The word is family.
Something to get out of the way: this series has no naming convention, with each entry reinventing the titling to such a point that I’ll just refer to them with the word “Fast” and numerically by order of release. This will hopefully be a lot less confusing for everybody!
Every Fast and Furious movie echoes a specific movie. With the sixth entry of what has become one of the best original cinematic franchises out there, that movie is The Avengers. It turns out that it’s not only superhero movies that now exist in a post-Avengers world. One of the things I’ve always liked about the Fast series is that it’s been made by filmmakers who dearly love movies. Cohen, Singleton, and then the long (but now complete) run Justin Lin had all have that in common. Though not as much a love letter to The Avengers as the first one was to Point Break, the signs of Lin’s, and writer Chris Morgan’s, appreciation for the most recent blockbuster game-changer is a prevalent and noticeable ingredient in their superhero team-up movie.
We’ve watched all these characters, and the actors who play them, grow up with the franchise. Each Fast movie is, if not better, more self-assured than the last. The commitment to continuity and the themes of its ridiculous universe has always been a major strong suit for the series. It’s surprising every time, especially rewatching the whole shebang, at just how well this thing supports itself.
In Fast 6, everything that makes the series what it is has been dialed up to eleven. Lin is going out with a bang and here proven himself to be one of the highest potential action directors out there. For all that Fast 6 contains the familiar humor, themes of family and redemption, and ridiculous sense of its world, the place where this movie really outdoes itself is in the action. While this has always been an action series, Fast 6 is the first one that features not just one or two great or iconic moments but a dozen of them. Just as the heroics echo The Avengers, the action feels like Lin picking up elements he loves from other movies and floating them through the world of Fast. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but somehow the Bourne-style fisticuffs and Michael Mann gunfights (this is one of the rare movies with loud, realistic gun SFX) are less welded on and more breathed in. The confidence with which Lin includes these touches is breathtaking and makes you completely believe in the action, which in turn ripples through everything else in the movie no matter how ridiculous.
Fast 6 plays the oldies beautifully.
The credits stinger at the end of Fast 5. sets up the mission of Fast 6 and a larger arc for at least a trilogy’s worth of movies (if you include Fast 5). It turns out that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez doing maybe her best work) is not dead, as everybody believed her to be since Fast 4. Instead, she’s working for an ex-military hijacker who is one step ahead of everyone after him. Hobbes (Dwayne Johnson) tracks down Dom (Vin Diesel) hoping to use Letty as a way to get the help of the Fast 5 crew in taking down the hijacker. Dom is enjoying the retired life with Elena (Elsa Pataky) in Spain while Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) raise their son Jack not far away. Letty is enough to bring Dom back into the fray. Like before, his first instinct is to go it alone but family is about not being alone and Brian has his own reasons for wanting to get to the bottom of Letty’s resurrection.
We get to see what everybody’s been up to since making off with millions of dollars at the end of Fast 5. Before long, Dom and Hobbes have assembled them all in London to deal with Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his own crew of expert criminals. As Roman (Tyrese Gibson) remarks halfway through the movie, Shaw’s crew is like a mirror image of Dom’s right down to having a hulking slab of muscles, a handsome black dude, and an Asian. This pays off major dividends both later and in the moment. The fact that the movie stops and has its primary comic relief character acknowledge this device is awesome in a way that I don’t know if I can articulate. I guess the best way would be to say that it shows how self-aware this movie (and series) is and how much fun its having with its own ridiculousness. It’s inviting us, the audience, to enjoy these elements with full awareness that they are ridiculous and fun.
We’d be suckers not to.
This movie is bromances.
Though it has a fairly complex logistical plot, Fast 6 puts this and the MacGuffins on mute and focuses instead on character pairings, the emotional thrust of the story, and the conflict between Dom’s code of family and Shaw’s code of precision. It doesn’t really matter what Shaw is trying to steal and sell (some sort of EMP bomb) or exactly how anyone in the movie does what they do. While this isn’t glossed over (the movie even makes time for Brian to take a sidetrip to L.A.), it’s simply unimportant. I appreciate this and so should you. The Fast series is one of complex heists/operations/etc and thus risks the same thing all such stories risk: to become bogged down in the details. Inception this ain’t. It’s very tricky to pull off an expository heist movie with both style and satisfaction. Fast 5 flirted with its given the Ocean’s 11 riffing, but one of the things that differentiates 6 from 5 is that 6 is by far the more mythological of the two movies. By this I mean that everything is bigger, crazier, even less believable (in a good way), and therefore iconic.
Letty is the character with the biggest arc this time around. The attempt on her life before the events of Fast 4 have left her an amnesiac. Shaw, it turns out, was responsible not only for Braga (John Ortiz, who returns for a great cameo) and his whole empire but also for getting Letty “killed”. As Shaw creepily explains to her, she’s the only one his crew that he feels any attachment to. The rest are disposable if they make mistakes and violate his edict of precision. Shaw is therefore the polar opposite of Dom. Dom relies on others and takes care of them in return, it’s messy but his self-sacrifice and protective instincts often get his ass out of the fire and even when the laws of probability should snuff him out, the metaphorical level of the story rewards Dom’s code because at heart, Fast is all about doing for others.
Letty gets not one but TWO brutal, awesome fights with Gina Carano.
Shaw likes Letty because her amnesia makes her blank. She has no history, no family, nothing hitching her up or inviting mistakes. Unlike Shaw, Letty’s divorce from conscience is not self-imposed. After he recruited her and gave her a purpose, Letty would have had no reason to question either him or her place in his operations. It’s only when Dom and his crew interrupt those operations that Letty is forced to confront who she’s in bed with and what this signifies for her. She’s drawn to Dom and his people and she doesn’t know why. In this way, she’s a great stand-in for the newcomer viewer who maybe hasn’t watched all the previous movies or who still hasn’t quite gotten the appeal. Yes, Letty (and newcomer), Dom’s crew is a lovable but inexplicable bunch. Embrace them and they will embrace you.
Watching her find herself is actually one of the stronger parts of the characterization (which is quite good) in this movie. Michelle Rodriguez is not known for being a master actress, but here she leverages the tough physicality and attitude she is best known and most often cast for against a furtive vulnerability that I didn’t know she had in her. Like Paul Walker’s deepened pathos in Fast 4, one of the tools in the box for these movies is giving one or two characters enough room to breathe and arc and all that fun stuff while also providing for smaller arcs or character moments for secondary and tertiary characters. Here it’s Letty who gets to surprise the most, but Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot) wring plenty of drama out of their doomed love affair as well. Walker continues to bring a quiet maturity to Brian. Gone is the jittery, nervous energy of the character’s youth. Now he’s an ass-kicker, his cool blue eyes telling the story of a gunslinger as opposed to a street racer. He’s also a father haunted by his role in Letty’s fate and the film gives him (and us) a chance to find out the truth, visit with a couple of guys from Fast 4 (aforementioned John Ortiz as well as Shea Whigham), and bust some heads before the big climax.
Rome and Han make for a great surprise team.
Most of the second act is spent on fun character pairings. Because the Fast series now has a fairly sprawling cast, the only way to give everybody some time to do their thing is to split them up. This was nice in Fast 5 where it’d been some time since we’d last seen some characters (Roman, Tej (Ludacris)) and also presented an opportunity to give the secondary characters their own relationships with each other. In Fast 6, the opportunity to pair characters who didn’t hang out in 5 is taken full advantage of.
Hobbes is eventually paired with Tej which is surprisingly fun in itself, but also frees him from the charisma suck that is Gina Carano.
Carano is at her best whenever it’s action time, so I guess that undermines some of my ire for how noticeably bad she is everywhere else.
She is just bad in this movie, no two ways about it, and really stands out as such even in a cast of actors whom most people wouldn’t normally rate as especially great (with a few possible exceptions). Carano seems to exist primarily as a punching bag for Letty which is awesome and almost makes up for her shitty line delivery and bored expression. That she turns out to be the mole who has helped Shaw keep tabs on Hobbes, Dom, and the rest is only surprising because she is so consistently forgettable. Did Lin do this on purpose? It seems way too convenient to think so but I do have to acknowledge that Carano’s character being a bad guy did surprise me. It also feels just a tad tacked on but then again, it provides another excuse for she and Letty to square off.
Evans is consistently solid especially in roles like this.
When I spoke earlier of how great the action is in this movie, I not only meant the actual fighting but also the ridiculously huge (even for this series) set-pieces. Though there is plenty of big action throughout, the first two acts are mostly made up of smaller fights. I could talk about Michelle Rodriguez and her fights with Gina Carano all day long, but I wanted to also give a shout out to the other prominent fistfights in this movie. First, though, I should say that fistfights and fight choreography in general were never a big part of this movie. There were always fists thrown here and there, but never at this level. It’s one of those things that fit the series much better than you might have thought. After all, Brian points out that this isn’t cops and drug dealers like before (implying that those were people this crew could handle). Ex-military or whatever, Shaw’s crew seems at least as dangerous as Dom’s and you have to wonder how a bunch of upjumped street criminals can hope to match it. But this is the Fast series and there’s plausibility even where there’s fantasy.
For example, Brian knows how to fight (and always did) and he gets a spectacular brawl during his sojourn to L.A. Interestingly, Lin opted not to have Sung Kang’s Han be a stereotypical Asian martial arts master. Han is actually clumsy with his fists and during he and Rome’s awesome fight with The Raid‘s Johannes Taslim, it’s actually Rome who seems to have a better idea of what he’s doing. When it comes to gunplay, the skills are a bit more evenly spread with Gisele still being the “expert” and getting a couple of beautifully John Woo-ish moments to show it.
Eminent badass, even hanging off the side of a car.
When the third act comes along, Fast 6 goes into overdrive the same way that The Avengers did during the Chitauri invasion. With only a brief pause for breath to separate the two big sequences, it’s pretty much forty minutes of nonstop fuck yes. First is the bridge sequence wherein Shaw has commandeered a tank and Letty gets her clearest image for how batshit he really is. He gleefully drives the thing into traffic, murdering civilians in their cars on a truly astounding rampage. I mean, this movie has quite the fucking body count and rather than ignoring it, attention is paid to the fact that Shaw is murdering a lot of people. Letty freaks out and Dom insists that they do what they can to distract Shaw and give people a chance to get out of the way.
I can’t really overstate how great the bridge sequence is. Like many of the big action sequences in the series, this one hinges on a lot of high-speed driving, vehicular mayhem, and preposterous (super)heroic manipulations of physics through the totemic power of car. If there was any doubt that Lin is deliberately loving on The Avengers with this movie (after the ‘Samoan Thor’ gag, there shouldn’t be), it’s with this movie’s version of the joygasm-inducing catch save.
First you’re all like “where is this going?”
Then you’re all like “holy fucking shit”.
I only wish I had a better picture of this fantastic, ridiculous moment.
I laughed and hooted throughout the majority of Fast 6 but it is only as Dom suicidally car-frogs his way over a chasm separating the two lanes of the bridge that I wanted to stand up in my fucking seat. “No way!” I said as Letty, thrown from the tank, soared majestically in the air with Dom rising up toward her like a bald, beefy phoenix. Then there was only “yes! God yes!” as he catches her and they plummet onto, of course, the hood of a sportscar. “How did you know there’d be a car to break our fall?” she asks him moments later, swooning only an iota compared to me. How indeed.
Justin Lin said “fuck it, let’s make Fast 6 a superhero movie” and so it is.
Not to be outdone, Rome also imitates a mythical bird.
After that fucking stunt, you’d be forgiven in thinking that Fast 6 is done with you. But it isn’t. Oh no. Shaw is a pretty good villain, probably the best that the Fast series has had. Once he’s bagged, he isn’t really “bagged”. He has an ace in the hole named Mia and even though her life isn’t worth the thousands or millions that Shaw’s plans might cost in the moral calculus of a mind bent on precision, even Hobbes has by this point given in to the all-consuming power of family. He points a gun right at some soldier motherfucker and though Shaw gets to saunter out, nobody is letting him walk.
The second climax is the night-time assault on a Hercules plane. This entire sequence, like the bridge, is in motion. Somehow, Lin has figured out the magical formula of unique action (fistfights and gunfights are pedestrian, he’s almost saying, I can do that in my sleep fuckers) is to keep everybody moving and moving and driving and jumping car to car until the audience is bombared by clear, legible action that is as undeniable as the girth of Dwayne Johnson’s right bicep.
The once-Rock is having quite the year.
If you aren’t getting the picture, this shit is like a tantric on switch for action lovers. That Lin pulls it off predominantly with practical effects and makes it look easy is why Fast 6 is fourteen steps above even Fast 5 (let alone the rest of the series), which was itself a classic action movie. If the bridge isn’t enough for ya, this movie makes it a point to square each member of either crew against their spiritual opposite.
I mean. How do you even make a Fast 7? Stay tuned for the end credits to see fucking how. Fast 7 is being made for imminent release and I wait with baited breath and jubilant expectation.
“Paul, we don’t even have a big fuck-you shot for the climax. What are we gonna do?”
“Wait a second, Jordana. Is that what I think it is?!”
Why yes, it’s Vin Diesel driving a car through the front of an exploding plane.
But in the end, Fast 6 isn’t about the flashy cars, the big explosions, or the oily muscles. Fast 6 is about building a family and standing up for them. Instead of dismissing Elena, who was there for Dom after Letty, the movie hammers home its maturity (perhaps the most surprising of all the qualities the franchise has accumulated over time) and deals with it face-first. Just as hard emotional realities have to be dealt with alongside the bullets and blood, there’s always got to be time for family. How appropriate, then, that Fast 6 ends where the series began: sharing a moment around barbeque in the heart of L.A.
Fuck I love movies.