There has not been another cinematic franchise that has reinvented itself the way The Fast and the Furious series has. While most franchises seem to run out of steam around the third film, this series has defied the odds by actually getting better with each subsequent film. The unique thing about the success of this series is how well it has tapped into the universe it has created. This is a world where the laws of physics no longer exist, the third film is actually the sixth film, and maximum destruction occurs with only a few select casualties. Yet for all its outlandish traits, there is something undeniably entertaining about the brash group of anti-heroes at its core.
What original started out as a Point Break clone, with cars replacing surfboards, has evolved into a genre jumping high octane thrill ride. While the plot has never been a strong point in the series, over the years, the films still managed to have a little more under the hood than just a shiny exterior. Much of the success can be traced back to when Justin Lin took over the directing reigns in the third film, The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. Though Lin has made a name for himself with The Fast and the Furious franchise, and the “Modern Warfare” episode of the show Community, his best film to date is still the criminally underrated drama Better Luck Tomorrow (which also features Fast & Furious 6’s Sung Kang). Incorporating Tomorrow’s themes of friendship amongst outsiders and coupling it with Lin’s inventive visual aesthetics has help to elevate The Fast and Furious series into a class of its own.
There are those who will surely dismiss these types of films as “mindless” or “nonsensical”, but the franchise seem to wear these labels like a badge of honour. In fact, the franchise works best the more ludicrous it is in regards to plot and action. Say what you will about the series, but at no point has it pretended to be anything more than a tale of friendship amongst globetrotting car obsessed criminals. In each film there is always a villain who is far worse than the group of lawbreakers who we inevitably end up cheering for. There is no hidden subtext, no commentary on American politics, or any social message. Instead audiences are treated to outrageous action sequences, fast cars, and statements on the importance of family. Fast & Furious 6 (a.k.a. Furious 6), the last film to be directed by Lin, is no different as it offers all of these things but turns the stakes up to maximum voltage.
The story picks up right where Fast Five left off, fugitives Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are enjoying the retired life that the billions their crew stole in the Brazil heist has afforded them. Their peaceful existence is disrupted when agent Hobb (Dwayne Johnson) comes requesting their help in tracking down an international criminal named Shaw (Luke Evans). Using street racing techniques to pull off elaborate high stakes thefts, including devices that could make a bomb, Shaw and his team have always managed to stay twelve steps ahead of the law. Although Toretto is normally on the other side of the law, he agrees to join forces with Hobbs once he learns that one of the members of Shaw’s team is none other than his old flame Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Originally believing Letty was killed, Toretto assembles his team (series regulars Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Ludacris, and Tyrese Gibson) in an attempt to stop Shaw and find out what really happened to Letty.
Those who enjoyed the action lunacy of Fast Five will not be disappointed with this edition. There is so much action in this film that it is almost tough for the brain to process it all in one sitting. This is especially true in the climatic sequence that involves an oversize plane, dangling cars, and a number of fights occurring simultaneously. The much publicized tank sequence is full of carnage and science defying stunts. There is one scene in particular that could only happen in The Fast and the Furious universe. While the car chases and general vehicular stunts are solid, the pleasant surprise in this film is actually the hand-to-hand fight scenes involving series newcomers Gina Carano and Johannes Taslim.
Proving their physical proficiencies in the memorable action films Haywire and The Raid: Redemption respectively, Carano and Taslim emphasize the importance of balancing the deck. In films like The Expendables, and even The Avengers for that matter, the physical star power is usually heavily weighted in favour of the good guys. This often results in the heroes having to fight a wave of genetically inferior foot soldiers. However, Lin ensures that his fight scenes are entertaining by placing equally match individuals against each other. The rare exception to this is a scene stealing moment, both literally and figuratively, involving Taslim that should bring a smile to the faces of anyone who has seen The Raid: Redemption.
If there is one complaint to be had with this franchise, is the fact that there has never been a truly memorable villain. This series has always been lacking its own Hans Gruber; someone who truly takes evil to a whole new level. Despite Evan’s solid work as Shaw, the character still falls into the same generic pool that all of the past villains of the franchise seem to swim in. If Justin Lin’s final gift in his swan song is any indication, this finally might be rectified in the seventh installment of this insanely entertaining franchise.