The Fast and Furious franchise is genuinely one of the most interesting set of films to ever be released.

I'm not even being facetious; the once street racing based set of action thrillers have defied all movie-making common sense to become one of the most financially successful properties ever. Which is crazy considering the terrible first impression this franchise made. After dropping two moderately successful but ultimately forgettable entries in the early 2000s the series shifted gears around 2006 with a third film, Tokyo Drift, which moved the property forward with a spin-off that lacked any of the original cast. It made a mere $150,000 million worldwide and took a critical beating. After three widely unsuccessful attempts to launch the franchise and a final box-office bomb, you would have expected any studio to accept defeat and throw in the towel.

But instead Universal did the exact opposite. In a daring move the studio threw even more money at the failing franchise, bringing back the original cast from an eight-year-old movie that only a handful of people liked in the first place to launch a direct sequel that took inspiration from Casino Royale and The Bourne Identity and smashed it together with the cheesy car porn the series was known for. Somehow the move worked, and the confusingly titled Fast and Furious grossed over double the amount of money the third film made. The franchise only grew from there, making more and more money as somewhere along the line The Rock got added to the mix, characters came back from the dead, and Vin Diesel had a car chase on top of a moving airliner or something.

Oh, and the seventh film in the franchise managed to make $1.5 billion worldwide, more than doubling the intake of the previous movie. Seven films in.

It's safe to say that Fast and Furious is a worldwide phenomenon (seriously, just look at how much money these movies take from countries outside of the US and Europe), but it's one that I've always felt out the loop on. In an effort to catch up before the eighth picture hit cinemas, I decided - perhaps as a sort of cry for help - to binge the entire series in a day. I wanted to fully appreciate the evolution of this global sensation I'd been an outsider to for years. I did not know what I was letting myself in for.

Things started out promising enough though, and the original film, The Fast and The Furious, was everything I hoped this series would be. Made in an awkward time between the end of gritty nineties action flicks but slightly before the super-stylish early 2000s truly took off, The Fast and The Furious surprisingly lacks much of the daftness you'd expect from the franchise. In fact it takes itself way too seriously, a problem which isn't helped by a posturing cast of then-unknown megastars who lack the charisma and talent they would later grow into. Likewise Paul Walker's undercover cop angle feels like it was crowbarred into the film at the last minute, and the movie has no idea how to balance this element with Vin Diesel's racing gang, completely giving up on it for big chunks of the movie. In fact the film does that with just about every plot point; The Fast and the Furious just drops characters and sub-plots on a whim, while pulling others out of thin air an hour and a half in.

But surprisingly the movie focuses on characters, no matter how poorly defined, in a way contemporary action films rarely do. It might seem trite, but a scene with our boy (and one girl) racers just hanging out and knocking back some label-out Coronas was refreshingly subdued. It's an example of a character moment that had the plot built around it, rather than a character moment crowbarred in because the screenwriters had to fill space between two set-pieces.

Going back though it's weird that it was this film that birthed a multi-billion dollar franchise, as even this original effort has no idea what it wants to be. Part crime thriller, part undercover cop movie and part wacky racers, The Fast and The Furious struggles to decide on a focus, a problem that's only exacerbated in the sequel that followed it.

Unlike its predecessor, 2 Fast 2 Furious fully embraces the early 2000s flash and artifice that gives everyone who lived through those years second-hand embarrassment today. Right down to its title, 2 Fast is completely preoccupied with being cool, but the kind of focus-tested, rigorously brainstormed cool that the entire early half of the decade stank of. As a result the film ups the amount of Fast and Furious Babes (which were surprisingly absent in the first flick), leans way too heavily on dated CGI and forefronts a buddy cop relationship between Paul Walker and a character the film bends over backwards with to try and fill the void left by Vin Diesel. The latter especially is a relationship so forced and contrived that it makes you wonder why they didn't just start over again with new characters. With Diesel et al. no longer around and Walker's character feeling entirely different from the person we got to know in the first film, 2 Fast might as well have been a standalone movie.

But even without all that weighing it down, by fully embracing the silliness of the franchise you might think that this second film would be one of the most enjoyable entries simply because of the sheer amount of early 2000s cheese it has on show. Sadly though, 2 Fast 2 Furious is the lowest the franchise sinks. It covers almost beat-for-beat the same material as the first movie, the jokes are lame, and it takes itself once again surprisingly seriously, which sucks the entire fun out of watching something like this. It's a chore to sit through honestly, and without any memorable characters or direct connections to the previous film to back it up, ultimately feels a bit like fan-fiction in the grand scheme of things.

But if 2 Fast has anything going for it it's that the sequel isn't quite as inconsequential as the third film, Tokyo Drift. Taking the franchise away from its American roots for the first time, this sequel/spin-off takes place years after the first two entries, giving it a quasi-futuristic feel that entirely messes with the series' continuity. There's a lot to like in this third effort though, and there's a certain mind-numbing sense of enjoyment to be had from seeing cars going really fast against a gorgeous Tokyo backdrop. At this point, though the franchise desperately needed some kind of shot in the arm, and if the series had ended here, you wouldn't have blamed Universal for calling it quits.

But, to be fair, if I hadn't just watched the first two flicks back-to-back then Tokyo Drift could have been a rollicking good time. It's just that by this point cutaway shots of speedometers going OFF THE CHARTS and close-ups of characters looking stern against horrible CGI backdrops had been repeated so much that, if I had to drink a shot every time they appeared, I'd have been long dead before seeing the deflating ending of 2 Fast 2 Furious. Everything had started to blur into one long set of engine noises, angry faces and neon lights as I slowly slipped into an existential void. To its credit it's the most focused of the series though, ridding itself of the crime pretences of the previous films and straight-up indulging in the street-racing material. Not a bad way to spend two hours, I suppose. But again, it's so disconnected from everything else that I felt as though I'd just finished watching a trilogy of films connected only by a title and the fact that Paul Walker plays two vaguely similar characters who happen to share the same name.

The fourth film, Fast and Furious attempts to reconnect the dots a little bit, reintroducing characters and drawing the focus back to Vin Diesel and Paul Walker's relationship while rebooting the franchise to be less Need for Speed and more Die Hard. It's the point where the series started to mature; you can tell because they ditch the neon underglow from under the cars in this one, vaguely embarrassed by their old ways but still tied to them like a teenager trying to ignore the pictures of their Goth days that still haunt their Facebook profile. But even so, it's in this film that you can start to see the reasons why the franchise is so popular today.

There's a genuine comradery between the cast, and while the film never takes its crime plot or action all that seriously, this human element is surprisingly treated with respect. It might seem obvious to want your audience to care for your characters, but so many action films - even otherwise good ones - fail to get the viewer interested in the people actually involved in their explosive sequences. Fast and Furious made a huge presumption that people still cared about these characters who only appeared in one almost ten-year-old movie together, but it somehow makes you feel like you're revisiting old friends you haven't seen in ages. The film's winning trick is that it gets you genuinely excited to catch up with characters you didn't even care that much about in the first place.

Also at one point Vin Diesel does a wheelie with his muscle car and murders a bunch of guys. Stuff like that helps too.

Fast and Furious was a good note to end on, and in a way (and not just because of the title) it felt as though the films had come full circle. But after almost eight hours my eyes had glazed over, blaring police sirens and tire screeches still echoing in my ears. My entire life was flashing before my eyes, and I felt that if I pressed play on Fast Five I'd be beginning down a road that would end with me being the dad in the song 'Cat's in the Cradle'. None of the Fast movies were particularly terrible - and rarely were they even outright bad - but these films definitely aren't made to be binged. At a certain point everything becomes white noise, as ill-defined characters are reshaped however the plot sees fit and everything is filtered out until scenes become made up only of characters checking out the speed of their car and being unimpressed by it. It wouldn't be so bad if they at least looked like they were enjoying barrelling down a highway in a sports car at 180mph.

Watching these movies for the first time I have no idea how Universal was able to turn this garbage fire of a series into the hottest action franchise ever, but I madly respect them for pulling it off. Because I only made it to the point before they truly found success though I may never truly understand why or how they pulled it off, but I still appreciate the series for what it has accomplished. There's certainly a charm even to these early movies, and the fact that the franchise is eight films deep and only getting more successful has to be commended. The increasing focus on characters invites you to keep returning to the franchise even when it has nothing new to offer in the action or effects department, and while it ditches the street racing rather quickly, the series was never really about that in the first place.

It might be cool to hate on The Fast and the Furious, and there's probably plenty of reasons to do so if you spend too much time thinking about it, but it really is amazing to see the series bounce back after botching three attempts out the gate. Just don't try watching them all at once.