The fifth installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise was a nearly perfect wrap-up for the series; deeply satisfying, thoroughly enjoyable, visually stunning. Your humble author gave it the equivalent of two thumbs up and recommended it without reservation. Most importantly, I noted that the central themes — fatherhood, family, young men searching for role models — were enduring enough to carry all the twenty-ton-safe gingerbread. These themes, which have underpinned three of the five movies we’ve seen so far, differentiate the series from, say, Redline. They’re important.
There was no way Fast and Furious 6 was going to measure up to its predecessor. Not only would that violate the odd-numbered-movies-rock-even-numbered-movies-suck pattern established up to this point, the way Fast Five had ended didn’t leave much room in the plot for those enduring themes mentioned above. It’s a relief to see, therefore, that instead of trying to be a better movie, it settles for being different. And in the course of being different, the franchise sets a strong course for what it was always going to become, if it could stay alive long enough: fantasy.
Spoilers, both contextual and carbon fiber, ahead.
In retrospect, it’s rather amazing to see the escalation in stakes from the very first movie to this one. Twelve years ago, the problem faced by undercover cop Brian O’Conner was the possibility that somebody might get shot by a truck driver. The death of Han in “Tokyo Drift” marked a new level of seriousness in the films, after which the bodies were permitted to hit the floor without reservation. (Or did you think all those “corrupt” cops in Five lived through their accidents?)
Now, however, we’ve progressed all the way up to nuclear weapons. That’s right, the bad guy in this one (played with a complete lack of energy or interest by Luke Evans) is trying to build an EMP bomb that could “cripple an entire country”. To defeat him, The Rock, er, Hobbs, has to reassemble Dominic Toretto’s “team” and face him on the streets of various European countries.
If “Fast Five” was a sort of “Ocean’s Eleven” ripoff, this is a James Bond film in all but name. The villain has the same omnipotence as Javier Bardem’s character in “Skyfall”, orchestrating horribly complex events for the sole purpose of double-and-triple-crossing our heroes. Some of the scenes are outright nods of the head to previous Bond films, including the final action sequence which owes everything, including an impossibly long runway, to the second-to-last scene of “The Living Daylights”. Hell, there’s even a Polish version of Richard Kiel’s “Jaws”, just to make sure that Hobbs has the chance to play the underdog in a physical confrontation.
The resulting plot is so frothily inconsequential it never even tries to distract us from the real story, which is the romance between Toretto and a conveniently amnesia-stricken Letty. If I have any genuine problem with this movie, it’s with the decision to drain the tension out of it by making Letty unable to remember her past. A plot where Letty knowingly abandons Dom to participate in a crime syndicate would have had real teeth. Instead, we have a setup for a reconciliation between the two that is both overly facile and completely ridiculous. Why would Toretto give up the (it must be said, considerably better-looking) Brazilian ex-cop who loves him to pursue someone who doesn’t even know his name? The brilliance of the first and (particularly) third movies was due in large part to their refusal to paper over issues like that. When Letty and Toretto have their big meeting, it’s spoiled by a “matching scars” speech that, again, is far too easy to be real.
The rest of the movie unfolds as you’d expect. There are fast cars, impossible stunts, feats of physical strength by Toretto and Hobbs. Brian O’Conner proves, as always, to be the best fighter of the group, winning a confrontation in prison with four buffed-out thugs and reliably knocking out various paramilitary types. The good guys win, with one casualty to make sure that the events of “Tokyo Nights” will happen after all. Finally, there’s a post-credits sequence to warp the time and event sequence of that aforementioned third film even further and introduce the next bad guy.
Every single plot point in the movie is suspect and the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy the action sequences verges on Baja-truck strength but it’s not really important because the series now explicitly exists in the fantasy universe. The protagonists exhibit superhuman strength, endurance, and perception. The bad guys are too powerful to be real. Road & Track’s Alex Nunez compared the series in a comment to “the Marvel Universe” and that’s spot on. This is a place where runways are twenty-eight miles long and people repeatedly fall thirty feel on concrete or metal without a scratch. Driving maneuvers of impossible precision are commonplace. Every victim of the mayhem is guilty or complicit in some way. There is no city in the globe that does not play host to a nightly street-racing festival chock-full of gorgeous women and gleaming tuner cars. Guns, computer systems, and complicated Rube Goldberg hydraulic mechanisms are available at a moment’s notice. Nobody is ever seen working out, performing any automotive maintenance beyond tightening a bolt, or reading an instruction manual. It’s comic-book fantasy, plain and simple, right down to the expected fanservice we get from every female character.
As fantasy, “Six” succeeds beyond question. It’s worth watching and it’s even a kind of a date movie if your date is at all inclined towards action films. The hope now is that the seventh movie in the series will be a little grittier, a little more real. We’ve now caught up to the present day, which means that Anyone Can Die, but if you want that sort of thing, I’d recommend you watch “Game Of Thrones”. The F&F series is now about fantasy. Luckily, it continues to be fantastic.