Fast & Furious 6 - The Best Yet?
Furious vehicular warfare. Pure escapist fun.
The majority of this article is taken from my Cinema coverage of Furious 6; the main addition coming in the form of a look at the Extended Action Packed Edition.
Easily the best film in the Fast and the Furious series. I know that's not exactly hard to achieve but, for a series which started off as a street-racing Point Break-lite, nearly crashed and burned with its abysmal first sequel, and then, somehow, rose from the ashes steadily over the last four instalments, it's amazing to see just how far we've come.
Although many might pinpoint the turning point in the franchise as being the return of lead stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in the slightly grittier fourth movie, the majority of the credit has to go to director Justin Lin, who proved in his underacknowledged third film - Tokyo Drift - that you don't need star power or a big budget to craft a thrilling street-racing flick. Of course, after the fourth film, he showed us just what he could do with a better budget and with the main stars - Diesel and Walker - back, which, in turn, earned him a shot at the big time. And he delivered: Fast Five took things to the next level.
What next level? you ask. Well, partly thanks to the investment of the filmmakers - including not just Lin but also Diesel himself, who has remained committed to the franchise's development ever since Lin got on board - and partly thanks to the genius idea of actually listening to what the fanbase wanted (you hear that, Lucas?), the series hasn't stopped moving; hasn't stopped evolving, and now the once low budget street racing romp has morphed into a heist action-thriller series with a fantastic ensemble action cast. You could say that this is now a bit like Expendables , with cars, but that would probably be doing the Fast and the Furious series a disservice. The Expendables series wishes it was this good. The action, the stunts, the chases, the story and even the fight sequences - this is far more than anybody ever expected from this frachise, and probably the biggest surprise I've had this year (well, biggest good surprise at least - I can still hear Spock's cry echoing in my ears).If you’ve come to this film without having seen any of the previous instalments then you’re going to have to get up to speed pretty quickly.It’s really only the second movie in the series that you can completely ignore – it’s just terrible – as all of the others (even Tokyo Drift, which is set after all of the other films) play important parts in the plot to this one, which ties everything together in a remarkably satisfying way. The sixth chapter starts with a credits sequence that flashes back to the events from the preceding five movies, showing the evolution of the characters across the franchise. Where did we leave things? The team – streetracing leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), ex-FBI Agent Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), Toretto’s sister and O’Connor’s wife, Mia (Jordana Brewster), O’Connor’s childhood friend and fellow racer Roman (Tyrese Gibson), their tech wizard Tej (Chris Bridges), fellow racer Han (Sung Kang), and his love interest, former Mossad agent Gisele (Gal Gadot) – are all still fugitives. But rich fugitives, after Diplomatic Security Service Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) let them go with a $100 Million following an elaborate heist.
They’re all living happily ever after – even Toretto having found solace in the arms of former DSS Agent Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) – when Hobbs turns up asking for help. He’s tracking ex-SAS soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who is running a heist crew using elaborate racing cars to steal the various pieces of military required to put together a deadly advanced technology bomb, which they plan to sell to the highest bidder. Whilst Toretto isn’t exactly leaping at the chance to work with Hobbs, he soon changes his mind when Hobbs presents him with photographs that appear to indicate that Letty is still alive – Toretto’s former girlfriend, who everybody believed to have died in an undercover operation gone wrong. Now the gang has to travel to London to stop Shaw, but with Shaw’s military expertise and the added complication of Letty in the mix, that may be harder than anything they’ve ever done before.
Even if you’ve seen the Trailer and know all the juicy bits, you’ll likely be unprepared for just how brazenly excessive this film is in the fun department. It revels in being over-the-top, but doesn’t forget its followers who have endured some five chapters to get this far, delivering a solid enough story to hold everything together without any real frustrations – perhaps it gets a little too silly at the very end, but, by then, you’re utterly committed. And the thing is, if you watch the trailer, you know precisely what to expect. Ramp-racers which can drive under pursuing cars, catapulting them into the air in a spectacular fashion (real cars of this kind were built especially for this); tanks tearing through oncoming traffic (and, yes, there is a question as to what the bodycount during this scene would have been!); and several ridiculous moments where cast members leap onto moving vehicles. Fights are staged with thunderous fury; opponents are cleverly matched in a series of well-choreographed bouts and the whole thing is a bucket of wondrous vehicular destruction and hand-to-hand mayhem.
For those who have stuck with the series through thick and thin, there are a few surprises in store, and, of course, the majority of the plot and character development – although calling it that is a little bit of an exaggeration – centres on the return of Letty and her, is-she-good-is-she-bad arc. This little piece of fan service (it was at the request of internet followers that Michelle Rodriguez’s character be brought back from the dead) is actually dealt with quite well, and the storyline involving Toretto trying to get Letty back is the strongest thread in the mix.
Vin Diesel has always been the star of this franchise, and his iconic gravel-voiced streetracer/brawler Dominic Toretto remains one of his best film characters, up there with Riddick (who also made something of a return-to-form this year). It certainly will be interesting to see where they go from here, but, as long as Diesel’s at the front of the pack, they can’t go too wrong. Paul Walker started off as something of a poor man’s Keanu Reeves (playing the equivalent role to Reeves’s undercover FBI agent in Point Break, which basically provided the plot for the original Fast and the Furious), and went from distinctly average to outright terrible in the first sequel, but, since his return in the fourth film, has actually been pretty good, getting a whole lot more serious – and being fairly convincing too – within the limitations of such a frivolous franchise, of course. Whilst I still don’t think he’s going to have much of a career outside of this series (I bet he’s hoping it goes on forever!), he makes for a nice counterpoint to Diesel’s frontrunner.Then there’s Dwayne Johnson (Faster, The Rundown) – who will probably never escape his mantle as The Rock – returning as hard-nosed DSS Agent Hobbs.The guy is a man-mountain: he can’t even put his arms down to his sides – that’s how big his muscles are. Seriously, this guy is a beast. Even though he was only introduced in the last movie, he feels totally at home within the franchise, and even has his own trademark Light-Armoured Personnel Vehicle to thunder around in. Whether or not there’s enough interest in the character to justify the spin-off franchise that Johnson has suggested is another question, but certainly it was a great idea to add him into the mix.
Jordana Brewster (The Faculty, Fast 1, 4 and 5), Tyrese Gibson (Transformers, Death Race, Fast 2 and 5), Chris ‘Ludicrous (name)’ Bridges (Fast 2 and 5), Elsa Pataky (Fast 5), Shea Whigham (Fast 4, Boardwalk Empire, Silver Linings Playbook) and John Ortiz (Carlito’s Way, Miami Vice, Silver Linings Playbook, Fast 4) all pretty-much go through the motions, with Gibson at least making a great butt for some of the more effective jokes in the movie. And it’s fantastic to have them all return, along with Sung Kang (Die Hard 4, Bullet to the Head, Fast 3, 4 and 5) and Gal Gadot (Knight and Day, Date Night, Fast 4 and 5), whose burgeoning romance goes from zero-chemistry to reasonably charming across the course of the movie, as the movie focuses, quite effectively, on how well these two work together.
Newcomer to the franchise Luke Evans (The Immortals) makes for a worthy adversary, and has some kick-ass muscle in the form of The Raid’s Joe Taslim. We also get the underrated Gina Carano (Haywire) thrown into the mix, and the success of this film will hopefully help her forge out a much-deserved action career of her own. And Michelle Rodriguez (Machete, Avatar) makes the most of her much-celebrated return – providing a far more satisfying comeback compared to her contrived Resident Evil reunion.Of course fans will probably know what’s in store for them with the next chapter (particularly the big name who they’ve roped in) and – like the previous films – this one starts the ball rolling on the next story, whilst also finally tying in the events of Toyko Drift.This really is a fan-fuelled film, giving us everything we’ve wanted, after only making us wait a whopping 6 films to get there! Perhaps the difficulty in scoring – and rating – this film is a direct result of the dichotomy between viewing this as the ultimate fan-tribute sequel and viewing it as a standalone feature in its own right. The fact is, if you never really liked the Fast and the Furious franchise, never got past the enjoyably frivolous first chapter and never really gave the return-to-form fourth and fifth films a chance, then this film will probably just seem like throwaway nonsense to you. And it is, but it is nonsense which appeals to the fans who have followed it faithfully; who are interested in seeing where these characters go and what they get up to.
Sure, newcomers will enjoy the unusual locations – London is used for several expertly-staged stunts and appears to be the latest go-to location for blockbusters (Skyfall and Cruise’s upcoming sci-fi actioner All You Need is Kill) – and will also certainly be engaged by the action, whether it be in or out of vehicles, but the story will be utterly throwaway to anybody who isn’t a fan of the series. Which is a shame because, however you regard the films that come before it, Furious Six really comes through, delivering the best possible movie of this kind you could get.
Indeed the film is so good that I’m quite concerned about where the franchise is going to go without Justin Lin on board to direct the next chapter. The man clearly has an eye for spectacular stunts, and has also cleverly chosen to stage the majority of them using practical stunt-work rather than obvious CG. Sure, the leaps from vehicle to vehicle are clearly effects, but all the bits where it would be so easy to employ visual effects have been actually done for real (riding the tank down the highway and trampling over cars; using a race-car to flip police cars chasing and blocking the way). This really does make a huge difference.
The driving stunts are certainly the best in the series but it's the fight scenes that truly surprise, so much so that you have to wonder how (along with Jack Reacher and Alex Cross) this ever got in under the 12A rating. Paul Walker's own little prison sequence – a brutal bit of three-on-one mayhem involving painful shank interrogation to boot – should have alone pushed this up a rating but, certification reservations aside, the fights themselves are superb. Michelle Rodriguez tries her best to hold her own against Gina Carano, and two of the team attempt to double-up against The Raid's Joe Taslim, but the best fights remain with Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. After their epic clash in the last entry it's nice to see them tag team against a couple of tough opponents – one who is, impossibly, even bigger than Johnson. And it's great to see Diesel – despite looking almost small opposite the muscle-bound Johnson, and despite sometimes looking like he’s punching above his weight – using his ferocious street-fighting style to unhesitatingly take down any opponent and, in doing so, remaining the true star of this series: in charisma, in character arc, in driving stunts and even in combat.
It’s worth also noting that this is where the Extended Action Packed Edition makes a difference. It might come as a shock, or you may have seen it coming a mile off, but this new Extended Cut, boasting “all the action that was too hot for the cinema” is actually only one minute longer than the Theatrical Cut. Thankfully what this does mean is that they don’t waste any of the extra time on unnecessary added scenes, extraneous dialogue or pointless fluff – it’s all violent action. I suspect that almost every single fight sequence is extended, but the main differences that I could spot were in the Joe Taslim / Gina Carano London Underground double-fight sequence, which boasts an extra 10 seconds of body blows and kicks; the prison cell three-on-one fight which now sports extra headbutts, head-slams, and the actual shot of the shank penetration; and, of course, the epic finale, where Carano gets in a few more kicks, Johnson’s eye gouge goes on for longer and Diesel’s body blows have more impact. Indeed all of the fights feel like they have more impact to them. It’s not enough to convert those who didn’t like the Theatrical Cut, but it does make for a nice, no-holds-barred version of the flick for fans to lap up.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Furious Six was the best chapter in the series, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that it will remain the peak of this franchise (although that won’t stop me from seeing the next one, with giddy, child-like eagerness). There are few other film franchises which have lived this long, and no other franchises which have gone from strength to strength in this way, particular off the back of a fairly lightweight original movie. Every series, from Die Hard to Mission: Impossible, could only hope to be as engaging as this in their respective sixth entries. This is premium escapist fun of the absolute highest order. For those who can embrace it for precisely what it is, Fast & Furious 6 comes recommended. For all the good and bad movies that 2013 has had to offer, this is likely the most pure fun you’re going to have had at the flicks, and now, at home too. Recommended.
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