This isn’t how film series are supposed to work. Series are supposed to peak with their first or second film and then release a much hyped third film which is supposed to be advertised as the end to a trilogy. Then everyone involved is supposed to rest on their laurels for only to then sell out and make the fourth installment that they promised they’d never make, and then make a series of increasingly underwhelming sequels with or without the original cast and crew, often to diminishing box office returns, and they’re also supposed to drop their original numbering system somewhere around the fourth or fifth installments in place of the “title colon subtitle” system of naming sequels. There was nothing about the “Fast and Furious” franchise that made me think it would buck that trend. If you’d asked me in 2007 where I thought the series would be in 2013 I would have said the series would either be completely dead or at least in some kind of direct to DVD purgatory. And yet, here we are twelve years after the release of the original film and the series is more popular than ever and at least as respectable as it’s ever been.
The latest adventure of Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) merry band of thieves kicks off when each member of the team is contacted by agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the man who was actively pursuing the gang in the previous film. Hobbs isn’t calling to arrest the team; he’s calling to recruit them to help hunt down a rouge SAS team that he believes are plotting to steal a military device that could cause major devastation if sold to “the wrong people.” In exchange for their help, Hobbs is offering both a cash payment and a pardon for any crimes that the crew previously committed. The crew agrees to this and head to Europe to follow the trail.
Fast Five re-invigorated the series by combining the franchises usual urban car chase thrills with an Ocean’s 11 style heist plot. This time the plan seems to be to take a “Fast & Furious” approach to the spy movie, albeit a very over-the-top brand of spy movie in the James Bond mold. Indeed, some of the action scenes here do rival the kind of lovably over-blown nonsense that one would expect from a Bond film. There’s a chase involving armored F-1 racers that can run into cars and flip them, there’s a chase involving a tank, and there’s of course the scene made famous by the trailers involving a jumbo jet bring brought down on the runway by a bunch of sports cars. In short, these scenes are nuts. They’re mass spectacles and anyone looking to see fast cars and big explosions will probably not be disappointed by them, provided that they’re willing to overlook some questionable physics and aren’t too interested in questioning just how long air-port runways are in this world.
The film is pretty clearly built around these three set-pieces, and no matter how good they are the film would still fall flat if the scenes between them were boring. Time passes pretty enjoyably whenever this time is used to just have Tyrese Gibson, Gal Gadot, The Rock, Ludacris, Gina Carano, and Sung Kang screw around while ostensibly investigating the group their trying to find. All these actors have a pretty good chemistry at this point and their masculine comradely is fairly enjoyable. The film suffers when it starts following the Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez storyline. Rodriguez was supposed to have died in Fast & Furious (that’s the fourth one), and the movie really just wastes a whole lot of time trying to justify bringing her back. That this justification involves amnesia and requires a mostly pointless sub-plot in which Paul Walker goes undercover in a prison really just suggest to me that they should have just handled the actresses return with a simple retcon.
There’s a lot I’m willing to overlook in order to enjoy this guilty pleasure of a series, but there are limits to what I’m going to put up with. That amnesia storyline as well as a ridiculous decision that the characters make in order to justify the final action scene come right up to that line, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t really enjoy Fast & Furious 6. In a world that’s filled with pretentious action films that all think they’re The Dark Knight, there’s something kind of refreshing about a big budget movie that unapologetically just revels in fast cars, hot women, and big explosions. It’s not the kind of movie that’s going to rock your world, and it certainly isn’t any kind of artistic achievement, but if you’re feeling down and you need something to do on just the right kind of summer day this movie will have just what you need.
*** out of Four