The internet is littered with editorials about video game franchises that failed to make a successful transition to the big screen. From 1993’s Super Mario Bros, to 2010’s Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, there have been more than a handful of box office disasters caused by the video game industry over the last two decades, but every now and then a film comes along that defies the odds and offers a viewing experience as intense and deeply satisfying as its small screen counterpart.
Opening this week, Need For Speed brings all the action, suspense, and over-the-top stunt choreography of Entertainment Arts’ multi-platform racing franchise to the silver screen in a blaze of Bullitt-inspired glory. It’s a high octane road adventure that manages to deliver as much heart as it does vehicular chaos, and it does so without stepping on the toes of the “Fast And Furious” franchise. You have never seen a video game brought to the big screen quite like this.
Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul plays Tobey Marshall, a rising street racer who is framed by a wealthy business associate for a crash that leads to the death of Marshall’s close friend. Once Tobey is free, he immediately sets his sights on revenge, which in the NFS universe means traveling across the country to participate in an illegal street race featuring the world’s greatest drivers and most exotic cars.
Things are never as easy as they seem, even when your thing involves a cross-country battle for revenge, and before Tobey’s adventures gets too far underway his rival (played by Dominic Cooper) learns of his plans to settle the score. In response, he puts a bounty on Tobey’s head which, coupled with the fact Marshall is breaking parole to attend the race, makes completing the journey even more difficult.
The brilliance of Need For Speed comes from its setup. The film’s first twenty minutes, all of which take place prior to the accident that lands Marshall in jail, allows filmmaker Scott Waugh ample time to introduce the NFS world and the people who inhabit it without being too rushed or one-sided with his presentation. Where most films would opt to describe supporting characters as ‘the funny one’ or ‘the angry one,’ the people who surround Tobey Marshall are just are real as he is, making the entire experience a bit more believable. You know it’s all birthed from a video game, but this universe is thriving in ways the game never made possible.
Director Scott Waugh (Act Of Valor) prides himself on authentic storytelling, even when the story being told seems out of this world. Need For Speed features absolutely zero CGI. The stunts are real, the collisions are dangerous, and the resulting explosions are often large. It’s so easy to forget in an age where so many films shamelessly lean on digital effects to better their action just how uniquely exciting authentic stunts are on screen. You know people had to risk their lives for you to be entertained, and that speaks to the faith the people behind the film have in its story.
Need For Speed is the most exciting film to hit the big screen in recent memory, and without a doubt will be a contender for the best action feature to be releases all year. It will likely spawn a sequel, if not an entire franchise, as well as many more video games.
Written by James Shotwell