That is my from my favorite part of the movie. You’ve seen it in the trailers, there’s just this sublime ridiculous awesomeness as Paul Walker jumps up on the car, grimly determined to take this stupid-height fall like a man.

It is a metaphor for what these movies are about.

Fast Five will be remembered as the entry of the series that made good. It’s the grown-up version of the fun-loving ridiculousness and car-porn that have typified the franchise and caused it to be largely dismissed as a bunch of dumbfuck movies for teenagers who still park their cars in empty lots to see what’s under the hood of whatever daddy bought for graduation. Somehow, beyond all reasonable expectation, Fast Five is not only a commercial success (which, in fairness, I think all these movies have been) but also a critical success.

Just take that in for a moment.

Here we have a movie in the franchise that will hereafter be known as the Fast/Furious Series that everyone seems to like. That even cinema snobs agree is a pretty entertaining summer action movie and maybe the one to beat in a season ripe with tent-pole superhero flicks and the goddamn monolith that is Transformers 3.

For my part, I like all of the Fast/Furious movies to one degree or another. After seeing Fast Five I decided to rewatch them (and see the 3rd one for the first time, more on this later). I’ve realized what it is that makes these movies work. I haven’t watched the fourth one again yet so bear with me but I’ve come to recognize that each entry is basically a marriage of the weird carverse mythology and something else. But what else? Well, the first one is a reimagining of Point Break. The second one? Miami Vice (the series more than the movie). The third one is actually The Karate Kid with fucking cars.

But what is Fast Five? Well, it’s the Ocean’s 11 of the Fast/Furious series. I’m sure this has been brought up elsewhere but it’s really pretty accurate. Of course, this is an action movie more than a straight-up heist movie but there are too many commonalities to ignore the association. Fast Five is about a group of likable characters pulled together to do a big crazy thing in a foreign land, in this case Brazil. Meanwhile they are opposed not only by the folks they are trying to rip off but also a mad-dog team of Federal Agents led by Hobbs (The motherfucking Rock, people). Of course, what makes this like Ocean’s 11 has as much to do with the comedy and character beats as it does with the fun scenes of prep and exposition. The characters are all awesome and Tyrese practically steals the movie proving that he isn’t just “that black guy that keeps getting cast in shit”. The Rock is of course a ton of fun and there’s a fucking badass manly arm-clasp that threatens to eclipse the one between Ahnuld and Carl Weathers in Predator. You know the one I mean!

I’m here to tell you that it works gangbusters, especially when married to the truly impeccable action. That said, everyone involved with the look and feel of the movie has stepped up their game as this is Fast/Furious at its most gritty and realized. But it’s the action that brings us in and it delivers in more than just the puzzlingly awesome scene I pulled the opening pic from. From chases to gunfights to brawls, nothing feels as pedestrian here as it did in the prior films. And man, if you’re looking forward to that Rock vs. Vin Diesel grudge-match, you’re not going to be disappointed.

And there’s also the Michael Mann shit right here:

Somehow, Vin Diesel with a shotgun just feels right.

The interesting thing about this series for me is, aside from its weird popularity and apparent longevity, the bizarre mythology. Okay so io9 already did the whole “hey, this is this summer’s superhero team-up movie!” thing but I have to corroborate the theory. A lot of people are wondering how super-likable Han (Sung Kang) can show up in this movie, not to mention the fourth one, when he dies in Tokyo Drift. Well I have answers! Apparently, Han does die but Tokyo Drift actually takes place after both Fast & Furious and Fast Five. How’s that for some comic book shit? Fucked up chronology kids! And if they broke protocol on that shit once, what’s to stop them from doing it again if they can’t get key actors to reprise their roles? Off to Berlin for the continued adventures of that Texan guy Lucas Black played? Fuck knows. Then there’s the cameos! Stick around after the credits for not only a Marvel-style character cameo but also the possibility of character resurrection. Now if that does not a comic book mythology make, I dunno what does.

The reason to bring that shit up is not only because I love it but also because it is so bonkers that it ups the likability of this franchise even more. If this were just some money-making scheme exploiting how much dem kids love dey caws, would we have nonsense like this? Well, I guess you could argue that Tokyo Drift only exists because they wanted to make some money off the franchise when it seemed dead but so what? Obviously the people behind this shit have no idea what they’re doing and yet somehow manage to have fun with it. That is rare in the by-the-numbers style which dominates big-budget movies laser-targeting that elusive male 25-40 demographic.

Aside from the contextual hijinks there’s the movie itself. How does it fare with such a huge cast of secondary characters? What else is there to say about Dom and Bryan? The answers are: super awesomely and quite a bit respectively. The great strength of this movie is that it doesn’t just jump from action sequence to action sequence but pauses to let the characters be characters, to have fun and even tender moments amidst all the chaos they’re bringing into their lives. The funny thing is that this is the most sentimental of the films, dealing with its core theme of family with a lot more clarity and grace than before. This stuff is served by generally good dialogue this time around with few of the corny speeches and attempts at “cool” dialogue. It feels effortless and maybe that owes to the pedigree (what a weird word to use in relation to these movies!). This is a movie that is funny and is in on the joke where so much of the humor of the previous entries seems to be in spite of them.

For those of you who like the gay subtext Tyrese Gibson seems to constantly bring to his roles, you’ll be happy to note that the hilarious gayness of Roman Pierce’s regard for Bryan O’Connor is still there and made even more hilarious when confronted with Bryan deep bromance with Dom. I hope Gibson intends to play Roman as a closeted gay man because that would mean he is absolutely aware of what all those little looks and remarks mean. Go back to 2 Fast 2 Furious if you don’t believe me. Roman wants Bryan exactly like a chicken dinner and this is a thing that is awesome.

My friend asked me if you need to see the previous four in order to follow this one. That question made me think about how much this movie does rely on and celebrate the series as a whole and it also made me realize something else: this is a movie that people want to see, even if they never cared a tug about the others. How awesome is that?

The crazy thing about this movie is that they knew it would make money. It was made as a primarily commercial product. They didn’t know how successful it would be but I hope they realize that it’s the fucking care that went into it that made it transcend into some retarded car-nut cousin of cinematic greatness. It’s the best proof of concept for big movies as a marriage of craft, art, and commerce we’ve seen in 2011. Last year we had Inception. This year we have Fast Five.

You heard that shit here.

And what of it?