You'd figure that six films deep into a franchise, I'd have made up my mind whether I'm fully on board. But I think after having taken in FAST & FURIOUS 6, I'm willing to say I'm a fan of this wildly inconsistent series, whose most recent two chapters did their job selling me on these films. Most of my hesitation coming out of all of these films has been due to the god-awful writing. Look, I know you don't go to FAST & FURIOUS films for the story or character development, but throw us a bone every once and a while, if only to have something of substance to bite down on.
But what pushed me in the fan column with FURIOUS 6 (which is apparently an alternate title, according to the end credits) is that it actually has something of a story, characters who much actually change and grow to advance it, and a villain I really enjoyed. It's not the perfect combination, but it's enough to get you through the film between the always-mind-blowing stunt sequences.
This time out Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) needs the help of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team of expert drivers to help stop a new gang of driving baddies led by a man named Shaw (Luke Evans from THE RAVEN, CLASH OF THE TITANS, IMMORTALS, the next two HOBBIT movies and the lead in the just-announced reboot of THE CROW). The not-to-subtle realization to us as an audience is that each member of Dom's team has a corresponding evil "twin" in Shaw's crew, with the added bonus of featuring the long-thought-dead Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) now seemingly working against her former boyfriend, Dom. But why would she turn against him? The answer may surprise you, but it'll likely make you giggle uncontrollably.
There is something fundamentally cooler about having Rodriguez back in the FAST & FURIOUS mix. She's the right kind of crazy badass to energize the proceedings, plus it gives her the opportunity to have not one but two knock-down, drag-out cat fights with Gina Carano (HAYWIRE), playing Hobbs' right-hand Riley. In a bit of sexism, it's weird how the women only get to fight the women in this movie. But what's bad for society is good for us.
The lives of the team members has changed from the last film. Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) have a baby now. Dom is living in domestic bliss with Elena (Elsa Pataky). And everyone else is more or less living above-the-law lives (outside of the US) with cash they made from their last outing. So when Hobbs comes back into their lives waving pardons in their face as incentive to help him, it's disruptive and tempting.
The bad guys seem to specialize in vehicular mayhem, and they're after a device that does something bad to somebody (do the details really matter?). Certain members of Dom's team voice their concern that warfare isn't exactly what this crew is best at, but after you see this film, you might change your mind about that. And you'll believe Vin Diesel can fly.
But let's be honest: there are simply way too many characters in this movie, even without the team of new bad guys, and too much screen time is devoted to reminding us that the filmmakers had enough money to bring everybody back, whether they have something to do or not. Folks like Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris really are there for comic relief and a couple extra "holy shit" reactions. There's a whole mini-subplot involving Brian allowing himself to get arrested to get information from an inmate that seems devised for the sole purpose of bringing back Shea Wingham and John Ortiz from the fourth film. I'm guessing a phone call might have gotten the job done easier.
That aside, director Justin Lin (on his fourth FAST & FURIOUS film; he will not be returning for the next one) has turned this near-death franchise into a genuine epic adventure series with multi-film plotlines, cliffhanger endings (and there's a doozy of one tagged onto the end of this one that finally ties in the oddly placed third film, TOKYO DRIFT, into the F&F timeline), and the real threat that some of the (secondary) characters might not make it from film to film. Hell, I'm still floored that Lin transplanted the Han character (played by Sung Kang) from one of his earlier films, the fantastic BETTER LUCK TOMORROW.
And we've barely talked about the action sequences themselves. I was actually more impressed with a mid-film highway chase involving a tank than I was by the climactic runway chaos involving a military plane loaded with vehicles. It's a close call, but it comes down to which one looked the most practical and believable (or unbelievable, to be more accurate). Plus, watching a tank simply roll over moving car after car, crushing to death the people inside with no thought for lost life gave it the edge, is just impressive.
FAST & FURIOUS 6 is a loud, visual spectacle of a movie that will elicit cheers everywhere it plays. It's also big and dumb, but not nearly as much as you might expect. Whenever Vin Diesel rattles off something that sounds like a proverb or other thoughtful musing, it made me laugh. Is he the action-oriented Buddha?
Dwayne Johnson is still sporting t-shirts about six sizes too small and coating himself in enough baby oil to drown a buffalo, but I wouldn't trade in his commanding presence for anything in this movie. He's a necessary force that keeps things moving and cuts through the bullshit. That's something this franchise has needed as well, and particularly with these last two installments, we've got ourselves a contender. I remain eager about where things go from here for Dominic and his team, especially in the hands of a new and extremely capable director.