Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Fast Five’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

If you had told me when I initially saw the original The Fast and The Furious at age twelve that it would inspire a massive franchise, now dubbed The Fast Saga, I wouldn’t have believed you. Nevertheless, it did just that, spanning eight sequels and one spin-off (thus far). I’ll be racing a quarter-mile at a time from the beginning of this franchise to its current finish line of F9. Now we see what happens when these newly replenished roots begin to grow with Fast Five (2011)!

Getting the gang back together for Fast & Furious (2009) proved to be just the ticket as it brought audiences back to the franchise in earnest and money back to the box office. As a result, Universal reassembled the cast and crew for a sequel almost immediately after that fourth film’s release. Moreover, the studio decided to put the franchise on your standard two-year release cycle. (I’m sure Vin Diesel was thrilled about this as he was a co-producer since the previous installment.) Putting such a solid, continuing plan in place was evidence that The Fast Saga would be treated as one of their anchoring franchises along with the Jurassic movies.

With Fast Five, Universal, returning director Justin Lin, writer Chris Morgan, and company deliberately wanted to make this installment less of a street racing flick and more of a traditional action movie. Therefore, there are plenty of car-based action sequences in this sequel, but only one street racing set piece. Although, depending on who you ask, this expansion of scope into the traditional action genre was done at the filmmakers’ insistence and cast as opposed to the behest of the studio. Either way, I think everyone involved in this sequel knew that the tread on the tires of The Fast and The Furious formula might be wearing a little thin. Hence, we get something a little different for the movie in review:

After breaking Dominic Toretto (Diesel) out of a prison transport, the crew scatters to the seven winds. But, they’re all getting tired of the fast and furious life on the run. Moreover, lawman-turned-fellow-fugitive Brian O’ Conner (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) are expecting a child. For these reasons, the three reconvene and gather just about everyone from the previous pictures to pull off one last big job. But ripping off a corrupt politician/drug kingpin won’t be easy — mainly because he has almost all of Brazil’s law enforcement agencies in his pocket. As if that’s not enough to contend with, Diplomatic Security Service Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is hot on the crew’s trail and intends to bring them in!

Obviously, with that plot, the cars have been traded in for a fun Ocean’s 11-esque heist picture. Such a change in the direction and focus of this franchise threw me off a bit upon first watching this movie in the theater a decade ago. For a bit there, I missed the aforementioned formula this series had established. Then, before I knew it, I got sucked into Fast Five, which is essentially the perfect hybrid of a rapidly paced action flick crossed with a hangout movie. As soon as the cast comes together, the good time they’re having translates through the screen. Thus, Fast Five becomes a Franchise Expansion because it ties most of its previous character threads back together while evolving beyond its established focus to become a pedal-to-the-metal action flick.

In regards to bringing almost all the characters from the previous entries together, it’s important to touch on where the movie falls in the franchise’s continuity. Like its immediate predecessor, Fast Five is both a sequel and a prequel. Specifically, this fifth installment is a sequel to all previous installments with the glaring exception of The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), to which Fast Five is also a prequel. I know, this franchise’s continuity is on the brink of becoming as convoluted as its titles. Okay, now that I’ve cleared that up, it’s worth noting that the entire cast is terrific here. Heck, even Gisele, as played by Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman 1984), brings a little something to the table here.

However, there’s one guy who outshines everyone else on the screen every time he graces it with his presence. That’s right — I’m, of course, referring to Hobbs, as portrayed by Dwayne Johnson. According to Diesel, the role was initially written with Tommy Lee Jones in mind. But at the suggestion of fans, the part was then offered to Johnson instead. Sure, this story makes for a great promo piece, but I don’t buy much of it. As written, the character seems far too young and physical to be portrayed by Jones. Furthermore, I can’t see the veteran actor having much interest in playing another lawman chasing criminals after having perfected that character type in his Academy-Award-winning turn as Sam Gerard in The Fugitive (1993).

Instead, it just feels like Hobbs was written with Johnson rock-solidly in mind the whole time. Yeah, the character is about as cheesy as a good Philly sandwich, as is how the former wrestler-turned-actor plays him. But, you know what? As good as it is to have all these established characters on-screen together, Johnson as Hobbs is a helluva’ lot of fun. More importantly, though, he’s the fresh shot of energy the franchise needed as it becomes a full-blown, big-budget action franchise. What makes the inclusion of Hobbs even more entertaining is that you can feel the respective machismo of Diesel and Johnson competing when the two action heroes share scenes; a dynamic that will cause an issue behind the scenes down the line.

In the end, I’ll always feel a little torn in regards to Fast Five. On the one hand, it feels less like a Fast and Furious flick than it probably should. But, on the other hand, it still feels like a Fast movie while also being an action movie that’s just so good; it’s easy enough to ignore the absurd plot because things unfold in a very adrenalized fashion. I feel Lin made one of the best action movies of the 2010s — an even more impressive feat when you consider the lack of CGI used to supplement the practical stunts in the film. The approach used here is why we will see it maintained as the franchise becomes one of the only straight-up action genre franchises around!

Fast Five (2011) is available on all home video formats.

F9: The Fast Saga is now in theaters!

Next time, the gang’s all back again for Furious & Furious 6 (2013)

Looking Back A Quarter-Mile At A Time:

The Fast and The Furious (2001)

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Fast & Furious (2009)

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