thing that you notice about the film is that it looks really slick, there's bags of style in the opening action sequence and plenty of attitude from the characters, and this first action sequence is pretty special to see. Dom is indeed back with a bang. However it isn't all fantastic, there's a huge amount of CG used in this sequence and in some of the latter parts it shows, even on the small screen, and there's a fair amount of CG throughout the film.
This first scene really piles it on though, and the sequence with the rolling tanker seems just a little too much and pushes the realism straight through the sunroof way too soon. I feel that this opening sequence should have remained totally practical and just concentrated on the truck and the crash, no need for the over the top flaming tanker dodge.
Another big action sequence, the tunnel driving one, sees us return to CG racing. Here I wasn't sure how much was CG, although I think on a big screen it would be much more apparent. Here though it blends in much more with the action and it's far less noticeable. However I do wish that there was much more of practical racing and stunts and CG was only used for some cool camera movements betwee cars, that kind of stunt is much more appreciated in the audition race which seems filled with practical racing, although there's far too much CG in the traffic guidance system that they use, employing swooshing 3D animation and a sexy voice with tons of attitude and words that I just wish mine new.
The rest of the action in the film is good, although sometimes it is hard to follow on the small screen. That said I did check with a friend who had seen it on the big screen and said the very same thing about the action.
The cars, the second most important part of the the franchise are there again, but there's much less focus on them as individuals and personalities, and that's something I was a little surprised by. On the one hand it is pushing the film towards the action adventure genre to appeal to more fans, coming away slightly from the car based action. I think this is the wrong direction for the film to take. The main characters lose their connections with their cars. Where previously they were an extension of their own personalities and carried ones of their own, it seems that the leads are always changing their cars at the drop of a hat for what the moment requires.
What this does is make it feel a little more real, and the main cars are there for the beginning but are wrecked and passed over quite quickly. Yet I can't help but feel that it's distancing itself a little too much from the rest of the Fast and the Furious franchise, it was heavily about the cars and their personalities, in a way they were actors in the film too, but not here. They have moments, but they aren't the big stars that they were. They're just ways to get the main characters to what they want.
Still, that works well. I actually like the idea that they are trying to build up the story and concentrate more on the characters than the cars. Yet they cannot forget them, that's what the franchise is about after all. I think though Fast & Furious is stronger for it, turning to the characters behind the cars and returning to the strengths, the three original cast members and their relationships.
Dom and Paul, aka Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, work well together again and it actually is a good feeling to see the pair of them teamed up again. The relationship makes for a good part of the film, as does the relationship with Walker and Dom's sister, the rekindling of which is a nice return to the original. What is good is that when Dom is presented with the opportunity of a stunning love interest, one that is very receptive to him and would present a perfect opportunity for the average Hollywood story, so it's great when he turns the opportunity down.
It's a clever move by the writers to concentrate on the strengths of the series, and particularly these characters and their relationships. However there's still enough influence from the Hollywood side of things and it does hurt the film despite all these good intentions.
Each of the characters have to forgive each other in some way for past wrongs, Dom and Brian, Brian and Mia, and Dom with himself, however these important scenes in the character development, and indeed in the movement forward of the story from The Fast and the Furious, are mishandled and edited down so hard that they just don't work. The characters seem to forgive each other all too quickly and almost instantly forget their past issues, and they are huge issues.
I can understand what they were doing, moving the action forward as quickly as possible, but even in Fast and Furious the tensions between the characters were built further and kept going throughout the film. Here they are quickly brushed off with to deliver the brand new story.
However it's a great story for the characters to get back into, and they get back into it well for the most part, and even these hurried development moments aren't that bad as you get swept along with the fast pace of the film.
Apple iTouch widescreen
This is the first real action based film that I've watched on the iTouch, and I'm suitably impressed. The picture follows the action perfectly and there's no sign of the device or the screen not being able to keep up with the fast changing picture, or even when the action in the darker sections of the film. During some of the darker scenes the highly reflective screen of the iTouch does become a little distracting, but the film soon has you pulled back in and it does cope with the dark tones perfectly well, unlike many huge LCD screens.
Stereo, Apple iTouch with Sony embedded earphones
During the action sequences the sound really does push the stereo well. It has a strong level of bass for the sounds of the car and directional movement is good for action speeding around the camera. Everything is perfectly clear and does seem to stretch what is available on a pair of stereo headphones.
Fast & Furious is a return to what made the franchise in the first place, and something more. Here they are concentrating more on the characters and relationships and less on the cars, but someone should have told the editors that before they chopped down the more important scenes where the lead characters resolve their long standing issues.
Still, it plays out well, and provides for plenty of action along the way. Although the cars have been relegated in this film there's still plenty of car based action and a lot of it remains practical despite a number of sequences carrying quite a bit of CG.
I do miss the signature cars a little, and I did wonder why a mid-life crisis Porsche was featured, but Fast & Furious makes me want more from these characters and the franchise. They have set the series in an interesting direction, and it could be that if they keep the characters going we could see a couple more strong films to the franchise, something I wouldn't mind at all.