Rant: “Fast & Furious” 3-4 [SPOILERS!]

My slow saunter through the Fast & Furious series continues…

Nathalie Kelley as ‘Neela’ in "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift"The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) is another sorta-sequel, starring Lucas Black as a delinquent gear-head sent to stay with his father in Japan, where he quickly falls in with the capital’s car-racing criminal community. I actually found this movie far more enjoyable than I was expecting to, thanks largely to Sung Kang’s performance as ‘Han Lue’, an old friend of Dom’s who takes Black’s character under his wing, and teaches him how to “drift” like a pro. The guy has super-cool star-quality to spare, though I think his actual character is kind of an a-hole here: Specifically, when a local gangster discovers Han’s been ripping him off for years and challenges him to explain/justify this betrayal, he just obnoxiously shrugs it off like “Thieves gonna thieve”… leading to a prolonged car-chase which ends with his painful, fiery demise. D’oh! Meanwhile, there’s very slim-pickings on the female side of things, with Nathalie Kelley playing Black’s blah love-interest ‘Neela’, and literally no one else worth mentioning. Meh. My fave “trivia” about this movie is that (according to legend) when the studio approached Vin Diesel to make a cameo as ‘Dom’ in the final scene, he haggled for them to give him the rights to the Riddick series/character, instead of paying him any money… which I find very endearing, for some reason.

Gal Gadot as ‘Gisele Yashar’ in “Fast & Furious” (2009)The confusingly-titled Fast & Furious (2009) is technically set before Tokyo Drift, and sees many of the original cast members returning (however briefly) to continue The Toretto Saga… though, sadly for me, the “inciting incident” that brings them all together is the ruthless murder of ‘Letty’ by a border-running drug-lord. Nooooo!!! Yes. Despite her character’s untimely and ignoble exit, Michelle Rodriguez does get to play a pivotal role in the epic opening oil-transporter heist, and a couple flashback appearances after that, so she actually scores a fair amount of screen-time overall… and I appreciate the fact that Letty’s death was treated as a very serious and important event that devastated them all, rather than just a throwaway write-off… in fact, Dom is so upset by her death, he even turns down one of the most gorgeous women alive (but more about her in a minute…)! There was also a lot of praise for M-Rod in the making-of featurettes, with Stunt Co-ordinator Mike Gunther describing her as “an athlete” and a “go-for-it girl”, who director Justin Lin agreed showed “no fear”, and Jordana Brewster envied for “[having] the guts that I don’t have”. Hardcore! As I say though, Dom got a potential new love-interest in the form of the villain’s carelessly-cast-aside-assistant ‘Gisele’, played by future-Wonder-Woman Gal Gadot! At the time she was a total unknown acting-wise, most famous for being crowned “Miss Israel” in 2004, but Lin was greatly impressed by her audition, noting on the commentary that her military training (two years mandatory service with the Israeli army) meant that she was already very confident with weapons, and totally unintimidated by Diesel when she was asked to read lines with him. Because of her relative anonymity when the movie was released, she barely appears in this disc’s extra features, but there is a brief interview clip of her complimenting Lin for being such an open and collaborative director… which is presumably why she was willing to return for so many sequels…? On the supporting side of things, Brewster’s comeback as ‘Mia’ built-up to a proper stunt-driving sequence in the final scene, and Liza Lapira had an enjoyable (but never-to-be-repeated) role as an FBI agent working with ‘Brian’ (Paul Walker) to identify/locate the baddies.

Michelle Rodriguez as ‘Leticia "Letty" Ortiz’ in “Fast & Furious”The F&F4 BR also boasts one of the bestest bonuses of all time: Los Bandoleros (2009), a short prequel showing how Dom got his crew together for the opening heist, directed and co-written by Diesel himself! Although it’s clearly set in the same universe as the main movie, it’s shot in a far more laid-back, low-budget “indie” style that I found very charming. I mean, I’m clearly pre-disposed to love any flick that shows M-Rod in a romantic light, but it’s also a fascinating glimpse into an alternate reality, where everyone’s a little quieter, calmer, and warmer (emotionally)… the equivalent of an “unplugged” acoustic album, if you will…?

Going back to the “Fast Females” (2009) featurette on the F&F2 disc, Brewster agreed with M-Rod that it’s cool to be able to embody women who are “gritty and tough”, and praised director Lin (F&F3-6) for being so intent on making the female characters such a powerful force in the series. For his part, Lin frequently insists that the movies aren’t just about “fast cars and hot chicks”, and that the female characters represent their “heart and soul”. He also joins Kelley in defending/boosting Neela, who they both wanted to demonstrate some serious car-related knowledge and skills, instead of being standard-issue arm-candy… while stunt/rally-driver Verena Mei (who appeared in F&F3 as ‘Beautiful Girl in Skyline #1’) suggests that characters like Neela and ‘Suki’ (Devon Aoki) illustrate to the audience how women can actively participate in motor-sports and still be “feminine”. Again, Gadot is sadly/short-sightedly overlooked…

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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