Fast & Furious 6 ★★½

If you've not been keeping up with these essays on the Fast & Furious movies as I watch them, well there's nothing I can do about that other than point out I've now written 6488 words on this franchise before starting on this, and there's still four movies I've yet to see, with a new one coming out this May. For those who have been following along or are joining me for the first time a quick refresher; I actually started out last November by watching the 6th/5th movie first, then shortly after went back to the beginning to do this properly. At the time I made a few observations that, reading back on, I still totally stand by. I also stand by the two and a half star rating I awarded this film, as while I am now invested in the mythos and get the emotional stakes, somehow all of this didn't make the movie any better, and that's even before we get to the ludicrous plot and variable quality action.

We pick up some months after the events of Fast Five (2011), where each of the crew has found the sort of happiness that only stealing millions from a Brazilian drug lord can buy you. This movie is very much a follow on from that one, just as it was a sequel to Fast & Furious (2009), but the fact that every character seemed to get what they most desired really made it feel like an ending. Dom and Rio de Janeiro police lady are together, she sleeps in while he wakes up early to fix an engine on his patio. Brian and Mia have a kid, although either Brian was late for the birth because he was racing through the mountains against Dom or he was rushing back home to be with his missus and since Dom was there an impromptu street race/dick measuring contest broke out, movie doesn't say. Han and Gisele are travelling the world, having made it as far as Hong Kong, so almost Tokyo but not quite yet (and since all the team possess infinite skills Gisele now speaks some Cantonese, good for her). Meanwhile Tej is using his tech savvy to steal yet more money but this time he's distributing it to the bikini babes of Costa Rica like a sort of Robin Hood of the tropics, and Roman is partying it up with some choice ladies/hos on a private jet. And no one cares what happened to those two South American guys from the last two movies, so they're just written out.

Spike Milligan once quipped that while money might not buy you happiness it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery. And for the team part of that misery is never being able to return to the United States, because of, you know, all those crimes they committed there (and in Rio too because I guess Agent Hobbs can dob them in even though he also let them go?). Actually, come to think of it it's really only Brian and Dom who are wanted in the US, the others could perhaps be dinged for aiding and abetting but regardless, the desire to leave their Mediterranean mansions/international playboy lifestyle and settle in a shitty house in East Los Angles overrides everything because family. So that's one of the motivations for giving up their new lives of luxury and leisure, the other is when Hobbs turns up with a photograph of Letty who is, surprise, not dead after all. I guess Michelle Rodriguez either was really keen to return to this franchise or she got bored waiting for James Cameron to get around to making Avatar 2. Whatever, after literally the time it takes for Dom to explain what's going on everyone is in, including Mia who doesn't think about her child or partner's wellbeing, the only thing that matters is mounting a mission to save her brother's ex-girlfriend. Likewise, Dom's current girlfriend puts up zero resistance to being dumped for her predecessor, she just wishes Dom all the best and waves him farewell.

So the crew assemble to help Hobbs do what the DSS, Interpol, all of NATO, maybe the CIA and oh I don't know, probably the Avengers cannot: stop the terrorist Shaw (Luke Evans) and his team of a few guys + Letty. Anyway, I hope you remember every beat of and secondary character from Fast & Furious because the plot of this film relies almost exclusively on the events of that one. After Braga's goon failed to waste Letty she wound up in a hospital with that classic movie ailment, total amnesia (although she still remembers how to drive cars fast and will end the film on Dom's lap despite still not remembering either him or their relationship), then by random coincidence this international terrorist (hey, at least he's not yet another Latino drug lord) just happened to be hanging around that particular ward or outpatient unit and identified this poor wounded woman as a prime recruit for his elite squad. And this is only discovered by Brian after he returns to the US and is arrested and imprisoned under a fake name by his old rival back when he was an FBI agent, just so he can talk to Braga about what he knows about both Shaw and Letty. This unbelievable deal is agreed do on the condition that if the guy still in the FBI will break all sorts of laws by helping a known criminal he will, somehow, get credit if the team can bring down Shaw rather than, say, Hobbs getting it all because he's actually on the ground in Europe, while this mid-level pencil jockey is still in Los Angles. Got all that?

Continuing the series' tradition of the police being useless, Shaw and his goons blow up most of London's finest and escape in their super duper vehicles with only our heroes being left both alive and mobile enough to pursue them. Previously in Fast & Furious movies the heroes and villains drove brightly coloured cars so you always knew who was where in a scene, even one whizzing by at high speed choppily edited. But they seem to have forgotten this, so in the hysterically implausible chase through London all the crew are in identical black BMWs and it's shot at night leaving the viewer totally lost. There's also the plot device that Shaw's team have these gizmos that they can shoot at cars to hack into the engine management software and shut them down. If you're close enough to fire a little machine at a car that's chasing you, aren't you also close enough to fire, oh I don't know, a grenade, a bazooka round or something that will really put your foes out of action? The real reason is so our guys have to give up their fancy schmancy 21st century techmobiles and go back to classic sports cars for the next big action sequence, but like everything in this script, the reason for anything happening is just so perfunctory and ill-thought out.

Before that though we hark back to the franchise's roots for an improbable illegal street race proceeded by rave where 90% of the attendees are 19 year old supermodels, and there's a professional sound and light show installed. Clearly the mass death of all those bobbies was good for something then. Also the only competitors we see are Dom and Letty, and after powersliding through Piccadilly Circus while only one panda car chases them (yeah right) they wind up near Battersea Power Station for a D&M until Shaw turns up as does Hobbs, but for reasons that can only be described as "plot-stringing out" the latter makes no attempt to nab the former. Shaw also makes a sneering comment about how far Dom has come from a guy stealing DVD players from lorries and this along with the street race scene that was so over the top even by the standards of this franchise made me wonder if whether this is the moment the Fast & Furious movies became self-aware? This ironic tone is something we have to suffer through in so many genre movies embarrassed about being genre movies, with the Marvel ones being the most noxious repeat offenders. It's like most of Hollywood saw Scream (1996) and decided that sincerity was passé now and the only way to play things was with a wink, a tongue in one's cheek and hanging a massive lantern on everything going "Yeah, we know". However the F&F movies stand apart from this by being achingly, often embarrassingly sincere, but straight up about it. You can roll your eyes at the 378's mentions of "family" per film, but that's the guiding principle behind this. You can view it as not only a victory for the team but also for old fashioned values that Dom's idea of family prevails over Shaw's cynical and modern "professional" worldview just as it is this more classic storytelling model rejecting (some) modern trends.

Not all trends though, and since I've bought it up twice now, the MCU does seem like a model for Fast & Furious 6. Not only are the team essentially superheroes who cannot be killed no matter what and are the only ones who can save the world from this cartoon supervillain, there's a similar over-written/fan service element to the overstuffed screenplay, where EVERYTHING from the previous films has to be if not brought back then at least referenced, and this plot business slows down what should be a fast moving action film. I'm here for the emotional journey the characters go on, but compared with Fast Five this is an inferior product. Yeah, so each member of the team gets to contribute, but there's less problem solving here as Shaw's addiction to bespoke everything makes him so easy to track you wonder why all the above-mentioned international agencies couldn't do it but these bunch of street racers can. Brian's ultimately pointless detour means that there's little of he and Dom's double act which has always been the heart of these films. And after I credited Fast Five for getting Mia involved in the action, here she's reduced to kidnap victim and a reason for the already idiotic series of contrivances that constitutes the plot to get even more ridiculous when Hobbs turns a gun on the head army guy so the military they've joined forces with in a totally equal and logical partnership will let Shaw go so they can then chase after him and save Mia. Surely they could have just shot Shaw there and then and saved Mia themselves, but that would have spared us the plane scene. Holy fucking shit, the plane scene.

This has been widely discussed/ridiculed, including by me in my previous review, so for now I'll just say that apart from it also being shot a night making things unclear to start with, other problems that first manifested in the London chase return here. The confusing spatial geography is bad enough – we really need to know who is driving which car BEFORE the action starts – and it really feels like there's shots missing that either weren't filmed because of the incredibly rushed schedule, or were cut to keep an already bloated runtime to 130 minutes. I was sad for Gisele dying as while she wasn't the deepest written character she was part of the team and her relationship with Han was shallow but sweet. I can't decide if this was to try and counterbalance all the superhero nonsense and prove that there actually are stakes in this world and the threat of death is real, or whether Gal Gadot been cast as Wonder Woman by this point and had to tap out of the series. And worst of all it was a pretty weak death all things considered.

Having buried Fast & Furious 6, let me now praise it (at least enough to justify my 2.5 star rating). Even if this isn't the most culturally aware depiction of Europe I like the fact that they incorporated a few British cars to add some local colour, and this made a nice change from the usual Yank/Japanese machines. (Although calling a Jensen Interceptor "American muscle" because it has a Chrysler V8 would be like calling a Boeing 777 a "British aeroplane" because its powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines.) Even though I preferred him as an antagonist, Rock "The Dwayne" Johnson really fits in well with the vibe these films have, and indeed I was thrilled at Jason Statham turning up in the mid-credits scene as Shaw's elder brother, because while Evans is a good actor, he lacks that cartoon machismo energy that Johnson, Diesel, Rodriguez and others have, but that is the juice that runs through the Stath's veins and I'm totally psyched to see him turn up. While it was home to some of the most bullshit physics in the entire series (which is truly saying something) as well as the franchise's most "get fucked" moment, the tank chase is fun in that 8-year old boy "let's smash up stuff real good!" kinda way. And speaking of additions who fit right in, Gina Carano who still can't act but sure can fight, although as with Vin Diesel besting Johnson in the previous film, the idea that Michelle Rodriguez stood a chance in a beatdown is extremely flattering to her, but that's the magic of movies.

So a big step down from its best-in-the-series predecessor, Fast & Furious 6 does what it needs to do, but perhaps as a consequence of Justin Lin directing four of these in a row, feels pretty over itself by the time we get to the LA BBQ scene at the end. (I'm glad the Rio cop lady now is working for Hobbs, but can a Brazilian national who spent the past year shacked up with a wanted felon join the DSS? Asking for a friend. Also, did they give the FBI guy partial credit? Someone check up on that, please.) This seems a bit cruel to Han who is mourning the death of his lover and his nothing to celebrate, but for some reason that I'm sure has more to do with the fact the next movie that's been retconned into being a prequel already exists, takes that long-promised but ill-fated trip to Tokyo. And that great city is where we will meet again next time, until then, pass the Corona, but don't forget the lime as we do things properly around here.

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