It's entirely possible that you haven't been paying attention to the internecine continuity of Universal's Fast and the Furious franchise — the most recent chapter of which, Fast Five, just grossed $83.6 million in its opening weekend. Given that it's a series about a pair of guys who steal cars and pose dramatically while denying their deep love for one another, that's easy to believe.
But over the past 10 years, Universal has taken their renegade wheelmen and turned them into superheroes. In the process, Fast and the Furious has already done what Marvel hopes to accomplish with next year's Avengers: unify a sprawling cast of characters and weave disparate story threads into one climactic, kick-ass whoop-de-do.
In case you're not up-to-speed on the F&F flicks, here's a quick primer:
The Fast and the Furious (2001): FBI Agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) goes undercover in LA's street-racing scene to bust legendary driver-and-mechanic Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). There's a spark between these two crazy kids from different worlds, but they know it'll never work.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003): O'Conner goes to Miami and, trying to forget Dom's gravelly machismo, joins forces with smooth-talker Roman (Tyrese) and tech-genius Tej (Ludacris) to steal cars, take down a drug exporter, and attempt to womanize.
Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006): Has neither Brian nor Dom, so is pretty pointless — aside from the introduction of the super-rad and awesomely named Han Seoul-Oh (wait for it).
Fast and Furious (2009): Brings Dom and Brian back together to ride side by side, stare off into Mexican sunrises, and take down the south-of-the-border drug-runner who killed Dom's "girlfriend" (played by Michelle Rodriguez).
Fast Five (2011): The Boys are back once more, but now Brian has (allegedly) knocked up Dom's sister, and they need an ungodly sum of money to drop off the grid and live happily ever after. So they call a host of old buddies from earlier movies down to Brazil to help Ocean's 11 their way to $100 million, while eluding The Rock's federal manhunter in the process.
In each of these films, the characters can do things in cars that defy both logic and the laws of physics. And when outside of their garishly colored vehicles, they prove impossible to kill by conventional means: bullets never find their targets, explosions merely singe their clothes, jumps from preposterous heights simply piss them off.
In other words, there is no functional difference between these guys and most of the Marvel Universe. They are, for all intents and purposes, superheroes.
And so right under our noses, while an ever-increasing audience was watching, Universal beat Marvel at their own game: creating an elaborate cinematic-superheroic continuity, spanning a series of films, which would culminate in an all-hands-on-deck blow-out. What's more, they centered their billion-dollar franchise on a pair of gay characters who use an ever-increasing series of cons, heists, empty dalliances with hotties, and dumb-ass-action-scenes as a way to distract themselves from the love they so obviously share but can't admit.
And I challenge you to find another studio film with this diverse a cast that isn't in some way about race or, at the very least, hits you over the head with its diversity. The F&F flicks are full-to-bursting with blacks, Hispanics, all kinds of Asians, a Pacific Islander or two, and a crazy-quilt of ethnic blends and no one takes notice of it. In fact, there's really only one white dude in the whole damned saga who isn't a villain.
Fuck the X-Men, and their incredibly obvious outcast metaphor: Fast Five is the socially progressive, post-racial superhero event movie you didn't know you wanted.
That sound you hear is me giving Fast Five a steady, cinematic slow clap.