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June 6, 2018

The Legacy of ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ 15 Years Later

Before A-list casts and international heists, this sequel began to shape the franchise into what it is now.

When we think of The Fast and The Furious, we think of a billion-dollar franchise with high stakes action and a cast that consists of everyone from Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to Dame Helen Mirren. But back in 2003, this franchise consisted of two entries, neither of which epitomized the potential of this world, but both of which were necessary for it to become what it is now. The Fast and The Furious, released in 2001, introduced us to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew of street racers as they are infiltrated by undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) in what is essentially Point Break on dry land.

The sequel didn’t include Dom or most of the principal cast, but the franchise’s underrated second entry and the characters it lost and gained were instrumental in turning the series into what it is now. 2 Fast 2 Furious, released in 2003, follows Brian, who has made his way to Miami after letting Dom escape from the police at the end of the first film and who is now making his money through street racing. Brian is recruited by federal agents to go undercover and take down a drug lord in exchange for his criminal record being expunged. Brian agrees to do so only under the condition that he can bring in childhood friend Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) as a partner. Rounding out the cast is Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as Brian’s friend and street race organizer Tej Parker, Eva Mendes as US Customs Agent Monica Fuentes and Devon Aoki as the street racer Suki.

Admittedly, losing Vin Diesel was a tough way to start 2 Fast 2 Furious. Diesel takes to action movies like a fish takes to water, and he has a gruff charisma that suits the genre. When Diesel cameoed in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift in 2006 and then came back for the lead role in 2009’s Fast & Furious, it was a welcome return. But good as he is, it’s also not completely fair to dismiss 2 Fast 2 Furious because of his absence. It helped the franchise learn some valuable lessons about what this world and these characters are and should be.

The strengths of these films have always been the chemistry between the actors more than the narratives of the movies themselves. In the first one, Walker and Diesel play off each other well, but in 2 Fast 2 Furious, Walker and Gibson are perfectly in sync with one another. Brian and Roman have some unresolved tension that arose from Brian being a cop, but once they get past it, there’s nothing but camaraderie between the two and this is hands down one of the most entertaining aspects of the film.

Diesel’s absence and subsequent return also demonstrated that it can work well to have characters in this world drift in and out of importance and roles but still be welcomed back in future films. Dom starts as Brian’s target and his intentions are questioned. Though his loyalty to his crew is admirable, Dom is sometimes more of an anti-hero than a hero. His return as the franchise’s protagonist later is the kind of turn around we’re now seeing with the Shaw brothers (Jason Statham and Luke Evans). They started as villains but have now become part of the family, and we’ll soon be seeing Statham as Deckard Shaw join Johnson’s Luke Hobbs in a spinoff.

Actors aside, there’s also a difference between the styles of the first two films. 2 Fast 2 Furious is more over the top and excessive. While the first one is relatively toned down (emphasis on relatively), the sequel goes full Dukes of Hazzard in its climax and owns it. This franchise was made to jump the shark, and to then jump an even bigger shark, and to then jump an even bigger shark. It’s entirely possible that Fast and Furious 9 will take place in outer space, so the jump from street races and car chases in the first film to Brian and Roman launching a car across a river and onto a boat and getting rid of the bad guys via ejector seat makes sense in its own way. This progression towards the more outlandish had to happen to give us the ridiculously entertaining set pieces we see now.

In particular, one scene from 2 Fast 2 Furious stands out when thinking about the latest installment, The Fate of the Furious. In one of the best scenes of the latter, Charlize Theron’s Cipher hacks thousands of cars in New York to wreak havoc. It echoes a scene in 2 Fast 2 Furious where Brian and Roman create a diversion by having hundreds of cars rush out of a warehouse they’re hiding in. As the films become increasingly more ridiculous, the zombie cars scene in The Fate of the Furious is only made better by the knowledge that while it is more over the top, it has a lot of its roots in the franchise’s second installment. These movies might be bonkers, but they’re nothing if not consistent.

2 Fast 2 Furious also gave us some of the franchise’s best characters. As noted, Walker and Gibson have a natural chemistry, and Gibson is well suited to the role of comedic relief. Bridges’ Tej has also had quite the journey across the five films he’s been in. He’s gone from portraying a street race organizer to an elite hacker, and he’s pulled off this transition well. It may have been a bit of a risk to cast Gibson and Bridges, both of whom had little acting experience before 2 Fast 2 Furious, but it’s paid off. It’s hard to imagine what these films would look like without the two of them there.

But as much as I like Roman and Tej, I must admit that neither of them is my favorite character of the sequel. That honor belongs to Suki. It’s no secret that this franchise isn’t exactly a glowing beacon when it comes to ideal representations of women, but I also don’t think it would be fair to dismiss the series’ depictions of female characters as being regressive. Suki is one of the better examples, and she provided an example for future installments to follow and develop further.

In The Fast and The Furious, the two main female characters are Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty and Jordana Brewster’s Mia. Don’t get me wrong, I like both of these characters, I’ve enjoyed watching them develop, and I would like to see Brewster return for the ninth film, as has been rumored. But they start the franchise as very specific types of characters and have little opportunity to stand out. Letty is a classic example of the ‘one of the boys’ trope where her defining characteristic is that she fits in with the guys around her. When she’s introduced, it’s when she’s with a group of only men, and she acts aggressively towards other women aside from Mia. It’s true that she’s skilled as a driver, and she knows the world of cars well, but, at least in the first installment, there isn’t much depth beyond that.

Mia is defined largely by her relationships to men: she’s Dom’s sister and Brian’s romantic interest. When push comes to shove, she can hold her own behind the wheel, but she spends more time preparing food for various male characters than she does driving a car. Admittedly, this problem isn’t completely solved in 2 Fast 2 Furious as Eva Mendes’ Agent Fuentes is little more than Brian’s love interest despite the fact that there was potential to focus on her ability as a capable federal agent.

And then there’s Suki. In the first race scene of the film, although she comes second to Brian, she proves herself as a skilled driver because she and Brian are the only two to cross the finish line while the two other drivers were unable to complete the elaborate race that Tej had orchestrated. From the beginning, Brian regards her as an equal, and she is treated with respect, not because he is interested in her — it never even feels like a possibility that they could be romantically involved — but because she deserves to be treated that way. Suki also drives a hot pink convertible and is accompanied by a team of female drivers. This eliminates the possibility of her being seen as one of the boys. She has her own taste and style that she won’t abandon just to fit in with the men around her.

Suki can also be seen as the precursor for other female characters in this world. Before Gal Gadot was Wonder Woman, she was Gisele in the fourth, fifth, and sixth installments. Like Suki, she knows her way around cars, but her motivations aren’t to simply fit in with the guys and be one of them. And though she has a tragically shortlived romance with Han (Sung Kang), she’s never reduced to just being a love interest. These films aren’t exactly feminist masterpieces, but their depictions of women have improved over the years, and I like to think that figuring out how to write characters like Suki and Gisele helped that progression.

As a fan of the franchise, it’s hard not to feel a little cheated by the fact that Suki has only been in one film. Considering this series has brought multiple characters back from the dead, it’s odd that Suki has never reappeared. She’s an excellent driver, and she would fit in with the crew. Diesel has confirmed that Justin Lin will return as the director for the final two films and Jordana Brewster is apparently going to appear in the next film. While others are being brought back both in front of and behind the camera, we can only hope that, if Devon Aoki is willing, Suki might get the same treatment down the line. The franchise would be all the better for it.

2 Fast 2 Furious may not be the best of The Fast and The Furious films (the series — and cinema itself, if you ask me — would peak several years later with Fast Five) but it deserves to be recognized as more than just a bump in the road along the way towards action franchise greatness. It helped the series learn what it is and isn’t without the presence of Vin Diesel, gave us excellent sequences that have been echoed in future films, and introduced some of the best characters in this world. It’s always fun to speculate where these films can go next, but let’s not forget to appreciate where they’ve been. After all, we might not have the beloved franchise we do now if it wasn’t for this sequel.

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