<i>Fast &amp; Furious 6</i> Cheat Sheet: A Guide For Franchise Newbies

Their life of crime was in the rear-view mirror … until the dead came back to life. Or something?

In Fast & Furious 6, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew are pulled back into the high-speed game of fast cars and furious heists when a ghost from the past reemerges: Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom's thought-dead girlfriend, who's apparently alive and well overseas in Europe as part of a deadly crew of thieves. Federal agent and former adversary Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) calls on Dom and pals to stop Letty and her team, but they'll only agree to help if Hobbs can meet their price: a complete wipe of their criminal records.

Fundamentally, the Fast and the Furious movies are visceral and pulse-pounding thrill-rides. But there's something deeper underneath the hood: six films filled with gradual character, relationship and story development, all of which is likely lost on newcomers arriving at Furious 6 as their introduction to the franchise … newcomers like yours truly.

If you're a Fast and the Furious newbie like I am, then I hope you'll find the following exchange helpful. I spoke with CBR Senior Editor and longtime F&F super-fan Stephen Gerding about the series, and what a complete newcomer to the films needs to know ahead of this week's new entry.

Josh Wigler: Here's what I know about the Fast and the Furious movies: They're fast, and they're furious. Do I really need to know more than that to enjoy the new one?

Stephen Gerding: No! And yes! I mean, that's the pitch that sold the first one, and we all see how that turned out. However, if you're thinking you can just leap into the franchise with any old installment, well -- you'd be partially right. Most of the movies do work as standalone stories, though there's a lot to be gained by watching them in order. The relationships build from movie to movie.

Let's go to the beginning. Isn't The Fast and the Furious just Point Break with the serial numbers filed off?

In a lot of ways, yeah, and it's a comparison that's helped along by Paul Walker kind of channeling Keanu Reeves throughout the movie. In fact, that's the reason I initially avoided the first movie: Vin Diesel was no Patrick Swayze, and without Lori Petty, I wasn't interested! But luckily, I caught the first two back-to-back on cable before Tokyo Drift dropped, and I became a believer. Still waiting for my skydiving scene, though.

Speaking of Diesel, where is he in 2 Fast 2 Furious? He's supposed to be the main character, right? If he's not around, why do I need to watch it?

Dom was off enjoying paradise and setting up another heist with Letty -- more on her in a second. 2F2F actually introduces two of the latter films' big players: Tyrese Gibson as Roman and Ludacris as Tej. Yeah, Diesel isn't there, but it's the first hint that there's a much bigger universe out there beyond the small-time crew Walker infiltrates in the first movie.

That takes us to Tokyo Drift. No Diesel, no Walker. You're saying I can't skip this one?

A lot of folks will tell you you can, but I beg to differ. Yes, this is an odd, odd part of the F&F family, but it's also Justin Lin's first directorial effort in the franchise. In a lot of ways, it's actually my favorite of the series simply because it's such a weird installment. It was obviously a desperate attempt to cash in on the success of the first two in an almost direct-to-video fashion, but again, it introduces another character who becomes an even bigger deal later on: Sung Kang as Han.

And who the hell told you Vin Diesel's not in it? Spoilers!

Whoa. OK. Well, he's definitely back for the fourth film, Fast and Furious, which (A) should have been called Fast and 4ious and (B) looks like it brought the franchise back to basics.

It kind of did, yeah. And there's an in-story explanation, though it hinges on happenstance and coincidence. But, and I'll say this again and again, it sets things up for later flicks and as is typical for the series, it introduces at least one character who becomes a player in the F&F universe.

However, with Fast Five, the entire franchise's formula got tweaked. Instead of a movie centering on illegal street racing, combined with criminal activities, it's essentially a heist flick. Think Ocean's Eleven meets … well, The Fast and the Furious.

Fast Five brings Dwayne Johnson into the picture. And he's kind of the bad guy?

Johnson is actually the good guy -- Diesel, Walker and the rest are the bad guys, but you cheer for them. The Rock plays a government agent assigned to take down our team of robbers by any means necessary. However, when the evil bad guys targeted by our antiheroes turn out to be super evil, Johnson brokers a temporary truce in order to take on the worse threat.

Fast-forward to Fast & Furious 6, and it's a similar situation. The Rock is chasing down an international ring of bad guys, so he turns to Dom and his crew to help him out. It doesn't hurt that there's something very strange about the folks he's chasing down.

Right. Letty, Michelle Rodriguez's character and Dom's old girlfriend, is working with the Furious 6 bad guys. But, uh, isn't she dead?

She is! Or, we thought she was. Dom sure as hell thought she was, and Fast and the Furious audiences weren't given any reason to think otherwise. One of the trailers gave away part of the reason as to how she's back, which I won't spoil here, but it makes perfect sense in the F&F universe.

OK. That's a pretty solid recap, Stephen. So do I still really have to see all of these movies before checking out Furious 6 this week?

My advice: get ahold of all five, gather the friends and family around the television, and binge on them, in order.

Director Justin Lin's Fast & Furious 6 opens Friday. Read our review here.

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