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The Fast and Furious: From Downtown LA to Russia with Love

The Fast and the Furious is a high octane franchise about sexy woman, tough guys, fast cars and lots of showboating. Starting in Los Angeles, the series was geared towards underground street racing and an undercover cop who was sent in to infiltrate the ring and bring it down from within.

However, over time as the series has progressed it's become more preoccupied with the world of espionage, taking on Bond-sized missions with a similar knack for over-the-top action sequences. Maybe it was because they had reached the seventh film, which signaled 007. Or perhaps when a film series has had so many sequels it entered a new realm where blockbusters don't have to make sense anymore. Apparently, checking a few boxes and adhering to the same formula gives you the freedom to go big and then go bigger. Having never cared about having a uniform title or having gone with classic number plate lettering... such as FA5T & FUR1OU5, it seems anything goes.

The Fast and the Furious franchise has not always been plain-sailing, having had a pretty shaky start. The original film was exciting and dangerous enough to take off with great characters, adrenaline-boosted action set pieces and oozing style. Almost derailing in the first sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious was where Vin Diesel took a leave of absence with Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson behind the wheel. Functioning more like a Miami Vice, Lethal Weapon or worse yet Tropical Heat... it turned into a buddy movie with the kind of production values you would expect from a TV show.

Taking a break to figure things out and reinvent the series, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift took the franchise to Japan, sporting a brand-new cast and unpacking the dangerous underground racing art of drifting. Somewhat underrated, it still had enough flash and sizzle to keep the idea of Fast and Furious alive while trialing director, Just Lin.

Franchise figurehead Dominic Torretto, played by Vin Diesel, was the missing ingredient which is what prompted the filmmakers to reboot the series in Fast & Furious 4. Taking Lin on the second of four movies as director, they found a winning formula as the smell of rubber and excitement of wheel spins filled the air once again with a similar story to the original.

In arguably one of the best installations, the franchise decided to relocate to Rio de Janeiro where they staged Fast Five. Essentially a take on The Italian Job, this heist introduced Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to super-size the cast and provide a worthy adversary to Vin Diesel's Dom Torretto in Luke Hobbs. Tipping the hat to the classic heist movie with Michael Caine, it captured the danger and spirit of The Fast and the Furious once again.

The sixth installation went transatlantic to London, where the team are forced to go head-to-head with an equal opposite in Owen Shaw. His team of street racers proved to be more than a match to the Fast and Furious crew, turning this sequel into a bruising encounter. Influenced by The Avengers, it also built the film around three major climax scenes with its characters taking on superhero qualities. Who can forget Vin Diesel literally flying between cars or the neverending runway... which could have been a spin-off.

Fast and Furious 7 or Furious 7 found Justin Lin replaced by James Wan, known for his horror filmmaking with films such as Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious. The understanding behind sequels is that things need to get bigger, faster and more expensive in order to rehash what made the original so enticing. When your film series runs as long as the Fast and Furious, it seems almost impossible to keep this momentum.

Having captured Dwayne Johnson, arguably the biggest action movie star on the planet, they probably figured that the only way to go was to get the second biggest action movie star on the planet in Jason Statham. Setting The Transporter, The Italian Job and Death Race star up as the villain was a great idea, playing into the hands of The Avengers and their relationship with Loki.

This made their cast almost invincible when it comes to action. The seventh film was an example of everything that worked so well for The Fast and the Furious. As mentioned earlier, the 007 element was very strong in this film as agents became involved and the film moved from having a set location to going global. It was wonderfully entertaining in the hands of Wan, who should've been given the reins for the eight installment.

The Fate of the Furious is probably the most Bondified installment of the lot, directed by The Italian Job reboot director, F. Gary Grey. Playing into the realm of superheroes, it was probably an attempt to bring it back down to earth. A huge money spinner, able to house some of the biggest names in box office draw cards, they attached Charlize Theron for the eighth film. The casting call wouldn't have made sense if she hadn't just played Furiousa in one of the most grueling and greatest car chase movies of all-time. Essentially playing her part from one room like Helen Mirren did in Eye in the Sky and dressed like Angelina Jolie in Gone in 60 Seconds, it was a bit wasted on an actress of her considerable talents. Having Vin Diesel take on the role of the traitor, just as formidable as Deckard Shaw played by Jason Statham, it was something of a rinse and repeat.

Not having Paul Walker, who bowed out doing the thing the series is built on served as an emotional sendoff in chapter 7. Being one of the founding members, it must have been quite a shakeup not to have him there. The eighth film got to the point of being so over-the-top in terms of action, you could say the studio is trying to rekindle the nostalgia around playing with Hot Wheels cars and army men. They even described the secret automobile locker as "The Toy Store". Transporting an entourage of tricked out cars around the world to save humanity does sound ridiculous when you think about it.

Having solidified the love/hate relationship between Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, ensure that the Fast & Furious presents: Hobbs and Shaw movie would allow them to do a spin-off. Taking the tongue in cheek attitude instilled in the previous sequels and combining it with the almost superhero meets bond franchise building, they brought in Idris Elba as Brixton, a character akin to Ironman.

The series is essentially a rollicking good time, designed to maximise entertainment value and serve as some welcome escapism in these trying times. You can commend them for having made it through nine films but one just hopes that it can return to the core attitude and flair of the original in Fast & Furious 9. Pandering to the superhero meets James Bond adventure isn't really what it's all about and while that over-the-top entertainment is geared towards servicing the audience, one would hope that it doesn't become so mainstream that it becomes unrecognisable.

For now, you can catch the Fast & Furious collection on Showmax.