After the gloriously self-aware, sublimely idiotic, and extraordinarily well-executed Fast Five, director Justin Lin had his work cut out for him when it came to crafting a new sequel in the Fast and Furious franchise. Now he's back with Fast & Furious 6, the series' largest and most ridiculous entry so far, but does bigger always necessarily mean better? Read on to find out.
Fast & Furious 6
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Luke Evans
Lin is the unquestionable savior of this franchise, having snatched it from the jaws of insignificance and brought it revving back into box office relevance with Tokyo Drift in 2006. Since then, Lin, writer Chris Morgan, and producer/star Vin Diesel have altered the fabric of how these films relate to each other moving forward. Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and now Fast & Furious 6 work as a cohesive trilogy in which old friends return, new ones are introduced, and heists and larger-than-life action sequences have replaced street races as the reason for this franchise's existence. The first film was outlandish, but the characters still lived in a world in which most of the rules of physics still applied; by the time Fast Five rolled around, that notion was left in the dust. Fast 6 continues even further down that road, and I'd actually argue that it goes a little bit too far this time.
I know, I know: for someone who absolutely loved the insanity of Fast Five to admit that 6 goes too far might not seem to make much sense, but I'll elaborate. Part of what made Fast Five great was seeing the lengths to which Lin and his team were willing to go to make a bombastic action movie. The setpieces were unexpected, jaw-dropping, and often laughably ridiculous, but I watched it with a sort of "Oh my God, I can't believe they're doing this!" excitement. There was no sense of the filmmakers having to try to top themselves because the franchise hadn't gotten truly outrageous quite yet. But in the wake of Fast Five - a film in which Dominic Toretto and Brian O'Conner surfed on a car as it ramped off a cliff and crashed into the water hundreds of feet below, and the characters not only survived, but did so without a single injury - this newest entry feels engineered and designed to create those kind of moments throughout, and it just doesn't have the same sense of wonder that we've felt before. The spectacle is there, but it's lost something.
Don't fret, Fast fans. Fast & Furious 6 has a few moments that approach Fast Five's level of brilliant absurdity. Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese, Vin Diesel, and Michelle Rodriguez all leap from moving vehicles and land on other vehicles at various times. There's a tank that rampages down a highway, completely destroying innocent bystanders in the process. And in the film's climax, a group of relatively small cars brings down a jumbo jet in an extended action sequence that includes hop-ons, hop-offs, deaths, a tag-team fight with Johnson and Diesel on the plane, and, as seen in the trailers, a car exploding from the nose of the plane as the plane itself explodes. (Presumably, this takes place on the longest runway in the world.) Some of these moments work, but too many of them feel forced. It's as if Fast Five was the perfect recipe that mixed heart, goofy dialogue, and crazy action together, and when you add twice as much of one ingredient, it skews the taste of the whole concoction.
The story picks up with our heroes lounging around the globe spending the millions they stole in the Fast Five finale. But Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) quickly tracks down Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and reveals that Dom's former squeeze Letty (Michelle Rodridguez) is alive and working for a mysterious London-based criminal named Shaw (Luke Evans). Shaw has his own team of highly trained racers, so it's only natural that Dom, Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), and the rest of the crew are the only people who have the skills to bring him down. In exchange for their help, Hobbs promises to pardon their crimes and let them return to America. It's sort of dumb, sure - but as Fast & Furious plots go, this one actually makes a lot of sense.
Lin's skill at directing action sequences is still intact, but the precision with which he crafted those iconic moments in Fast Five is gone. Almost every fight in Fast & Furious 6 overstays its welcome, and even the contained hand-to-hand beatdowns eventually devolve into a boring flurry of punches and kicks. The geography of these sequences is always clear, but they last so long that you're ultimately numb to what you were once excited to see. Perfect example: the brawl between Michelle Rodriguez and new addition Gina Carano. On paper, this scene should be awesome; in practice, it's underwhelming. Tyrese and Ludacris mostly handle the comedic relief, while Sung Kang's Han character finally gets a little bit of character development this time around. As cheesy as they are - and they're incredibly cheesy - the themes of family and loyalty come full circle in this entry and provide a fitting end to Lin's farewell from the franchise.
Universal has already scheduled another Fast sequel to hit theaters next summer, but Lin has stepped down because he didn't think he could meet that deadline; he would have had to start pre-production on the next one while still in post-production on this movie. Saw and Insidious director James Wan is replacing Lin, and it'll be interesting to see what Lin does outside of this series (I predict he'll do some really cool things) and how Wan handles both the quick production schedule and the pressure of stepping into a franchise this late in the game. If you stay through Fast 6's end credits, you'll know exactly who Dom, Brian, and the rest of the gang will face off against next time, and even though I was a little disappointed with this movie, I'm already completely stoked to see the next one. Wherever this series goes from here, we can take comfort in the knowledge that at least there will always be a perfectly placed ramp to get us there. Ride or die. Until next time...