It may be strange to believe, but (The) Fast & (The) Furious franchise may be one of the few movie series that gets better with each iteration. With the sixth installment, the movie manages to top the previous adventure in pure scale while just barely matching in excitement.
Picking up where the last film left off, the ragtag crew of misfits that successfully stole $100 million from a Brazilian crime lord are now living like fat cats in private jets, expensive estates, and of course, the best exotic and luxury sports cars. However, new criminal mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) has risen in Europe, successfully taking down armored military vehicles and whisking away with some very important computer thing that can actually destroy the world somehow. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the DSS agent who hunted our protagonists in the last film, now seeks their help in bringing Shaw to justice.
“You give us full pardons all around,” asks Paul Walker, who plays former cop and FBI agent Brian O’Conner.
“That’s the deal. Take it or leave it,” grunts Vin Diesel as Dom Toretto, former street racer turned into a Superman of sorts.
The stakes of these characters have changed, both personally and for the good of the world. Yes, really. Dom’s old flame Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), presumed dead, has somehow returned and working for Shaw. Meanwhile, the computer chip thing has enough power to destroy a whole nation. Letty means the world to Dom, and if he and his crew fail, the world will mean nothing.
Ridiculous? Yes. Fun? Absolutely.
After the monster that was Fast Five, the films have taken on a James Bond-esque mise-en-scene with exotic locales (which by the way, much of the film happens in London!) and large-scale stakes that have surpassed merely escaping arrest from the LAPD. This escalation is absolutely thrilling, despite taking on a Saturday morning action cartoon suspension of disbelief. Physics are thrown out the window — or catapulted, rather, in regards to one stunt involving star Vin Diesel — and the film commands you to remember: It’s a movie, and real world logic need not be necessary.
It is this balance of ridiculousness and hyper self-awareness that makes the film series so fun for dedicated enthusiasts, but difficult to bring to friends who think their brain cells will die with each minute. The films know exactly what they are, and with each wink and a smile they ask you to play along. If you let yourself, you’ll happily oblige.
Although we are six movies deep with Fast & Furious 6 (Furious 6 just going by the title card), this film is Justin Lin’s fourth and last excursion into the world of Dom and O’Conner. Although Lin inherited the series with its third entry, Tokyo Drift, he has led the pack ever since and the series has turned into his adopted child. All stories introduced since even before his run are tied up nicely. One lingering arc involving fan favorite Han (Sung Kang) is finally, and sadly, answered after its elbow nudges in the last two films. Stay after the credits, by the way. You’ll be treated to a total surprise.
Devin Faraci of Badass Digest made a revelatory statement that I had failed to notice, but really appreciate. According to Devin, each film in the series manages to transform into a genre unlike itself; the first film, a Hollywood-budgeted B-movie romp about downtown street racing, 2 Fast was a buddy cop adventure, Tokyo Drift a coming-of-age tale about a stranger in a strange land, Fast & Furious a crime and drug tale, and Fast Five a gigantic heist. So what is Fast & Furious 6? Ingeniously, one year removed from Marvel’s The Avengers, Universal Pictures have on their hands their own superhero flick. Dom, the unwavering Superman with rigid morals; Brian O’ Conner, the shady opposite, the Batman whose allegiances were once questionable; Roman (Tyrese), the comedy relief, a lesser Tony Stark complete with ego; Tej (Ludacris), the team’s Billy Cranston, a Blue Ranger who they rely on for smarts but can throw down on the road if need be; and Han and Gisele (Gal Gadot), super cool utility players (thanks Devin!) like Hawkeye and Black Widow who seem to have their own story going on. Newcomers include MMA star Gina Carano as Hobbs’ new recruit, who kicks major ass, and of course Luke Evans as supevillain Owen Shaw.
Yeah, supervillain! This movie really is a superhero flick complete with an international mastermind to take down. He has at his own disposal his own “Dark Avengers,” or “Psycho Rangers,” negative opposites of our beloved crew who have Letty on their team, much to Dom’s heartbreak. His role really comes to its peak when Dom and the Super Friends need to stop Shaw from terrorizing innocent people on a highway. With a tank.
I credit Devin for really bringing that image to mind, helping illustrate just how cool of a genre bender these Fast & Furious films are that most critics don’t give them credit for.
What works against Furious 6 lies in two of arguably the most important aspects in any film: location, and a running time. Though not out of place in today’s landscape, 130 minutes is an exhausting ordeal, especially with the amount of adrenaline the movies expects to pump into you. The pacing of the film was fine, but there certainly could have been some trimming to be had.
The James Bond aesthetic was in full force for Furious 6, right down to location: London! Sadly, aside from some unfunny caricatures of Englishmen, there is not a lot that takes advantage of the series’ most unique setting. The popularity of Top Gear now makes London a natural next step, but for the first half of the series’ existence London is a far cry for movies about fast cars. A destructive manhunt, a street race, fights in the subway, and some scenic shots are all you get. It’s not they’re bad — in fact, those aforementioned scenes were finely shot and choreographed — but they lack London’s flavor and the car culture of Europe are only tasted. For a 130-minute movie, it would have been nice to indulge.
After the disappointment that was Star Trek Into Darkness and the excitement of Iron Man 3 now running on fumes, Fast & Furious 6 is the high-octane NOS we need heading into the summer. Fast cars, insane stunts, James Bond-like adventures, and music video editing are all wrapped up in a neat summer package that surprisingly tells a story about a family who have loved and lost so much.
If you let yourself have fun, you most certainly will.