FAST & FURIOUS 6 Review

The Fast & Furious universe is damn near getting as big as the Marvel one. With the sixth installment of a franchise that seemed to have completely run out of gas by the time the brand new cast of the third installment showed up, this thing has certainly turned itself around and now shows no sign of slowing down. I wasn't initially a fan of the original film that premiered in the summer of 2001 when Paul Walker was supposed to be the main draw and only half the households in America had access to the Internet. It was a different time, yet out of this opportunity to capitalize on the interest in street racing and cars as well as Walker's popularity came the star making role of Vin Diesel and one of the most unlikely film franchises ever. After Diesel decided not to return for round two, Tyrese and Ludacris joined Walker in a Miami Vice-like story in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Tokyo Drift was a series low in terms of box office returns, but it did introduce us to Han (Sung Kang) and gave a hint of what might come as Diesel showed up in a cameo that I never once believed would play out, until now. The franchise was unexpectedly re-vitalized in 2009 when the original cast returned as did Tokyo Drift director Justin Lin. While Fast & Furious wasn't anything above the average it did show the series still had a profitability factor. This paved the way for 2011's Fast Five which defied all expectations by being not only a huge box office success, but a critical success as well. It moved past taking itself so seriously and became aware of what kind of movie it was and constructed that kind of movie in the best way possible: a no holds barred, action flick. They are silly, sure, but you cannot say they aren't exciting or entertaining. Bringing characters together from every installment and having Diesel face off against Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson didn't hurt either and has now perfectly set the stage for the sixth and seventh films. And if Furious 6 is any indication, we're in for a good, long ride with this franchise.

Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) in Fast & Furious 6
When Lin joined the franchise on Tokyo Drift it was unclear where the series might go, but when Diesel showed up on the tail end of the film it became clear that if more films became an option they at least had an idea of where they wanted things to go. With Fast Five the director along with his star and producer Diesel brought all the strands of the previous four films together and created a coherent universe for everything that had happened up until that point while at the same time delivering a high stakes heist film that fired on all cylinders. Though some still hold that Fast Five is the better overall film than this latest installment, Furious 6 (as it is so lovingly titled in the opening credits) only improved on everything Fast Five did right in my eyes. Having escaped Rio and making themselves multi-millionaires in the process the gang have retired to a state of seclusion and serenity, that is until Hobbs (Johnson) comes knocking with news that Dom's lost love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) who was apparently killed in Fast & Furious is still alive and now working with international criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Hobbs needs help capturing Shaw to prevent his standard diabolical plan, but what gives this film the same urgency of plot as Fast Five is that Dom, Brian, and the rest of the team are working to put the family back together by saving Letty while at the same time going through the motions of stopping Shaw; and what motions they are. While Evans does his best grimace to allow himself to stand out from the line of the other series villains (though John Ortiz does show up here as fourth installment baddie Braga for a quick minute) what allows him the most leverage over the other guys is not his ability to have (almost) everything planned out ahead of time, but the extent he will go to in order to get what he wants. This no boundaries approach sets the audience up to experience the biggest stunts this saga, and likely any other, has ever seen.

A lot has been made of this series having such a diverse, international cast with blacks, whites, Asians and several other ethnicity's playing prominent roles, but more impressive than this is the fact very little of the film relies on anything more than practical effects to create these insane stunts the ensemble cast is performing. I firmly believe that after only having seen this film earlier in the day that the last twenty minutes or so will go down as some of the most well-executed and impressive action sequences ever put on screen. In a field saturated by guys in iron helmets and steel claws (not that I don't enjoy those movies too) it is nice to see so little in the way of special effects but instead a pure, adrenaline rush of a movie that reminds you of why you fell in love with movies of this genre in the first place. In that last twenty minutes Lin stages a massive set piece that has Dom and his crew taking down a massive aircraft. This is giving nothing away as the scene has unfortunately been spoiled in almost every single trailer, but the large cast and each of theirs involvement in this sequence is handled so well that we never feel as if we know where anything might be going. There is literally at least five different groups of people doing five different things in different locations around the plane at the same time that eventually come together perfectly. It is an exercise in expert editing and pacing, but how the shoot was managed is beyond imagination. As I sat and experienced that climactic sequence it became one of those moments where you realize in the moment that this is something special, something major and that people will be talking about it for a long time. I can only say that I was awe-struck by what I was experiencing and that I couldn't peel my eyes away from the screen. Not only does it deliver these reality-defying action sequences though, but it also by this point has us truly invested in these characters and the makers clearly care enough about them to make these movies as much about them as it is about the cars.

Dom faces off against international criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). 
In fact, the series has almost strayed so far away from its original premise that you could almost take the racing out of it completely and audiences would still show up, almost. Here there are chase scenes, but just to remind us all of where this all started there is a race thrown in at the mid-way point. That is what I loved upon first seeing Fast Five and that continues with an even stronger beat here. It is clear there is a grand scheme at play and you should definitely stick around for a mid-credits scene that (if you haven't been reading anything online) will blow your mind and make you wish next June would be here tomorrow. It will make you question who might show up in the next installment, who might not, and how everyone will play into what could be the concluding chapter on this stage in the Fast & Furious saga. Before I get too ahead of myself though it is important to understand why this is such a great time at the movies. Furious 6 has director Lin perfecting his keen eye for action sequences while getting us to invest in these characters even more than the main plot of the film that is as typical as you might expect in these types of movies. No one cares what Shaw is trying to steal and what could be done to humanity if he ever got his hands on it, no, all we care to see develop are the relationships between these characters be it Brian becoming a father, Dom wrestling with how to approach a love he thought lost, the comedic relief supplied by Tyrese and Ludacris that builds their bond, the unavoidably tragic end to the budding romance between Han and Gisele (the lovely Gal Gadot) and not to mention the powerhouse that is The Rock. Hobbs even gets a new sidekick here played by former MMA fighter Gina Carano (Haywire) who encounters Letty twice in the film and proves this series is not only for the big boys to play around in, but has plenty of room for tough chicks as well. We want to see these people grow and progress in their lives and that is a statement I would not have believed had you told me I'd think it twelve years ago. That this comes down to our relationship with the characters and the unbelievable action sequences are only the cherry on top make these movies all the better. This is truly a great time and if you're a fan of the series you'll definitely love it and if you're a newcomer just ask yourself how awesome it would be to see The Rock and Vin Diesel post up in the same shot on the big screen. Furious 6 gives you an answer to that and it's just as fulfilling as you'd think.