Need for Speed (2014) Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
Need for Speed is the first movie outing of the videogame franchise by the same name. Having previously catered only for the videogame market since 1994, this is a major step forward. Since then, there have been no fewer than twenty games released across virtually every major gaming console. Having earned its place as the sixth best-selling videogame franchise by selling over one hundred and fifty million units, it already has a huge fan base. However after arguably its best game in 2005, the series took a sharp decline in both sales and reception. This trend has reversed slightly as their latest title was better received and the announcement of the film also gave the franchise a boost. It is my belief having played the majority of the Need for Speed titles that this was because of the shift in focus towards more cinematic games, at the cost of the soul of the franchise. It wasn’t a huge surprise then when franchise producers Electronic Arts (EA) decided to work with several studios to produce a film. Given the success of the similar genre Fast and Furious series and the already large fan base of Need for Speed, the movie has a strong platform from which to succeed. But can it deliver where it really matters?
The cast includes Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) playing the part of the protagonist Tobey Marshall, Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later) as female lead Julia, and Dominic Cooper (Mamma Mia) assuming the role of the main antagonist Dino. The story follows Tobey’s journey and his quest for justice. As was custom in the games, the plotline is minimal and easy to follow. Surprisingly this translated quite well to the big screen as the plot moved along at a sensible pace whilst still allowing for important character moments.
Unfortunately, the characters are not very well developed with Tobey the only one given a real backstory of personal grief and financial difficulties. This drives the character throughout his story and forms the basis for his actions. Julia’s character is quite interesting despite the lack significant of character development and it is obvious from the off where her character is going. Dino is a typical Need for Speed villain, and as such is a very two dimensional character. Despite the characters no being overly strong, the performances given by Cooper, Paul, and Poots are of the highest level and do enough to redeem the characters.
The focus of the narrative is Tobey’s quest for justice. In the opening scenes of the film, Tobey is offered a unique job opportunity to finish the car started by Carroll Shelby before his death (real world creator of the Ford Mustang). Given an opportunity to win the entire fee that the car commands, Tobey participates in a race with a member of his crew and rival Dino. The race goes horribly wrong leaving Tobey incarcerated for a crime with Dino committed. The bulk of the story follows Tobey’s cross country journey to reach and be invited to the Deleon (a winner takes all illegal street race featuring only the best street-racers). Tobey’s ultimate goal: to beat Dino and extract his revenge, taking his car in the process. Of course, this wouldn’t be Need for Speed without both police and fellow street racers trying to halt Tobey’s progress.
In fact, there are a lot more franchise signatures for eagle eyed fans to pick up on. There is the vehicle progression (a common feature in most games) that Tobey goes through, starting out with an inferior (in racing terms) he progresses to the Mustang and finally to the Koenigsegg. The fact that the hero races the villain both early on and in the final race will also be a concept familiar to many franchise fans. There are a few less obvious Easter Eggs peppered throughout the film too, such as the characters playing none other than Need for Speed. They may also observe the fact that the dashboard from the Mustang is the same one to feature in the games. The film also contains numerous nods to its predecessors in the genre, the most significant of which being the lack of the use of CGI. This gives the stunts in the film a much more realistic feel and prevents excessive stunts.
As a car film, for so-called Petrol Heads, it is important which cars are featured within the film. Featuring a range of top vehicles, the movie does not disappoint. Its impressive arsenal of vehicles includes: a Bugatti Veyron, three Koenigsegg Agera Rs, a Lamborghini Sesto Elemento, and lots of other high range cars. Whilst it helps the enjoyment of the film to have an interest in cars, it is still easy to be entertained without any knowledge on the subject. To that extent the film does very well, mostly avoiding motor sport jargon making the plot readily accessible to all viewers.
Need for Speed is a difficult film to rate. It excels in some areas and falls flat in others. The lack of strong characters is a real worry for a franchise hoping to get a real boost from this outing. It is also a factor for viewers as it makes it difficult to invest in the characters. That said, elsewhere the film is sublime. The visuals and musical score perfectly suit the scale and ambition of what it is trying to achieve. The plot is coherent and easy to follow; it works especially well as light entertainment. The dénouement is satisfying, if perhaps a bit guessable. Paul’s depiction of Tobey is a real highlight, and as Tobey would be the main character if the franchise were to expand on the film, his character would be sufficient to do so. In short, Need for Speed whilst far from perfect was a highly enjoyable outing which comes at a good time for an ailing franchise.