When the sixth installment of Universal’s premiere franchise faded to black I turned to the critic next to me and told him this entire series is a great guilty pleasure. To which he promptly responded, “I’m not guilty about anything. I love these movies.” As I considered that for a moment, he was on to something. Fast & Furious has moved way beyond the point of being something to feel guilty about liking – in which one box office surprise went on to become one of the biggest action-oriented franchises of all-time – to something to passionately embrace (if you are fan) while still being able to see beyond its surface-level flaws. Where most studios may turn one success into a trilogy, this has become a twelve-year odyssey, which has evolved way beyond its original concept.
What started out as a unique idea about the bonds made through street racing has remodeled itself to be an action-adventure series where the idea of family and keeping it together through incredible odds, obstacles and obvious speeding violations is paramount. It also has a western mentality where the principal stars become outlaws, having to flee their homeland (the US) to avoid apprehension. Along the way alliances are made and a posse emerges. Full of distinct personalities, they are overall led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), a cue ball street racer who lives his life by a quarter of a mile, but values family and loyalty over any lucrative score.
Taking its B-movie title, The Fast and the Furious, and running with it to the nth degree, we now arrive with the fifth sequel, Furious 6 (this is according to the title card at the end of the opening credits). If you’ve stuck with the series since the beginning then your ticket purchase is all but assured.
To be honest, I’ve got to tip my hat – if I was wearing one – to the team of director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan. Lin came on board at the wrong time and directed the Halloween III entry in the series (read: Where the hell are Vin Diesel and Paul Walker?) with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. This is the sequel that is mostly forgotten, making it the redheaded stepchild of the bunch. But together they made it work; the three entries prior to Lin’s arrival have been included in the sequels in some shape or fashion.
Rather than push Lin out and go through a revolving door of directors with sequels 4, 5 and now 6, studio Universal has let Lin shepherd the series and see it move in such a rising upswing it would make the workers on Wall Street lightheaded. Instead of the series getting progressively worse, as is the case with most franchises, Lin has managed to completely fine-tune it from original models and spare parts to create one of the best testosterone-filled action movie franchises going today. It’s just a shame that Universal is too eager to strike while the iron is hot for the seventh entry (yes, Diesel and Co. haven’t ridden into the sunset just yet), which is slated to arrive in July 2014. Justin Lin is out and now James Wan (Saw, Insidious) is in the driver’s seat.
In Fast Five, which could be best classified as “The Avengers of the F&F franchise” in terms of how Lin effortlessly brings everything together, Dwayne Johnson came on board as Luke Hobbs, an international law enforcer that has been chasing after Toretto and his criminal posse. Ditching street racing in favor of a gigantic caper movie helped in redefining the series, making it a globetrotting adventure of vehicular mayhem. By the end of that film, Dom, Brian O’Conner (Walker), and the rest of the crew – his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) who is also Dom’s sister, Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), Gisele (Gal Gadot), Han “Seoul-Oh” (Sung Kang), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) – are living comfortably after doing one last job. But then Hobbs comes back into their lives with a partner in tow, Riley (Haywire‘s and ex-MMA starlet Gina Carano), in need of his team’s assistance in apprehending Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), an ex-British special operative, now master thief. To give Dom a reason to care Hobbs shows him some photos of Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), Dominic’s lost, believed-dead (if you saw Fast & Furious – #4 in the series) ladylove.
Okay, so Furious 6 operates like a soap opera with Letty’s death and mysterious reappearance. Going with that notion, the film pushes the envelope in wanting you to suspend disbelief when it comes to people and car physics. But Justin Lin is so surefooted that he has total self-awareness of the characters, their motivations and making us believe the impossible to be possible. Chris Morgan’s screenplay is generally ridiculous, full of quips and crack wise, and gives off the appearance that the characters may truly be a B-level class of Avengers (one of them is even identified with the nickname “Samoan Thor” at one point) – totally indestructible.
The film has a good rhythm throughout with a quick set-up leading to the band getting back together, before having everything go over-the-top with explosions, flipping cars and more harebrained shenanigans. The interplay of character moments and crazy stunts allows the audience to decompress before moving on to the next, oh-they’re-not-going-to-do-what-I-think-they’re-going-to-do stunt. To later learn that Lin spent the better part of four years conceptualizing a particular action sequence that appeared in Furious 6, I’m that much more impressed with him as director. Lin went from a great directing debut with Better Luck Tomorrow to becoming a filmmaker that became very good at shooting action scenes, be they car chases or catfights (Furious 6 contains both).
It’s hard to decide on why this series works as well as it does. A large part has to do with Vin Diesel. He definitely has screen presence, but it only seems to serve him in films like this and as the character Riddick in Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick and the upcoming Riddick. Flying solo his film output is mostly miss compared to hit. The Paul Walker experiment with 2 Fast 2 Furious was, um, interesting, but this is definitely Diesel’s franchise. It revolves around him, and because his zeal for family and togetherness he makes us care for those around him that much more.
There are moments where I got caught up in the action, almost wanting to deliver fist pumps in the air with admiration. As impressive as the action is in Iron Man 3 this is better. While the final sequence is highly improbable, it is so well staged that it’s best to just go with it and enjoy it for what it is. It may not rival towing a gigantic vault through Rio De Janiero in Fast Five, but it has the right bit of tension that a lesser action director would fail to achieve.
With the right mix of emotional beats and impressive set pieces and stunt work, Furious 6 delivers in spades. It may not match the previous sequel, but filmgoers will walk out with good vibes for what the future holds in store (stay and watch the mid-credits tease that will most assuredly have audiences going bonkers).
Director: Justin Lin Writer: Chris Morgan Notable Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gina Carano, Elsa Pataky, Gal Gadot, Ludacris
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!