One’s got to admire what Justin Lin has achieved with the Fast and Furious series. How often does an indie director manage to impose such a strong sense of authorship over an established franchise, rehabilitating its stupid, vapid avatars for puerile machismo into compelling action heroes? Most of us were ready to call it quits after John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), but here we are four sequels later, eager to find out where life will take our ragtag crew of street racers next. Heck, by the time the credits for Fast and Furious 6 were rolling, I was already clamouring for parts seven, eight, and nine.
The film opens with Brian (Paul Walker) and Dominic (Vin Diesel) in the Canary Islands, enjoying the spoils of their final heist in 2011’s Fast Five. They’re still fast but not so furious anymore, and their ham-fisted dialogue makes it clear our leads have finally mellowed into responsible adults: “Once you go through those doors, everything changes. Our old life is done.” I’m amazed at how much these characters have grown. From James Bond to Dirty Harry, action heroes usually stay the same movie after movie, but these guys learn from their experiences, becoming fuller, more vibrant protagonists with every adventure.
To emphasise the notion, we’re treated to a neat five-minute clip show recapping all of the previous instalments to the tune of Wiz Khalifa’s “We Own It”. This comes in handy, as Fast and Furious 6 (or just Furious 6 according to the montage) delves heavily into the franchise’s established lore, even bridging the gap between the more recent chapters with the original cast and Lin’s first entry in the series, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). You see, sequels still had determiners back then.
Similarly, Dominic still had Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who seemingly died in the fourth instalment, confusingly titled Fast and Furious (2009), but returns here as part of a murderous gang of robbers led by Shaw (Luke Evans). This prompts DSS agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to come “selling Girl Scout cookies” (I love his ridiculous idioms) and offer Dom’s own crew full pardons in exchange for preventing the theft of a dangerous new weapon. In short, Fast and Furious 6, pits our heroes against the criminals they might have become if Lin hadn’t come along to teach them right from wrong.
All the major players return, including Brian’s anorexic wife Mia (Jordana Brewster), his infantile former lover Roman (Tyrese Gibson), mechanic extraordinaire Tej (Chris Ludacris Bridges), and my two favourites: the ill-fated Han (Sung Kang) and his action-junkie girlfriend Gisele (Gal Gadot), who seem to be playing out a movie of their own in the background. Even Elena (Elsa Pataki) from Fast Five sticks around, despite her beau, Dom, courting his ex all over again and Hobbs replacing her as a partner with the gorgeously bad-ass Gina Carano. Amazingly, Fast and Furious 6 finds something to do for every character, mixing and matching them to explore new dynamics and score a couple (okay, a lot) of adolescent pot shots.
A consummate action director, Lin even achieves this during the chase sequences, the bread and butter of the Fast and Furious franchise. I love the shot that starts off on Dominic’s pursuit of Shaw, zooms out to show the London skyline, and then narrows on another part of the city, where Brian and Roman are driving after some more baddies. This particular set piece, by the way, begins with a cement structure exploding while our lead villain rolls away in a contraption specifically designed to flip other vehicles over. Cool. Then his partners start firing magnetic doohickeys that lock our heroes’ front wheels. Neat. Cars spin in the air and crash until one of the good guys retaliates by leaping off a walkway onto Shaw’s speeding conveyance. Awesome.
This level of spectacle would serve as a climax in most Hollywood blockbusters. Fast and Furious 6 calls it round one, gradually escalating the mayhem by way of high-octane shootouts, MMA duels, motorcycle stunts, a prison break-in, and a tank chase on two separate bridges with a third one collapsing behind. The whole thing culminates in a multi-level action extravaganza wherein our heroes drive in and out of a cargo aircraft mid takeoff, hooking their muscle cars to the wings whilst engaging in acrobatic fisticuffs.
None of it makes an ounce of sense, of course, but I like the way Lin stages the climactic set piece of Fast and Furious 6, treating every character with equal respect as if to justify Dominic’s constant prattling about family: “I have to do this. She’s family”; “You don’t turn your back on family, even when they turn their back on you”; “You never threaten a man’s family.” For the most part, these pearls of wisdom translate into an excuse to put untold lives at risk to rescue a damsel in distress, but I like that our heroes, Brian and Mia in particular, treat the death of any supporting character as they would that of their own sister-in-law.
Indeed, not everyone makes it to the finish line this time around, though I suspect the presence I’ll miss the most in future instalments belongs to Justin Lin, who, after three successful entries effectively reviving the Fast and Furious franchise, has delivered as his swan song a magnum opus of dumb action cinema. Sure, the mid credit Easter egg in Fast and Furious 6 promises even more mayhem (and a high-profile newcomer) in part seven, but what are the chances another director will strike that same perfect balance between knowingly absurd wish fulfilment and genuine innovation?