FAST FIVE Features Franchise Fan Service on Unprecedented Level
Fast Five serves up the most audaciously destructive automotive mayhem since Bad Boys II. Whether it works or not, I'll leave to our upcoming review(s) to deconstruct. But Fast Five features something Bad Boys II did not: Franchise fan service on an unprecedented level.
As much of our readership knows, especially those of you with a far greater knowledge of manga and anime than I currently possess, fan service is material that is inserted specifically to please loyal fans of the show. I admit to near-complete ignorance of the term until a few years ago, when I wondered aloud why an anime I was watching persisted in showcasing upskirt shots of the teenaged heroine, and a friend enlightened me. (Feel free to enlighten me further in the comments section.)
In American filmmaking terms, the immediate association would be with gratuitous nudity, which graduated from the grindhouse to drive-ins in the 70s and is an essential element of any (dis)reputable slasher flick of the 80s. As the outcry about gratuitous nudity grew in the 90s, and actresses became increasingly wary about displaying their private parts on screen in the 00s (thanks to the Internet and the likelihood that said body parts would be spotlighted in stills and clips), fan service started to lean toward violence. But blood, guts, and extreme violence suffered a backlash as well, and as the studios moved toward releasing more teen-friendly fare (i.e. PG-13), fan service had to be rethought.
As our own Todd Brown argued so eloquently last month, the PG-13 effectively killed off films "specifically tailored to the 10 - 13 age range." Targeting the 15 - 17 demographic requires that films feature a modicum of profanity (and no more than a handful of the "F word," and never in a sexual context); a dollop of sexuality -- brief shots of bikini-clad babes and shirtless hunks are fine, but only men can be shown naked from behind, and genitalia must be covered in underwear before or after sex -- sensuality (limited kissing and caressing); and as much "action" (i.e. violence) as possible. The action can result in bruises and bloody noses and widespread property destruction, but the blood must be limited to a drop or two, thank you very much.
To be truly effective, though, fan service must reward loyal viewers of a series. It's all well and good to have extreme, non-explicit mass murder in Fast Five, for example -- dead bodies pile up early and often, without any consequence to the killers -- but what's really needed are callbacks to the prequels, or what others might describe as the first four films of the series. Thus, writer Chris Morgan, who, along with director Justin Lin, came on board the series with the third entry, makes sure to include characters, scenes, and lines of dialogue that call back, reenact, or reference the earlier films.
Fans of those films reacted with the glee of recognition when their loyalty was recognized, at least at the packed advance screening I attended last night. Fast Five definitely provides an abundance of fan service, to an extent that I can't recall from other franchises this far along. Sure, we expect a measure of repetition and nods to previous entries in our franchise films, but Battle for the Planet of the Apes didn't find it necessary to include an equivalent of Charlton Heston yelling "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" and "It's a mad house! A mad house!" and Dr. Zira saying "All right, but you're so damned ugly" and somehow squeezing in every character from the previous four films.
The makers of recent franchise films, however, evidently feel compelled to up the stakes in the fan service game. The R-rated Scream 4 provided fan service by recycling characters, situations, and its meta-ness, to limited effect. Fast Five does it by recycling characters, situations, and lines of dialogue as it morphs into a heist flick, indicating a possible future direction for the franchise.
Movie sequels are an inevitable, business-driven reality, and have been around about as long as the art form itself. Maybe it's silly and pointless to wish that sequels would have just a tiny bit more faith in the ability of audiences to make the leap with characters they love into fresh new adventures that aren't mere carbon copies of what's come before.
Then again, I love musical artists who aren't afraid to rearrange and refresh their best-known songs in concert, to the consternation of the majority of their fans, who want the artist to recreate the recorded version, only louder. Likewise, Hollywood seems intent on faithfully recreating previous versions, only louder and with more fan service than ever.