FILM REVIEW: FINDING DORY (2016)

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Dory: The best things happen by chance.

Director: Andrew Stanton (Co-Director) Angus MacLane

Writers: Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse

Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell

Synopsis: A year after Finding Nemo, Dory remembers information which could reunite her with her estranged parents. What follows is a journey through the ocean and a marine aquarium to find her parents while Nemo and Marlin try and find Dory.

Finding Nemo (2003) is still perhaps one of the best Pixar films coming in the height of Pixar’s critical acclaim and popularity. The animators had created a beautiful and unique vision of the ocean and also included captivating characters such as Nemo, Marlin and Dory. Thirteen years later and Pixar has somewhat fallen from their throne. After 2003’s Finding Nemo, Pixar continued its stellar run with The Incredibles (2004), Wall E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Personally I think they lost their way this decade with Cars 2 (2011), Brave (2012), and Monsters University (2013). However they acheived redemption last year with the brilliant Inside Out (2015). Finding Dory continues their upward tick in a charming and fun sequel to the classic Finding Nemo. They couldn’t top that original film however they simply continue the story and move the action to Dory’s point of view with Nemo and Marlin becoming the side characters.

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Dory is continuing to hang around Nemo and Marlin when one day she begins to remember things about her parents and how she lost them as a baby. She begins a journey to find them with the help of Marlin and Nemo. Along the way they again meet fun new characters such as the cantankerous Octopus (voiced by the renowned Ed O’Neil), Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) a wide eyed whale shark and Bailey the beluga whale (Ty Burrell). All of these characters provide fun and commentary as Dory continues through different set pieces to find her parents. Differing from the original film most of the story takes place in an aquarium rather than the open ocean which opens ideas about marine life in captivity and our favourite characters dealing with tourists and aquarium exhibits. However most of the film deals with being different and being accepted which is a strong theme for a children’s film in 2016.

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This film is so much fun with a lot of heart as well as you would expect from a Pixar film. It is not one of their best but it is very enjoyable and better than the sequels they have released this decade.

Rating: 4 Stars

FILM REVIEW: FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

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Sue Storm: Music is just a series of altered patterns. The musician creates the pattern and makes us anticipate a resolution… then holds back. Makes you wait for it. There’s patterns in everything and everyone.

Director: Josh Trank

Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell

Synopsis: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

2015’s Fantastic Four had so much potential – an amazing cast, a hot new director, a dark and gritty new tone and the opportunity for Fox to create their own Marvel Universe with the successful X-Men franchise. However in the beginning of August 2015 this film was released and critics and fanboys alike all came out with their pitchforks claiming this as the worst superhero film of all time! The film was a commercial flop only making $25 million in its opening weekend and eventually only making $56 million in America against its $200 million budget. So what went wrong? There are many theories of the behind the scenes action with director Josh Trank tweeting on the opening weekend ‘A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though’ which was soon taken down. It’s obvious that Trank butted heads with the studio and they came in to reshoot most of the film. Unfortunately all of this does appear on screen with a disjointed narrative and a confusing plot, Fantastic Four, just could not compete in our over saturated superhero film landscape.

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The reviews are mostly correct this film is bad and could not compete with the excellent superhero films we’ve gotten in the last decade and even in 2015 alone. However I don’t believe it is the worst superhero film of all time. Or even the worst Fantastic Four film. I think what’s most disappointing is the potential in this film. Like I said these actors are in their prime Miles Teller hot off the popular and critically acclaimed Whiplash and Michael B. Jordan coming off the equally successful and critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station and about to blow up with the far superior Creed later that year. There was also Kate Mara coming off the popular House of Card’s Netflix series and director Josh Trank coming off the successful superhero found footage film Chronicle. This film should have been great with a whole new vision of the Fantastic Four spawning sequels and a new Marvel Universe. Instead what we got was a bunch of scientists hanging around a bunker talking science babble for half the film and then gaining powers without much explanation and a tacked on ending where the four are all of a sudden combat trained and ready for more adventures.

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The plot revolves around Reed Richards (Miles Teller) a young science genius who is recruited by Dr. Franklin Storm played by Reg E. Cathey (who has the best speaking voice) to join a company where they are exploring travelling to different dimensions. His childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) joins him. There he meets Sue and Johnny Storm (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan) who are Franklin’s children. Sue is also a scientist and Reed is attracted to her immediately. However she does have history with another scientist working there named Victor Von Doom (classic villain name) played with intensity by the always interesting Toby Kebbell. They eventually travel to another dimension and acquire powers that change them all uniquely. The scenes involving them all exploring their powers is quite horrific and there are signs of a more interesting film here. The film cuts to a year later where they have gotten used to their powers and have combat training. They need to find Von Doom who is still trapped in the other dimension. However I could be wrong this film was very confusing.

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This film is ultimately really boring with no stand out performances or action scenes or even comedy. These characters are meant to be fun and I would argue director Tim Story captured that in his two Fantastic Four films. Those films weren’t that bad they had a fun vibe when most superhero films took themselves too seriously. I cannot recommend this film and it’s disappointing that everyone involved failed to produce an entertaining superhero adventure when Marvel Studios is doing it so effortlessly.

Rating: 1 Star

FILM REVIEW: THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

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Baloo: [singing] Forget about your worries and your strife…
Mowgli: What’s that?
Baloo: That’s a song about the good life.

Director: Jon Favreau

Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken

Synopsis: The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.

Perhaps Jon Favreau’s most disappointing film in years after the game changing Iron Man films and 2014’s charming Chef. The film is visually stunning however there doesn’t appear to be any linking narrative aka beginning, middle, end or character development. It is simply random scenes connected together by the one-note Mowgli and various animals in the jungle. However I don’t completely blame Jon Favreau as he is merely reenacting the animated Disney original from 1967 with less songs.

The plot of The Jungle Book revolves around a young boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who has been raised by wolves and the wise panther Bagheera (voiced regally by Ben Kingsley) in the Indian jungle. With threats from the chilling tiger Shere Khan (voiced menacingly by Idris Elba) Mowgli must leave the wolves and find his own people. Along the way he meets a sneaky snake (voiced seductively by Scarlett Johansson) and a laid back bear named Baloo (voiced with charm by the always great Bill Murray). He also ends up in a temple run by the gigantic ape King Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken playing The Godfather). These series of events barely connect with each other and the film eventually finds a climax where the hero prevails but little else really matters. In fact the whole film felt like a series of events that don’t really matter. Mowgli is constantly saved from any threats and the actor does such a poor job in gaining any respect from the viewer as he clumsily reads through his lines and stares blankly at cgi creatures. I understand it must have been difficult for him to stare at tennis balls or sticks and create a realistic performance but with Favreau’s past with child actors including Emjay Anthony from Chef or Ty Simpkins from Iron Man 3 I was expecting more.

Where Favreau doesn’t let the audience down is with the breath-taking special effects. All of the animals are uniquely structured with meticulous design to put you in a real world of walking talking animals with genuine personalities. It was amazing to watch however if only the story and protagonist were more impactful.

Rating: 2 Stars

FILM REVIEW: MAD MAX (1979)

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Nightrider: I am the Nightrider. I’m a fuel injected suicide machine. I am the rocker, I am the roller, I am the out-of-controller!

Director: George Miller

Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward

Synopsis: In the near future an Australian policeman pursues a gang terrorizing the streets.

From the opening shots of Mel Gibson we only get hints of how much of a bad-ass this character is. We don’t see him directly in the opening scene however director George Miller builds him up by showing us only close-ups of his shades as he sits in his car waiting for trouble to come to him. He is the classic Western loner in the style of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name Trilogy. We are automatically transported into this insane world where cops are wearing leather jackets and are speeding around in souped up cars racing with crazy deranged gang members who are screaming insane monologues as their women look on with equally deranged affection. Welcome to George Miller’s vision of a dystopian Australian future, with endless roads and insane drivers who battle their war in their cars. The film is quintessentially Australian with its shots of people commuting in local pubs and speaking in Australian slang. It also has this hyperactive style that would be replicated into later Australian films such as Strictly Ballroom and Chopper. Everyone talks fast, and the camera cuts and pans at a break neck speed. The style is undeniably its own and Miller shows a maturity as a filmmaker from this original film in the Mad Max franchise.

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The plot is a simple cat and mouse chase between Max and Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Toecutter’s gang are terrorizing the simple suburbs of this unnamed town in Australia. The film doesn’t even turn into a revenge thriller until the final fifteen minutes. I remember seeing this film as a child and (spoiler alert) I remembered his family dying a lot sooner and Gibson going on a bloody revenge fueled killing spree. Re-watching the film today it is not the case. Miller is more interested in world building. Introducing the lone heroic cop who can take down any gang. He juxtaposes the early scenes of Max’s heroics with Max at home with his family in a peaceful environment enjoying time with his wife and baby son. These scenes show a suburb not too far away from 70s Australia and most of this first film take place in a pretty standard Australian suburban setting. It is not until the sequel that Max wonders a barren sand filled landscape. This film is centered mostly in the real 70s Australia despite the police wearing casual biker outfits. Most of the police drive souped up cars to pursue criminals. Most of the film revolves around Toecutter’s gang terrorizing the town. It is a classic western in that way with the townspeople being terrorized by a gang and a lone gunslinger coming to their aid. However this film takes place in Australia and the lone gunslinger is replaced with a cop who loves his car.

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Gibson is fantastic as the hero showing both a soft side with his family and a dangerous side on the streets pursuing his prey. Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Toecutter is a deranged psycho the perfect flipside of Max’s hero. Miller’s direction is fantastic with breathtaking car chases throughout. His film is an iconic classic however it isn’t perfect. It doesn’t reach the highs of a dystopian classic such as A Clockwork Orange even though the gangs appear as though they walked straight off of Kubrick’s set. The film is ultimately a standard cop versus gang drama. Films such as Kill Bill, Death Proof and Drive are clearly influenced by this film and are ultimately superior. The film introduces us to a world of deranged bikers, wild cops and oblivious bystanders but the world building doesn’t reach its heights until its superior sequel.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

FILM REVIEW: THE AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

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Tony Stark: Shit!
Steve Rogers: Language.

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson

Synopsis: As The Avengers defeat the remaining forces of Hydra a new threat arises as Tony Stark and Bruce Banner attempt to develop a new security system for the world. When their experiment backfires, Ultron is born. A computer program/robot who wishes to exterminate humans from earth.

With mammoth expectations from Marvel Studios after last year’s critical and box office successes Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers Age of Ultron arrives with slight disappointment from fans. It is an impossible task for Whedon to top his first attempt of combining Marvels favourite heroes in 2012’s The Avengers. It is also an impossible task to keep the Marvel brand fresh off last years quite surprising hits especially Guardians of the Galaxy. However with a deeper look you can see that Whedon actually has topped the original with better chemistry between the heroes, a better villain with James Spader’s sly Ultron and bigger and better action set pieces beginning with a snowy attack on Hydra’s base in the opening scene.

This photo provided by Disney/Marvel shows, Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers, in the new film, "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." The movie releases in U.S. theaters on May 1, 2015. (Jay Maidment/Disney/Marvel via AP)

Avengers Age of Ultron actually delivers what everyone wants; nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps that is the issue with the Marvel brand in general, with every film released we are teased with the next feature. In 2011 we knew with the releases of the original Thor and Captain America and the success of the two Iron Man films that we would have an Avengers film the year later. With the ending of The Avengers and the reveal of Thanos we knew we would get an Infinity Wars Avengers film coming up. With Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World we knew we would get an Avengers sequel in 2015. There are no more surprises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even with the release of Age of Ultron we know next year we’ll get Captain America: Civil War. Marvel has even released their five year plan to the press so we all know what adventure our heroes will go on eventually. This takes the surprises and stakes out of the picture for Avengers AOU because we know Iron Man and Captain America will face off in next years Civil War and Thor will fight again in a further sequel in 2016. All we can do is try and enjoy this particular adventure on its own terms even through we know no one significant will die and nothing significant will happen that will alter Marvel’s five year plan.

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However sitting in the cinema and watching the action unfold, listening to Whedon’s witty banter come out of my favourite heroes mouths I can’t help but feel in love. I love Downey Jr’s snark and wit in Tony Stark, I love Evans naivety and stoic in Captain America, I love Hemsworth’s viking swagger as Thor, Johansson’s sexy Black Widow and Ruffalo’s brooding Bruce Banner. There is also Renner’s new and improved Hawkeye, Cheadle’s over-eager Rhodey and Anthony Mackie’s dedication to Cap in Sam Wilson. There are new surprises with Spader’s brilliant Ultron, Paul Bettany’s unique and amazing The Vision and Elizabeth Olsen’s sexy and scary Wanda Maximoff. Unfortunately Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff is a bit of a letdown after last year’s superior version in X-Men Days of Future Past. As you can see I’m a huge fan of Marvel and even though I know where each franchise is going I can still enjoy this adventure on its own terms and I think in time people will look back at this as one of the better adventures in the Marvel canon. Even though there are multiple plot lines, too many characters and the novelty of the heroes coming together for the first time removed, I think Whedon still excels as a comic book film auteur. It is a shame he is leaving the franchise however I believe he will deliver another excellent film soon.

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With excellent performances, brilliant action set pieces and a great villain in Ultron, Whedon has delivered a worthy sequel to The Avengers and also paves the way for more adventures that I can’t wait to see.

Rating: 4 Stars

FILM REVIEW: GET HARD (2015)

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Darnell Lewis: When life throws you Dick you make Dick-ade!
James King: Dick-ade doesn’t sound like a significant improvement over dick.

Director: Etan Cohen

Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie, Craig T. Nelson

Synopsis: When wealthy hedge fund manager, James King, is framed for fraud he is sentenced to maximum security prison, San Quentin. Worried about how to handle prison life he turns to his car cleaner, Darnell Lewis, who he falsely presumes knows what it’s like to be in prison because he is black. Needing the money to start his new business Darnell agrees to the offer even though he’s never actually been to prison.

A modern spin on the 80s classic comedy ‘Trading Places‘ with Will Ferrell as the stiff rich white man replacing Dan Akroyd and Kevin Hart as the poor black man (this time not homeless but a struggling business owner with a wife and daughter) replacing Eddie Murphy. It’s not officially a remake but it does borrow a lot from that film bordering on copyright.

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This is an enjoyable comedy not in the league of Ferrell’s superior comedies such as Anchorman and Step Brothers but better than most modern comedies. Hart brings his manic energy to the screen and after his hilarious stand up shows he’s beginning to bring that energy to his films after the disappointing Ride Along. Hart and Ferrell work well together but the film relies heavily on dick and rape jokes rather than their stars natural comedic talent.

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Ferrell stars as James King a wealthy hedge fund manager engaged to the smoking hot Alissa (played with wicked delight by Alison Brie). He has it all – gorgeous house, wealth, power and prestige however he soon finds himself the victim of a false accusation and faces time in prison. He turns to his car cleaner Darnell (Hart) for advice on how to survive in prison. He offers him $30,000 for his help. Darnell accepts even though he’s never been to prison. What follows is a series of sketches involving Hart preparing a disillusioned Ferrell on prison life including how to act tough, how to suck dick, and how to fight strangers. Not all of the sketches work and the dick/gay jokes feel dated in 2015. If this film came out ten or twenty years ago it would have been a lot edgier and in your face but after shock comedies such as Borat, Jackass and the American Pie series unfortunately most comedy fans have seen it all before.

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It is an enjoyable time if you enjoy the humour of Ferrell and Hart but unfortunately little else for contemporary audiences.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

FILM REVIEW: FURIOUS 7 (2015)

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Dominic Toretto: I used to say I live my life a quarter mile at a time and I think that’s why we were brothers – because you did too. No matter where you are, whether it’s a quarter mile away or half way across the world. The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room, right here, right now. Salute mi familia. You’ll always be with me. And you’ll always be my brother.

Director: James Wan

Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell and Dwayne Johnson

Synopsis: After the death of a close ally, Dominic Toretto, brings his gang back together to seek revenge and also go on a worldwide mission to help the government get their hands on a new form of GPS tracking equipment that can trace anyone in the world.

Unfortunately franchise fatigue and tragic behind the scenes events weigh heavy on the seventh instalment of the Fast and Furious saga. It has been said again and again but it is quite the feat to have a b level action film from 2001 with no stars or credibility to go on to become a billion dollar franchise over ten years later. After the original The Fast and the Furious (2001) was a surprise hit and made street car racing popular the studio quickly went on to develop a sequel with the partnership of Vin Diesel’s stoic bad boy car racer, Dominic Toretto, and Paul Walker’s good boy charming undercover cop, Brian O’Conner to recapture the magic of the original. However Diesel didn’t want to be a part of it (believing he’d have a stronger career in more dramatic roles) so the studio went ahead and replaced him with Tyrese Gibson’s bad boy, Roman, who was essentially a more charming version of Toretto in 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious (great title). Then in 2006 Universal released The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, which essentially strayed away from the buddy cop genre conventions of the previous two and went with a new story revolving around a troubled youth who has to move to Japan and discovers car racing and drifting. The film was the least successful of the franchise but did introduce Sung Kan’s Han who would become a series regular. The film also ended with a surprise cameo from Vin Diesel tying the film to the franchise. Perhaps the most important asset the third film brought was the introduction of director Justin Lin who would go on to re-establish the franchise for the better. In 2009, Lin brought the original four back together with the reunion of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez. It was a fun reunion and was a huge success at the box office showing that the franchise could live on. In 2011, Lin directed the best in the series with Fast Five, taking the gang on a wild heist and introducing Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Hobbs a federal Marshall on the hunt for Toretto. Johnson brought swagger and charm to the role of Hobb’s and Lin brought breathtaking action sequences to new heights and the series was now a phenomenon. In 2013, Lin made his final bow with Fast Six, which was another action masterpiece with incredible set pieces. However Lin decided to leave the franchise when Universal wanted to rush production and have Furious Seven released a year later. James Wan, successful from horror hits such as Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring was brought in to complete the film. Wan a talented director wanted to explore an action film and things were on the way however only months into production, Paul Walker tragically passed away in a car crash. The film appeared to be over however with time away and further negotiations, Diesel and crew decided to complete the film as a tribute to Walker. With CGI, Walker’s brothers as stand ins and existing footage they were going to complete the scenes of Brian and also send him off with a farewell from the team/franchise.

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With Walker’s death changing everything the film suffers on two levels. One it is hard to watch Walker drive into death defying situations without feeling uncomfortable knowing he died in reality doing the same sort of thing. Also his later scenes feel clunky with him speaking on the phone filmed from his back or fighting Tony Jaa in the dark to obscure his face it shows that despite their noble efforts the filmmakers still couldn’t hide the fact that Brian was no longer played by Walker. Also the films narrative switches to accommodate his characters departure from the franchise. Although in previous films Brian partnered with Torreto’s sister, Mia (played by Jordana Brewster) and even had a child with her. Now he decides to leave the gang and live with her far away. The final scenes are an emotional tribute to Walker and Brian however after further thought his character could have had a stronger exit.

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Now for the rest of the film the gang is on two missions. One is to fight Jason Statham’s new character of Dereck Shaw, brother of Owen Shaw from Fast Six that was put into a coma by Torreto. As Torreto and his gang fight Shaw they meet a new ally in Kurt Russell’s Mr Nobody, a shady government agent who gets Torreto’s crew to work for him to find a GPS tracker which can find anyone in the world. Despite some great action scenes the films multiple plots are hard to keep track of and at 137 minutes of exploding cars, helicopters, city streets it all becomes a bit too much. Lin was better equipped at handling action scenes in FF 3 – 6 with slower panning and longer edits. Unfortunately Wan films his action in quick cuts and it is hard to keep up with the space of the characters, cars, helicopters, etc in most of the action scenes. Wan shows some impressive camera angles in the first fist fight between Johnson and Statham however as the film moves on to car chases and explosions Wan suffers under the pressure to top the last films action creativity.

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With a confusing plot and action scenes with jarring quick cuts unfortunately Furious Seven ends up being one of the least enjoyable in the franchise. The film isn’t terrible with a moving tribute to Walker and a few enjoyable action scenes. It is disappointing as the previous entries have set the bar extremely high. Only Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs saves the film with a bit of humour but he is also taken out far too quickly in the opening scenes of the film.

Rating: 2 Stars

Ranking of the Fast and Furious Franchise.

1. Fast Five (2011)
2. Fast Six (2013)
3. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
4. Fast & Furious (2004)
5. Furious Seven (2015)
6. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
7. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)