Can you believe the Fast and the Furious series is almost 14 years old? Man, I feel old.
People who aren’t fans of the Fast movies usually laugh when I say that the franchise has a ton of storytelling (granted, most of that story is told through explosions), but over the course of six movies, the series has built a surprisingly deep and complex web of canon. Because of that, it’s harder than you’d think to drop into the latest sequel without having seen the previous films, at least if you want to know what’s going on.
It’s no Expendables or Die Hard is what I’m getting at, and if I could compare it to anything going on right now, I’d say it’s got some shared DNA with what Marvel is doing. Just, instead of superheroes, it has super-cars.
While the emphasis is definitely on crazy stunts and mindblowing vehicular choreography (car-eography?), the characters do matter, and your enjoyment of these movies really depend on actually knowing who these people are, and what they’re all about. Best case scenario is that you’re all caught up on the movies before the new one lands; but if you haven’t, don’t panic, I have you covered.
So if you’re looking to check out Furious 7 this weekend, and have never seen a Fast & Furious movie before (or you just need a refresher), buckle up:
The Fast and The Furious (aka the first one)
It’s kind of weird watching the original movie back-to-back with any of the recent entries, as they feel like they’re from two completely different series. That said, this being the first movie and all, it does set up pretty much everything that follows. The film takes place in Los Angeles, and introduces the two leads of the series: Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner and Vin Diesel’s Dominic “Dom” Toretto.
It also sets up the idea of Dom’s “Family,” initially the group of street racers/criminals he leads, which includes an actual family member, his sister Mia Torreto, and his lady friend, Letty Ortiz. This idea of family becomes increasingly important over the course of the series, especially since Mia and Brian strike up a romance here that will become one of the focal points for the latter movies.
Overall, it’s a pretty straightforward movie. Brian O’Conner is an undercover cop investigating Dom’s race crew (who happen to hijack semi trucks in their spare time), and yada yada, he goes full native and lets Dom get away in the end. So yeah, it’s Point Break, but with car racing.
2 Fast 2 Furious (aka the worst one)
The sequel picks up with Brian on the lam after his LA escapades. The cops catch up to him in Miami, and rope him into a sting operation on a local drug kingpin. It’s largely irrelevant in the larger story, aside from introducing these two:
That’s Tej on the left and Roman on the right (Ludacris has lost the afro though). Both of them are now members of Dom’s crew, with Tej being the team’s tech guy, and Roman… drives cars I guess.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (aka the one that makes everything confusing)
The most confusing thing about the Fast and the Furious franchise is a bizarre time jump it makes right in the middle of the series. The first two films take place one after the other, as you would expect a sequel would, but the third one takes a massive leap forward in time… except you don’t really realize this until the fourth one, but more on that later.
It’s also paradoxically the most removed from the rest of the series, but also the most directly relevant to Furious 7.
It follows Sean Boswell, an American kid with a tragically inconsistent accent, who goes to live with his dad in Tokyo after getting into some trouble with the law. There he meets Han Seoul-Oh, a burnt out former driver, who teaches him how to “drift,” a driving technique where you oversteer in order to get your car to slide laterally, allowing you to take really tight turns and ruin a lot of good tires.
Unfortunately, the Yakuza get involved and things go south, resulting in Han getting killed in a car accident after a climactic chase scene. This prompts Sean to step up and challenge the Yakuza to a race. This solves his problems because reasons.
At the end of it all, he briefly, briefly meets Dom Toretto, who says that he and Han were family.
Fast & Furious (aka the one where it gets good again)
So remember how I said Tokyo Drift takes place in the “future?” Well it’s because Han, who died in that one, makes an appearance in the next three films of the series, including Fast & Furious (not to be confused with The Fast and the Furious).
The fourth installment gets back to the story of Brian, Dom, and the rest of their “family.” After the events of 2 Fast, Brian is somehow a cop again, and an FBI agent no less.The federal government apparently has pretty low standards. Dom meanwhile is in Mexico pulling heists with a crew including his girlfriend Letty (from the first one), Han, and two new guys: Leo and Santos. After realizing the police are closing in on him, he abandons his crew to protect them, and they all go their separate ways.
That is, until Dom gets a call from his sister Mia informing him that Letty had returned stateside, only to be murdered. Ohhhhh snap.
Dom returns to the US to track down the killer, while Brian is conducting his own investigation through the FBI. They both (separately, they’re still not on great terms) narrow in on a drug lord named Arturo Braga, who orchestrated the killing. Both of them infiltrate Braga’s organization as drivers, meeting Gisele Yashar, a hench-woman with a heart of gold, along the way.
Things get tense when Dom finds out that Letty was actually working undercover for Brian and the FBI when she was killed, but Brian and Dom realize they have some intense bro-love for each other and become friends again. Also, Brian gets back together with Dom’s sister, and he’s okay with that for some reason.
Dom and Brian eventually team up and take down Braga, but in the process Dom gets arrested and sentenced to a ton of jail. Luckily, the end of the film sees Brian going native (again), teaming up with Mia, Leo, and Santos to bust him out.
This one also introduced the ampersand to the series’ naming convention, so that’s important or something.
Fast Five (aka carvengers)
Fast Five picks up right where the previous one left off, with Brian and crew intercepting the prison bus that Dom was on, and breaking him out. The group flees to Brazil, where they get entangled with a conflict that puts them between the local crime kingpin, and Luke Hobbs (the artist formerly known as The Rock), an elite US government agent with a personality somewhere between Captain America and bulldozer. He teams up with the only decent cop in Brazil, Elena Neves.
Dom comes up with a plan to screw over the kingpin, while also bagging themselves enough money to escape the long arm of the law for good. To pull it off, they assemble a team that brings together the entire Fast and the Furious movieverse in an Avengers-esque moment.
There’s Tej and Roman from 2 Fast, Han from Tokyo Drift, and Leo/Santos and Giselle from Fast & Furious. It’s a pretty freakin’ awesome turn for the series, and also the precise moment it goes from passable entertainment to HOLY CRAP THIS IS AMAZING.
Eventually, Hobbs and Dom have to team up with each other to take down the evil crimelord, and the two end up with a begrudging respect for one another. Also, the good guys successfully pull of the heist and make some major bank, Giselle and Han fall in love, Elena and Dom fall in love, and Mia and Brian are having a baby. So much love.
Fast & Furious 6 (aka we’ve all forgotten this series used to be about racing)
In the aftermath of Fast Five, the team has gone their separate ways, with Brian and Mia raising their new kid in Spain (along with Uncle Dom of course). That picturesque scenario is shaken up when Hobbs pays them a visit though, revealing that DUHN DUHN DUHN… Letty is still alive (technically that’s revealed in a Fast Five post-credits scene, but whatever).
It seems she’s working for an international criminal named Owen Shaw, who’s currently plotting to steal an experimental red herring that can bring down an entire country’s electrical grid or something equally bananas. Hobbs needs Dom’s help to take him down, because these guys are really good at driving and that’s important for some reason.
I should note that by this point in the series, all of the Fast characters are basically superheroes who are just the best at everything from driving, to fighting, to hacking, to whatever else the plot requires. Does it make any sense? Naw, but just go with it.
Dom agrees to join up because he needs to find out if Letty is really alive, and his new girlfriend Elena is really cool about all that, and stays behind to watch over Mia and the kid. Dom gets most of the old crew back together for this job (except for Leo and Santos, who fell out of touch after hitting the casinos in Monaco).
Dom, Hobbs, and company track down Shaw, and get their butts handed to them. Dom finds Letty in the process, but she doesn’t remember who he is. It turns out she didn’t die in Fast & Furious, she actually just got some major brain damage that turned her into a complete amnesiac. Owen Shaw found her, and brought her onto his team, which turns out to be super weird, because Shaw himself is responsible for her “murder,” as Braga (the druglord from the fourth film) worked for him.
So blah blah, explosions, punching, car fights, Letty falls back in love with Dom (although she doesn’t regain her memory) and eventually the crew takes down Shaw… but Giselle dies in the process. A heartbroken Han retreats to Tokyo (where they planned to retire together), becoming the burnt out dude we saw in Tokyo Drift. If you’ll remember, Han is killed during that movie in a car accident, EXCEPT, it totally wasn’t an accident.
A Fast 6 stinger scene reveals that someone orchestrated the crash, and it was none other than JASON STATHAM. I mean, Jason Statham playing Deckard Shaw, Owen Shaw’s big, bad older brother, setting up…
Furious 7 (aka the new one)
So here we are. With Dom and co. responsible for the death of his lil bro, former special forces assassin Deckard Shaw is coming after them with a vengeance. Shenanigans ensue.
The Characters You Need to Know
So that’s the overall story, but over the past decade and a half, there have been a ton of characters introduced that weave in and out of the various movies. Luckily, they’ve more or less been whittled down to a core cast.
Just be able to recognize these guys, and you’ll probably be fine:
Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker)
Cop turned criminal turned cop again turned sort of criminal turned sort of freelance government agent. He’s married to Mia Toretto, and has a kid named Jack. Paul Walker passed away during the production of Furious 7, so this will be the character’s final appearance.
Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel)
More or less the leader of the team, Dom is an expert driver and mechanic who’s also really good at punching things (his fight scene with Dwayne Johnson is one for the history books). Dom is currently back with Letty, although she still doesn’t remember any of their time together.
Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster)
Mia is Dom’s sister, and the mother of Brian’s kid. She’s also a really capable driver in her own right, although she doesn’t get to flex that talent as often.
Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez)
Dom’s longtime girlfriend and partner in crime (literally), Letty is presumed dead after being discovered as an FBI mole in Fast & Furious. She returns in the sixth installment, having survived the attempt on her life, albeit with a serious case of amnesia. After a brief stint as a bad guy, she’s on Dom’s team again, and the two have even rekindled their relationship, despite her lack of memories.
Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson)
A childhood friend of Brian, the two fell out of touch after Brian became a cop, and Roman went to prison. The two made up and became best buds again in 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Dom brought Roman onto the crew in Fast Five for the big heist as the team’s “fast-talker.”
Tej Parker (Ludacris)
Tej was a race organizer in Miami, who also helped Brian and Roman out during the course of 2 Fast 2 Furious. He returned in Fast Five after losing about 50 pounds of hair, and is now a mainstay of the team, acting as their hacker/technical expert.
Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang) and Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot) – Deceased
Han’s series debut also saw him die, so that’s awkward. Luckily, he was brought back in the next three movies, first as a wheelman for Dom’s heists south of the border, then as a permanent member of the crew. He eventually falls in love with Giselle, another member of the team, until her death in Fast & Furious 6. In the aftermath, he slinks off to Tokyo to mourn, and is killed by Deckard Shaw, kicking off the events of Furious 7.
Gisele meanwhile (the soon to be Wonder Woman) made her series debut working for Braga, the bad guy of the fourth movie. She decides to help Dom take down her employer though, and is brought back in Fast Five as the team’s weapons expert (she’s ex-Mossad). She sacrifices herself to save Han’s life in Fast & Furious 6.
Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson)
Dwayne Johnson doing his best impersonation of a truck, Hobbs has only been in two movies so far, but he’s made such an impression that they’re already developing a spin-off series for him. Hobbs debuted in Fast Five as the leader of a team of government agents sent to hunt down Dom and friends. In the next film, he flips things around and hires Dom’s team (giving them full pardons in return) to help him take down Owen Shaw’s operation.
Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky)
Elena is a Brazilian cop who joined the force after her husband (also a cop) was killed in the line of duty. In Fast Five, Hobbs hires her as his Brazilian liaison because she’s one of the few police officers in the city who aren’t on the take. She eventually falls in love with Dom, and leaves Brazil with him. She also encourages Dom to pursue Letty again, knowing that she would do the same if it were her deceased husband. In Fast & Furious 6, she stays behind to protect Mia and her son, and eventually joins Hobbs’ team as a government agent.
Sean Boswell (Lucas Black)
The star of Tokyo Drift will finally return to the series in Furious 7. I have no idea what role he’ll play, but it’s rumored to be a multi-film deal, so it may end up being pretty substantial. In terms of Furious 7, since it takes place so soon after the events of Tokyo Drift, you’d have to assume that Sean would be more than happy to join up with Dom and hunt down the guy who killed his mentor Han.
Hector (Noel Gugliemi)
Hector was a minor, minor character in the first Fast and the Furious movie. He’ll be returning in Furious 7 in some capacity. He’s an extremely secondary character, so all you really need to know is that he was a street racer who was active when Dom and Brian were way back when.
Aaaaand that’s all folks! It’s a lot I know, but hey, it’s way easier to process than trying to catch up on all of Marvel’s stuff. Just take a deep breath, try and remember the characters, and enjoy the explosions.