Fast & Furious 6 is less about repositioning characters and more about appreciating the history the series has built up at this stage. The escalation of Toretto’s criminality – from trafficking portable DVD players to crashing planes – is explicitly referenced, and there is a real benefit to the real-time aging that the characters have experienced. When Brian and Mia become parents, it is touching that we remember their juvenile infatuation and how things have messily progressed since then. It is less touching when we remember that Jordana Brewster brought real intelligence, and the possibility of stardom to The Fast and the Furious; now she is window dressing, removed completely from the main plot until the final moments of the film.
Moving away from the drug barons that have provided the series’ main antagonists until this point, Fast & Furious 6 begins the franchises’ adoption of comic-book cliché supervillains. Here we have the mirror opposites of Dom’s crew, each a twisted reflection of our beloved heroes. Surprisingly, amongst them is Michelle Rodriguez, making a welcome return as Letty. Seeing Rodriguez in this film, and others such as Avatar (2009 – James Cameron), I am struck by how charismatic a movie star she is. Here she is so good as a woman who doesn’t know who she is, much like Brian had been up until this point. Fatherhood brings him a sense of peace and of understanding of who he is. In a crew dominated by a lot of mouthy know-it-alls (and make no mistake, Dom Toretto is the biggest one of these), he is the rock, the voice of perception.
Seen in the light of their darkened reflections, the rest of the crew begin to come into their own. Dwayne Johnson begins to assert himself over the narrative, and makes a character point of Luke Hobbs’ willingness to leap from moving vehicles. Giselle and Han give a touching portrayal of a genuinely supportive, trusting and understanding relationship – one that makes you wish for a spin-off starring just the two of them. Giselle’s death is genuinely moving, and one that underlines just how capable Gal Gadot was in giving strength to a paper-thin character. And Tyrese Gibson just (just) about manages to stop Roman Pearce becoming a walking stereotype. Pearce is obsessed with money, sex and often seems to exist simply to make jokes, all attributes often offensively given to black actors. But his charismatic reading of his lines give the impression that he is the only one in the room who understands how ridiculous this all is.
(And it is ridiculous… this a series that tries to get you to take Vin Diesel as a romantic lead seriously, after all.)
Since the successful introduction of Dwayne Johnson in the previous movie, the franchise starts to make a point of casting established action stars with each film. Gina Carano (best known for Haywire (2011 – Steven Soderbergh)) and Joe Taslim (seen in The Raid (2011 – Gareth Evans)) are brought in as bad guys and bring with them an astonishing physicality. The fight between Carano and Rodriguez on the London Underground is as nasty and vicious as anything seen within action cinema, and an example of two highly capable stars pushing their bodies to the limit in their verisimilitude and desire to show the punishment of violence.
The setting of London is not just a pretty backdrop for the action, another stop on their global adventure. Despite the rather messy geography used in the film (knowing a city well makes it harder to fudge how they got from point A to point B, a fact we must assume to be true for every other location in the series), the film takes an admirable approach to the CCTV culture of the U.K. The country is the most surveilled population in the world, since the nation’s gleeful adoption of the technology in the wake of the truly shocking images discovered as part of the Jamie Bulger murder investigation. The horrific images of a small child being led away by other small children led the population to accept mass surveillance regardless of any infringement of civil liberties. In this film, the technology is used to track and locate opponents easily on several occasions.
What makes Fast & Furious 6 so good though, is its continual employment of action. In previous films, the action sequences, be they fist-fights, car chases or heists have felt very much like sequences. Here they become a very fabric of the movie, intrinsically woven in. The film has a constant forward momentum, and avoids the lazy trap of having character sit around in rooms of various sizes and talk about their emotions. In previous films, these always brought the plot to a grinding halt; here Dom convinces Letty of his love through action (leaping from a bridge to catch her), rather than words. And they are extraordinary action scenes. Justin Lin regularly employs a helicoptered camera to capture motion, and there is a suplex move involving Toretto and Hobbs against a man-mountain of an opponent towards the end of the film, that is something quite astonishing. It’s a brilliant movie and a high point of the series so far.
And there is a gripping post-credits sequences that significantly reframes the events of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Better watch that film after all!
Fast & Furious rankings:
- Fast & Furious 6
- Fast Five
- The Fast and the Furious
- 2 Fast 2 Furious
- Fast & Furious
- Los Bandoleros
- Turbo Charged Prelude
Brian & Dom street racing scorecard:
Brian: III (I read the opening dash to Mia’s hospital as a street race… Brian convincingly wins, even though it is not commented upon)
Heavy-‘Han’ded references to Tokyo:
2 (again! Giselle asks ‘What’s our next adventure?’ before being told Tokyo by Han, and at the end of the film he says he has to go to Tokyo… FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER!!!
There are several contenders but Ludacris’ ‘We need more alphabets!’ is a strong second place.
Winner has to go to Roman Pearce’s insouciant comment ‘Why do I smell baby oil?’ as Luke Hobbs enters the room behind his back. Possible one of the greatest lines in cinema, full stop.