Day Two: “Give me the damn veggies!”

Dwayne Johnson’s acting in this movie has to be seen to be believed. Complete ridiculousness is what makes his character so damn charming.

DAY TWO: Fast Five
LESSON OF THE DAY: Tropes Are Not Bad.

I haven’t seen 2 Fast 2 Furious or Fast & Furious, and it took talking about it for about ten minutes for me to even realize I had seen more or less the first “act” of Tokyo Drift. Going into this I was relying entirely on my memories of the first movie (which I’m convinced I saw on VHS, so however the hell long ago that was) and the exposition of the friend I was watching it with (who, when it comes to film, usually has the memory of a confused goldfish) so all I really knew going into this was as follows:
One guy’s a cop, one guy’s Vin Diesel. Cop went native and is dating Vin Diesel’s sister. First movie, Ba Dump.
Everything that happened since: Something something Vin Diesel’s girlfriend died, so instead of holding a wake they decide to steal a bunch of shit. Vin Diesel gets caught. Vin Diesel learns that grief isn’t the best motivator for pulling off heists successfully, and now he’s going to jail. Now this movie!

Despite the movie launching you right into the action that ended the previous movie, I was surprised by how well it handled the backstory. While it never outright states who Leticia was, she’s mentioned, sometimes by name, sometimes not, and Dom’s (VD) actions make it clear what she meant to him. It was nice to see this film actually expect the audience to use their heads to figure out what’s going on there.

I mean the part of your head that processes personal drama. Pay no attention to the magic eezo vault.

We were both surprised at how well this movie handled the decision to make Mia pregnant. Rather than the usual Hollywood fare of it becoming the MacGuffin that needs protection Hollywood usually centers the entire plot around, this movie never goes down the “Mia and her fetus are in trouble” rabbit hole. It’s just another motivation for the characters. Dom wanted everyone to split up and lay low to hide from the cops, but he can’t break up his sister’s soon-to-be family or bring himself to leave either. It’s a great touching moment that first adds a complication that pushes the characters into the next act; and second, it beautifully compliments the theme of family that runs throughout the entire movie. It’s a good time to note that if you’ve been ignoring these movies because they look like big dumb action flicks, the action can definitely be big and dumb, but there’s a bigger story going on than the car chase scenes. Unlike so many action movies that throw in the obligatory wife/daughter/nebulous excuse for the hero to go somewhere, these characters are motivated by their relationships with each other. Everyone they call in for the heist is a friend from a past movie. It’s great to see a team that doesn’t just join together out of convenience or for the money, but has a real connection with the main characters.

Although it’s important we don’t forget about the money.

So long as you’re willing to leave physics at the door, the action scenes are really good. Action scenes are, generally speaking, the single biggest guilty party for the “and then this happens” style of filming. I’m going to try not to turn this into a retread of the Hulk Explains Action article, but what he says about geography and logic really stood out for me in these scenes. Here’s a (sadly short) example from Fast Five:

There’s a real flow to the action some movies just don’t pull off. The scene gets set up, there’s a complication, the characters respond and that sets up the next part of the chase. You never lose track of what’s going on or where somebody is except for the moments the movie wants you to be asking those questions, and then they’re pretty quick to give you the payoff. Just contrast it with this clip, where it’s literally five minutes where nothing about the scene changes.

There’s three real actions in that entire chase – Sean knocks over the power pole, Nic goes through a building to avoid it, and Sean crashes a tram. That’s the entire chase. There’s just a shitton of chaos between those beats. In the minute long clip from Fast Five, the characters start to get away, but an obstacle is placed in front of them, and they have to find a way around it – essentially the same thing – but they accomplish it in under a minute. There’s a joke in a behind the scenes features of one of the newer Star Wars movies where George Lucas says the script was really easy because he just kept writing “they fight” a lot. The action in those movies is actually pretty good though because George was making a joke – even he knows that action isn’t just a flashy bit of excitement, action scenes tell stories. A little bit of chaos does work, but your action should go somewhere, and, like I was saying with cause and effect yesterday, where it goes needs to be directed by the choices your characters make. But enough about why I liked the movie.

As you can tell, once I sat down to start writing this I found I had a lot to say about things the movie did well that made me like it. But I’m still in a writer frame of mind so the first lesson I felt I got out of this movie is a simple one: Tropes Are Not Bad. The friend I was watching this with got excited when the movie came to what she calls “the Ocean’s Eleven part.” And she’s right. This movie does a lot of recognizable moments, Assembling the Team only being one of them. This movie has that duo of outsiders that argues all the time, Sexy Action Chick moments that are positively dripping with cheese, redemption through death, the adversary that joins up for revenge, and the list goes on.

Hell, 90% of The Rock’s dialogue is amazing for the simple fact that it is intentionally BAAAD. I haven’t fallen in love with cheesey lines this much since Willem Dafoe in The Boondock Saints.

This movie is very obviously derivative. It follows a ton of the heist movie and action flick cliches. But it’s still a damn good movie, for the same reason that the Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai and Avatar are all the same story but each good in their own right (though it wouldn’t have hurt if Avatar had tried hitting it’s points into your head with a smaller hammer). The outsider going into a different group, learning their ways and falling in love with the culture he’s in is a certain type of movie and there’s nothing wrong with transplanting that story into different settings – hell, The Fast and the Furious franchise did it twice! It’s okay to take ideas that have already been done and put them into your own movie. But you have to be smart about it.

Pictured: the duo of outsiders who argue all the time.

I don’t know if I’m anywhere near qualified to tell you “how to be smart about it” but the best way I can think of putting it is that you have to ask yourself the simple question of “Why am I doing this?” If the answer gets anywhere close to “because that’s how this is supposed to be done” you should ask yourself how the story would flow without that part in it. Skid and Mudflaps didn’t ad anything to Transformers 2, but I’m not sure if Fast Five could work the way it does without Leo and Omar. You can make a cliche work for your story. How exactly? Maybe here’s an even better answer than my first one.
Watch more movies!


4 thoughts on “Day Two: “Give me the damn veggies!”

  1. thunderclam says:

    If not two outsiders who argue, it’s two outsiders who comment on and process the hijinx on behalf of the audience. Shakespeare kind of created this trope with Rosencrantz and Guildenstren and it’s echoed all the way down to “disposable” action movies because it’s one of those storytelling techniques that has real traction.

    Fast Five is fucking amazing. You could line up its approach to group dynamics right beside Ocean’s Trilogy and even The Avengers and it would fit right in on that level.

    • jaydanks says:

      There’s a great example of me doing the “tangible details” misstep. I’ve only really ever noticed the comedy aspect of characters like this, and Fast Five doesn’t waste much time on setting up the characters as they’ve already been introduced in other movies. Now that you’ve mentioned it, next time I run into characters in this vein I’ll definitely be looking for that.

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