The marathon did offer up some actual surprises, not least of which was how quickly most of those 12 hours passed.
Say what you want about The Fast and the Furious movies. Call them big, dumb, loud, ridiculously implausible, distractingly melodramatic, and annoyingly repetitive. I won't disagree with any of that. If I had to watch one more overwrought Vin Diesel scene featuring his Dom Toretto growling, sad-eyed and solemn, about the importance of family, I might have disowned my own just out of spite. But after speeding through these films with the fast-burning intensity of a nitrous-infused engine, I can now understand the appeal of this series, which has made $1.5 billion so far and shows no signs of slowing down. Not only that, I'll likely turn out eagerly for the next installment.
That's not to say these are masterpieces. The 2001 debut, The Fast and the Furious, is a pretty generic action flick: a fine enough diversion, but hardly the sort of thing one would expect to spawn a long-running dynasty. The sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious, already made it seem like the series had reached a dead end, having packed in more neon lights and drug-dealing swagger than every Miami Vice script combined. It's practically unwatchable.
I can pinpoint the exact moment near the start of the third film, Tokyo Drift, when my thoughts began to do some drifting of their own, wondering if this whole endeavor might have been ill-advised. One character throws a baseball at a car's rear window, and despite it leaving a nice round hole in the glass and obviously going into the car, the next shot shows the ball landing on the pavement next to the car. If the filmmakers have given up caring about such basic continuity only a few minutes into the third installment in the series, the rest of this day was going to be really long.
As it turned out, the third film is just self-consciously silly, gleefully ripping off the Karate Kid but subbing driving skills for martial arts. It features none of the cast of the previous films in anything other than a cameo, and to some extent feels like a desperate attempt to switch things up in a franchise already running on empty. But by the end, it's not so bad, really: We do get a welcome break from the ceaselessly steely gaze of series regular Paul Walker, and Tokyo Drift finally boasts a director, in Justin Lin, with the knack for inventive car sequences that a series about street racing deserves.
Little did I know that the stylistic shifts of Tokyo Drift would barely register compared to what the series had in store in the fifth film. Unfortunately, to get there, I did have to endure No. 4, simply titled Fast and Furious, as if the producers were so tired that they could no longer even be bothered with definite articles or numbers. It's still not as terrible as 2 Fast, but it's more forgettable. Going into this marathon, my biggest worry was that all of these movies would just fuse together in my mind into an unrecognizable blob of metal, smoking rubber, and asphalt. For the most part, that didn't happen—except in the case of Fast and Furious, the plot points of which my brain keeps trying to stick into other movies.