Amid the great resplendent buffet of cinema, no one is likely to mistake the Fast and Furious franchise for caviar. The film series – from its humble 2001 beginnings as a street-racing crime drama, through to its latest instalment, the bombastic, preposterous Fast X (out this week) – is basically Hollywood’s answer to the Big Mac. The dialogue is bad. The plotting is risible. The acting – from Vin Diesel, playing family-centric motorhead Dominic Toretto, and his ever-expanding cadre of supporting stars – is pretty woeful. And yet, thanks in part due to a sheer abundance of spectacle, audiences always eat it up. Now, everybody knows fast food is bad for you. But that’s only the half of it. What if it’s bad for the planet as well?
While the Fast and Furious films have mutated pretty radically down the years, there’s one thing that’s remained the same: a hallowed, almost fetishistic reverence for four-wheeled motor vehicles. The franchise regards cars as the pinnacle of macho accomplishment. Yes, there is always star power on screen – Fast X includes such names as Charlize Theron, Brie Larson and Jason Momoa – but the true heroes of the film are always the fast, fast cars, and the wondrous road acrobatics they are able to perform. This is all well and good. Chases are exciting – doubly so when they take place at 100mph. But we live in an era of devastating climate crisis, which is rapidly worsening. Should we really be lavishing so much adulation on one of the world’s foremost methods of pollution?
It would be silly to suggest that the Fast movies are to blame for something as ingrained and socially ubiquitous as cars. But as we gradually eke our way towards a greener future, in some vain effort to ameliorate an impending eco-catastrophe that looks increasingly inevitable, it is a fact that we, collectively, are going to have to start driving less. Greener methods of getting around – whether it’s walking, cycling, or public transport – will be a priority. Is it really helpful to have films like Fast X treating decked-out gas-guzzlers like some kind of vehicular deity? It’s somewhat ironic that the Fast and Furious films have snowballed into grand superheroic narratives of Torretto and company saving the world. In reality, the films – and their maximalist propaganda for Big Car – may be, in some small way, helping to destroy it.
Of course, the Fast films are hardly the only offenders with it comes to Hollywood’s drooling fascination with motor vehicles. James Bond films pore over the metallic curves of an Aston Martin with much the same lusty abandon as they observe a “Bond girl”. The Transformers franchise takes this one step further, daring to ask the question: what if your car was also your best friend?
“But wait!” I hear you cry. “Are you suggesting that Hollywood does away with the Car Chase entirely? One of the central building blocks of action cinema, if not all cinema, for a century?” Obviously not. But there is a difference between the bearish glorification of Fast X and something like Mad Max: Fury Road – a film that is essentially one big car chase, but which fails to make cars look remotely appealing in the slightest. Or, to use a more down to earth example, we have the Bourne films, which approach urban car chases with a kind of grubby pragmatism, dispelling any illusion of Bondesque cool.
It’s also true that depiction does not necessarily constitute endorsement – that there can be artistic merit and entertainment value in a film that espouses regressive environmental views. And besides, is Fast X really as ecologically insidious as, say, Top Gun: Maverick, and its jet plane obsession? Or the TV series Entourage, which worshipped luxury cars and private planes as masturbatory status symbols? Not necessarily. But, outside of Top Gear, there’s no underestimating the Fast and Furious films’ place as the most explicit entry in pop culture’s “car-love” canon. (Eat your heart out, Titane.)
As the Fast films have drifted further and further from their street-racer roots, the necessity to crowbar in one petrol-fuelled set piece after another has become progressively more absurd. The films would work without such an orgiastic emphasis on automobile supremacy – so why persevere? I suppose in the end, you just have to laugh. Otherwise, it’d be enough to make a person furious.