Fast & Furious
Directed by Justin Lin. Produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel, and Michael Fottrell. Written by Chris Morgan. Release date: April 3, 2009.
The oddly and confusingly named Fast & Furious functioned as the first true sequel to The Fast and the Furious. It took eight years to get here, but we finally arrived. The film was the first to be co-produced by Vin Diesel, who returned to the series in a big role here, and would continue to do so in future installments. We saw the death of a major character, Letty, we reunite Brian and Dom, and we saw a few characters who would eventually become major players in small roles.
Dominic "Dom" Toretto (Vin Diesel): The leader of a crew of people drive cars reasonably well and use those skills to steal from truckers. Spends most of the film hunting down the man who killed his girlfriend. Had a large role in The Fast and the Furious and a cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift.
Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker): A former LAPD detective who is now an FBI agent tasked with bringing down a drug lord named Arturo Braga (Robert Miano). In The Fast and the Furious, he allowed Dom to escape, and in 2 Fast 2 Furious he brought down a different drug lord.
Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster): Dom's sister. The former love interest of Brian.
Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez): Dom's long-time girlfriend. She's part of his hijacking crew. She was working undercover for Brian when she died, something Dom doesn't find out until late in the film; she did it in exchange for clearing Dom's record. Her death becomes a focus once again in Furious 6.
Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang): Killed off in Tokyo Drift, we find out that Fast & Furious takes place before that film, when Han was still a part of Dom's crew. Included because he's a fan favorite character, and later because his death kickstarts the plot of Furious Seven. Becomes a primary cast member in Fast Five.
Arturo Braga (John Ortiz): Fast & Furious' villain. He's a drug lord who transports his drugs by hiring reasonably good drivers to drive them across the border. He would appear again in Furious 6
Gisele (Gal Gadot): A liaison for Braga, she becomes part of Dom's crew in future films. Han's eventual love interest.
Leo (Tego Calderón): A Spanish-speaking member of Dom's crew. Friends with Rico. Comic relief. Becomes a primary cast member in Fast Five.
Rico Santos (Don Omar): A Spanish-speaking member of Dom's crew. Friends with Leo. Comic relief. Becomes a primary cast member in Fast Five.
Ben Stasiak (Shea Whigham): An FBI agent with whom Brian is not particularly close. Will appear again in Furious 6.
Taking place years after The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious, but before Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious opens with one of the hijackings that Dom and his crew pull off. It doesn't go flawlessly, and as a result of both its lack of success and one of Han's garages being raided, the crew members decide to split up to avoid getting caught by the police; they will reunite in future films. Dom worries everyone else - they're his "family" - so he even leaves Letty. Meanwhile, Brian is busy busting gangsters in Los Angeles, hoping to get a lead on drug lord Arturo Braga.
Dom hides out in Panama City, only to learn that Letty, his girlfriend, has been murdered. That brings Dom and his sister, Mia, to Los Angeles, where he's still wanted by the FBI. Dom goes to Letty's crash sit and uses his Arkham-style detective vision to determine how Letty was killed, which leads to him hunting the same guy as Brian.
The two compete in a 2 Fast 2 Furious-esque "audition" race, the winner of which gets to work for Braga. Dom wins, but Brian gets the FBI to arrest a member of Braga's team and takes his spot. The two have a love-hate relationship, much like Brian and Roman had in the second film. They put aside their issues in order to get to Braga, and eventually become friends again. Family sticks together, after all.
After Brian and Dom steal $60 million worth of heroin from Braga, they set up a meeting that will allow the FBI to capture him. It doesn't go well - the FBI go after the wrong man - and Dom's career as an FBI agent is put on hold. The two head to Mexico to put an end to Braga and his second-in-command for good. They do so, after a lengthy chase scene. Dom allows himself to be captured afterward, claiming that, finally, he's tired of running. The film's last scene leads directly into Fast Five, which sees Dom, Mia, Leo, and Rico headed toward the prison bus in which Dom is being transported.
Is It Any Good?
With perhaps the best action in the series up to this point, as well as being the first true sequel to The Fast and the Furious, Fast & Furious is a satisfying movie in the series. It gets incredibly cheesy at times - Dom's "detective vision" scene, for instance - but it's a fast-paced movie with good car chases, decent characters, and it set the table well for future installments. It's also the last film in the franchise that's really focused on racing; following installments would go in different directions, just using cars as the primary tools.