As of Fast X, the latest installment in the Fast and Furious movie franchise, the series is primarily known for a few things. On screen, at least, its big signature elements are the characters’ dedication to found family, the directors’ love for big, explosive action with vehicular stunts, and the ever-expanding cast of movie stars. (Off-screen, they’re known more for personnel clashes with ongoing star Vin Diesel, from his feud with Dwayne Johnson to his reported clash with longtime director Justin Lin.)
But the series has Tokyo drifted a long way from its original grounding as a series of stories about a street-racing crew. These days, it’s much more about international intrigue, leading to elaborate car chases where the gang pursues or flees a series of international villains. But which is more high-octane and more important to the series? The races that gave the franchise its “Fast” label, or the chases that sum up the “Furious” half of the equation?
At Polygon, our Fast and Furious fans are divided. And with Fast X arriving in theaters on May 19, that division is important — we need to come together as a faaamily on this issue. So we’re here to present our evidence and decide which is more important to the Fast and Furious franchises: races or chases?
Polygon Court is now in session.
Pete Volk: It all started with racing.
More than two decades ago in The Fast and the Furious, undercover LAPD officer Brian O’Conner embedded in the world of street racing to investigate a series of truck thefts. This fateful assignment would see him meet friends, make family, and leave the force, all from a love of racing.
The Fast and Furious franchise has expanded in scope and budget since then, but the heart of the series remains racing. There’s no beating the straightforward thrill of skilled competitors giving it their all to make it to the finish line first.
To quote the scripture: “Ask any racer — any real racer. It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning is winning.” —Dominic Toretto, The Fast and the Furious
Zosha Millman: Look, we all love a street race. I think several of us can think back to the halcyon days of our youth (or now) and remember how good it feels to take life a quarter-mile at a time, behind the wheel of your most trusty companion, while your best friend/enemy/frenemy/new guy who just showed up with a cool car revs the engine next to you. But the Fast crew is so much more than that now, and we must move with the times.
Dom and the rest of the Fast family no longer need to prove their mettle on the streets; Dom could Tokyo drift off to sleep and still win Tokyo Drift’s treacherous mountain race by a mile. As Dom puts it, where he comes from, you are how you drive. And the Fast and Furious protagonists drive like absolute maniacs. They need stunts — and storytelling — that can keep up.
Presentation of evidence
PV: My case starts with three key scenes, each of which brings out the excitement and drama inherent to racing.
First, the bridge race from 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious. This race has it all: hot cars, hot drivers, neon-soaked lights and vehicles, great close-up face reactions, ample use of NOS, and Brian O’Conner jumping his car over another car in midair.
Next, racing as romance. Dom and an amnesiac Letty reuniting and rekindling their lost love while drifting around a double-decker bus in London in 2013’s Fast & Furious 6??? That’s hard to beat! But Dom and Brian’s iconic final race in the first movie, jumping over the train tracks together to cement their bromance, gives that scene (and any other from the franchise) a run for its money.
ZM: Folks, no one is arguing against the idea that Fast and Furious is built on good race scenes. Of course it is! That’s how we fell in love with the machismo and high-test thrills of the franchise to begin with. But if races are about making your bones, then chases are making your adamantium bones. And like Wolverine, this shit absolutely shreds.
Look no further than 2011’s Fast Five, which culminates in maybe one of the best stunts the franchise has ever pulled off: a heist where they steal a vault with their cars. Let me repeat myself: They pulled! A vault! Out of a building! With Dodge Chargers! The “police German shepherd” of cars!
That practical effect is ludicrous, and thus incredible — better than any Tom Cruise action sequence. (You can trust me, I’m under oath.) This is the promise of this franchise: It keeps building on the characters’ skills and stunts, and finding new ways to hit the NOS. Races simply cannot match this energy.
PV: I will concede on one point — that scene where they steal the vault is extremely cool. But I still maintain that all of these sequences pale in comparison with the drifting sequences in the unfairly maligned Tokyo Drift, my favorite movie of the bunch, and the movie that features the best racing in the franchise to date.
It’s the coolest the cars have looked in the franchise — there’s hypnotic synchronized drifting up a mountain road, and the racing is dynamic and vibrant, especially at night, as the lights shine. Even if the cars aren’t going as fast as in some of the other movies, the tight quarters and repeated failures sell you on the sheer difficulty of what’s being executed, culminating in an absolute banger of a final contest.
I guess this is also where my sports fan comes out — I love action movies, and the big stunts in the chase scenes are very cool. But I grew up watching sports, and the clarity of motivation and stakes in the racing scenes brings that back for me. I love an action sequence with a clear, identifiable objective, and good racing scenes always have that.
ZM: It’s true, the racing scenes of the Fast franchise do benefit from a clear, identifiable objective. But too often, races limit all these moments — there’s a reason so many of the races in the Fast franchise have to introduce outside influences or complications, like The Fast and the Furious’ cop chase that interrupts Brian and Dom’s first race. Family is about more than just jockeying for the top spot to prove a point. (This isn’t Succession.) And so many of the chase scenes match the thrills and clear objectives of those race scenes, while also upping the ante.
You’ve got Furious 7, where the crew tosses Ramsey between cars in order to rescue her from terrorists, all before Shaw shows up at the absolute worst moment to exact his revenge. In the fourth film, Dom and Brian have to get back across the border by busting through a mountain, navigating a treacherous smuggling tunnel by weaving between load-bearing posts and dodging bullets. It’s like a Mario Kart level, but with more sniping. These moments are possible because we know that Dom, Brian, Tyrese, Letty, and really anyone who rides with the family can hang. How can we possibly expect a drag race to measure their abilities in a fresh and exciting way?
And so we can push the stunts to the limits. Which means that for every scene of Letty and Dom dancing through London in a drag race, we get Helen Mirren (Helen! Mirren!) getting chased by the London cops while Dom works her e-brake. (Not a euphemism, but there is an intriguing amount of sexual tension between the two.) These moments push the limits, push the speeds, push the NOS, and push the movies themselves to the highest, most fun level they possibly can, with cars as an extension of the self, and the action by proxy. This is driving as mech suits.
PV: Let me ask you this, people of the jury: What use is living life a quarter-mile at a time without a finish line?
I’m not against the incredible stunts and explosive finales we’ve been treated to over the last few installments in the series, but what I’d like to say is this: Wouldn’t it be great if we also had Han and Shaw take their conflict to the track? If the attention to detail for the crew’s personalized cars and racing styles from the first few movies continued through for the rest of the franchise, rather than abandoning many of them for blocky tanks in disguise?
While I appreciate the Fast and Furious franchise’s turn to massive-budget excess, the humble origins of this racing franchise will always finish first in the race to my heart.
ZM: The franchise has long since abandoned the bro character work that defined the first entry. Diesel has abandoned the balance of pent-up rage and zen tranquility of Dom’s early scenes in favor of a cool composure. No one is questioning whether Dominic Toretto can race anymore. He can move that car the way Fred Astaire moves his feet; I bet he could even do it backward and in heels! Now he has to channel that fast energy, furious as it is, into new heights and new leaps of faith — sometimes (often) literally.
The chases are the franchise’s evolution, the Charizard to the races’ Charmander. The scenes are bigger and more ferocious, somehow making more logical sense as they drop cars out of space and hack every vehicle within a mile than the emotional throughline of The Fast and the Furious’ final act. They may not all be winners, but they’re all ambitious, and they all provide Dom another chance to shout “Letty!” which is really all we can ask from cinema anymore.
If we’re not going to let Dom well and truly defy law enforcement in service of petty theft (shout out to those CRTs he nabbed), then we might as well let him do big crimes in the weirdest, car-wrecking-est Robin Hood way possible. Where the MCU ignores the collateral damage of its superhero battles, the Fast and Furious franchise makes it the text. Dom’s car is dead, and he finds a new one. The thrill of the chase continues.
Austen Goslin, amicus curiae: In the spirit of the Fast franchise, I’m here, out of nowhere, to play the “Jason Statham in Furious 7” role and tell you that you’re both wrong, but also that you’re both right in a pedantic, retcon-y way that leaves open the possibility of vague reconciliation and future spinoffs. Neither races nor chases are the best part of this franchise, because it’s best when it combines the two, and that usually happens during heists — the real stars of the Fast and Furious movies.
To better clear up what we’re talking about, and why you’re both right and wrong, let’s talk about what a heist is when it’s planned by the Fast Family.
First of all, a heist is always a fight against the clock. Whether that’s because there’s only a tight window where everything lines up perfectly, or because there’s an imminent threat looming over the world, Dom and his crew are (at least in the post-Tokyo Drift movies) always working against time. In other words, this crew always plans its jobs like they’re races. They don’t have any other choice: It’s the spirit that the Fast movies are built on, but it isn’t where they stop. And it never has been. After all, the ending of the original movie is really a chase and a race combined into one.
But if a modified race, or elements of a race, is the first step in a Fast heist, then the second step is always a chase. Races may be Fast’s DNA, but chases are its most critical evolution. Heists for this crew aren’t stealth jobs: They’re big, they’re loud, and every single one draws the attention of every driver in the area. In other words, these jobs are built to go wrong, and they’re built for the crew to get chased, but they also always have a finish line in mind… and Dom’s crew always races past it first.