Fast and Furious 6
The retooling of the Fast & Furious franchise as a heist movie, ensemble take-down thing, rather than car racing, paid off big time with Fast Five. So if you have a new formula and it works, don’t fix it. The series may have newly defined its genre, but structurally it bears most resemblance to the Bond films; the plots are a loosely stringed together series of set pieces. And they go on and on and on. Not out of a desire to progress the narrative but due to a "longer means better" template. There’s also the small matter that there are so many regulars to cater for now that anything less than two hours would be unfeasible.
This time around Vin Diesel’s Dom is beckoned from retirement by Dwayne Johnson’s formerly antagonistic DSS agent. The goal; to bring down a crew led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). The MacGuffin is pure Bond; Shaw is attempting to build a Nightshade device, a “tech bomb” that can blind a country for 24 hours. Each robbery he pulls off is to secure a vital component. So that sets up the structure. What about the theme? Don’t worry, “We’re family” is a refrain repeated so often that you’ll be in no doubt about everyone’s motives.
Poor amnesiac Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) isn’t dead after all, but she’s working for Shaw. This provides Vin with a particularly strenuous acting challenge as he tries to imply he has feelings for Rodriguez (there’s more sexual tension during Paul Walker’s one platonic scene with Letty than in the numerous ones between Dom and her). Still, both the ladies in Dom’s life concur that, “He’s an amazing guy” (which he is, it’s no inconsiderable feat to leap from a car on a bridge, grab hold of your intended in midair, and land unscathed on the bonnet of another car on another bridge). Unlike most movies, the other halves are fully on board with this notional family, Jordana Brewster practically packing off husband and father of her child Paul Walker on the mission. You’d have thought she’d want him to stay at home and not be killed. But no. These guys have extraordinary, unflinching values; they even end the movie by saying grace!
What's most interesting is that four-times-helmer Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan have pulled together the trappings of mythology and iconography from the thinnest of histories; with none of the character investment to make them fly, or any emotional depth, the reliance is purely on audience recognition. This succeeds up to a point, but it doesn't take long not to give much of a shit. Fatigue is inevitable.
There is a very democratic endowment of scenes to all the major players, but it's the comic banter of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman and Ludacris’ Tej that leaves a lasting impression. They have numerous amusing lines, and Gibson is a naturally very funny guy (the jokes about his “big-ass forehead” are especially chucklesome). But this is all on the same level as the movie itself; thrown together, rather than lovingly crafted. What is done is well done, but t’were well it were done wittily. Gibson is also involved in the film’s most amusing set piece, as it becomes refreshingly evident that he is no pugilist. Both he and Han (Sung Kang) take an arse-whooping from Jah (Joe Taslim) in the best movie scene set on the Tube since… Skyfall? It seemed like there was only An American Werewolf in London for years, and then two come along at once (speaking of which there are also good few London buses to behold).
Dwayne Johnson again shows he's a decent actor beneath those “Samoan Thor” muscles, but his character is perhaps the least interesting of the lot (which is really saying something). Still, he’s a guy who can turn a line like “You keep running your piehole and you’re going to smell an asskicking” into pure gold, so it’s a pleasure to have him in the ensemble.
The fella I wonder about it is Paul Walker, coasting on blockbuster cachet but even less able to attract a non F&F audience than Vin. He gets a significant enough plotline (going undercover in prison) because he’s one of the originals, but he leaves no impression. I’m sure Walker is a perfectly affable chap, but he must be counting himself very lucky that he has, by default, avoided the career wipe-out of Josh Hartnett.
Justin Lin handles the mayhem and car stunts in a superficially coherent manner (appropriate I suppose) but he is less certain with close-quarter fisticuffs. Rather than relying on the solid choreography he employs shuddery after-effects. Still, I can’t deny there’s enjoyment to be had with the gleeful bombast he brings to the car chases. An early one, through London as pursuing heroes find their cars shorting out, is only topped by the sheer excess of the aforementioned bridge sequence (“Somebody better do something. I got a tank on my ass”). Then there’s the finale, with the already much commented on interminable airport runway. That didn’t get me double-taking so much as the sight of Dom driving his car through the exploding nose of a plane. You go, Vin.
I suppose I should find the manufactured sincerity and the glib platitudes laced throughout the movie endearing (“What you found out is for you, what we do now is for her”; eh?) but they go to highlight how disposable these movies are. They aren’t going on to attain classic status, not with this kind of writing. I’ll be interested to see what James Wan’s debut on the series brings, but not overly. The script is still from Morgan, who has pared nothing down. The departees from Six, both regular (Gal Gadot, Kang) and one-off (Evans and Gina Carano, neither of whom make much impression) are replaced by a raft of faces, both familiar to the series (Lucas Black) and new (Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou). It looks like it will also takes a leaf out the Die Hard book; it will now be a revenge action heist movie, with the Stath surfacing at the end of Six to inflict furious wrath for the demise of little brother Evans. In a move of hilariously complex continuity that belies the Neanderthal nature of the series, the Stath is the guy who kills Han in Tokyo Drift, the actual Fast and Furious Six. I’m sure we’re all relieved that everything makes sense now.