Over the next several weeks, Game of Nerds will be looking back at our greatest modern soap opera. Each installment of the main Fast and Furious franchise will be covered in preparation for the release of F9 on June 25, 2021.
Two in a row!
Fast & Furious 6 may be the 6th installment in the franchise, but is only the 2nd that’s actually a great action movie. Riding high from the success of Fast Five (2011), director Justin Lin brings everyone back from the previous installment as the franchise finally sees a semblance of roster consistency. This time, Hobbs (The Rock) recruits Dom (Vin Diesel) for a mission to track down and capture a group of international mercenaries, who threaten to obtain technology that will make them one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world.
Dom, now $10 million richer, seems content to vacation for the rest of his life. But Hobbs offers the trump card – a full pardon in America for Dom and his crew, and the knowledge that the criminal organization in question includes Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s former girlfriend who was believed to have died in Fast & Furious (2009). Dom has no choice but to round up new father Brian (Paul Walker), Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese), Gisele (Gal Gadot), and Han (Sung Kang) in a desperate mission to bring their family back together.
Here, Lin is capitalizing on the formula of Fast Five – bring together a eclectic ensemble in an action spectacle. It’s a considerable pivot from the franchise’s early films, which mostly revolved around street racing. This strategy was voiced openly by Universal chairman Adam Fogelson, who stated, prior to the release of Fast Five, that the studio wanted the franchise to morph from a “pure car culture movie” into a more broadly defined heist series. Fogelson believed that making the Fast saga a series of racing films put a ceiling on the potential audience for these movies, a ceiling that the 5th and 6th films needed to smash through. And he ended up being correct, as the box office for 5 and 6 ballooned to franchise highs (the two films combined for $1.415 billion at the worldwide box office).
The early films in the franchise, while exhibiting thrilling races, were somewhat mediocre when it came to traditional action – fight scenes and car chases. Fast Five rectified that flaw and Fast & Furious 6 takes the action to similar, if not at times greater, heights. Here, the car chases are visceral, fast-paced, and hard hitting. Early on, the crew gets the drop on the main villain, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). But unlike previous villains in the series, Shaw doesn’t stand on the sidelines – he attacks the protagonists head on, turning London into a warzone. Lin and crew expertly ricochet the camera across a vast landscape to capture it all, from cars flipping with the velocity of a hurricane, to machine guns raining down on Dom and company.
This, of course, prompts Brian to GET OUT OF THE CAR and start shooting a handgun at the attackers . Brian, my man, they’re on the roof! Who do you think you’re going to hit? This also encapsulates the logic of Hobbs’ entire plan – so instead of enlisting professional military personnel for what seems to be an extremely dangerous task, he wants this rag tag group of street racers? Just because they pulled one over on him that one time? Hobbs doesn’t even equip them with weapons or armor; the action is essentially a battleground and Dom’s crew is still just walking around in jeans and a T-shirt.
As the plot continues to unfold, flashbacks explain what really happened to Letty the night she supposedly died. Along the way, a crucial detail emerges – she doesn’t remember Dom, Brian, or anything about her past life. Her interactions with Shaw are intriguing – Letty begins to discover that Shaw doesn’t really value any members of his gang. With the exception, “allegedly”, of Letty herself. Shaw tries to assure her that she’s the one person whose death would cause him grief, but his fascination and valuation of Letty is purely sexual even if he won’t say it directly. As for anyone else, Shaw lives by the edict “You make a mistake, you pay the price.”
However, Dom never wavers from his loyalty to Letty. Even though the the introduction of this storyline, back in the 4th film, was poorly crowbarred in (and the soap opera inspired memory loss isn’t much better), it gives Fast 6 a chance to actually flesh out the Dom-Letty relationship. We learn more about their early courtship, their common interests, and what Dom values. Unfortunately, since Letty has no memory of these early days, we don’t get a clear picture of her perspective, of what she wants, or why she fell for Dom in the first place. It’s an uneven story with pros and cons, one that could have been retooled to give context to Letty’s decisions.
This is the 3rd Fast film to this point that Rodriguez has appeared in, but she has more lines and screen time here than those previous 2 entries combined. Her screen presence makes her a worthy match for both Diesel and Evans. And despite the amnesia trope, she seems to make every one of her scenes work. She even gets a bone-crunching fight scene between her and Gina Carano, stacking up as one of the best set pieces of the series.
As poorly written as the Letty character has been in the past, this film at least makes strides for the audience to care about her. And it’s a necessary make-up to accentuate the values of finding your family, no matter where they come from. The main protagonists in this franchise aren’t really portrayed as characters so much as extensions of their celebrity personas (Rodriguez’ interpretation of Letty fits this bill), thus giving this family a more authentic feel because it seems like we’re just watching a cast of actors grow to bond and love each other over the course of producing a film series.
By the end of Fast & Furious 6, not only do you feel like you’ve seen an astonishing fireworks show, but you did so around characters who we enjoy for their humor, camaraderie, stunts, and for earnestly taking all this silly shit seriously. But despite the over the top globe-trotting, these are still characters who love one another, have significant romances, bring children into the world, and lose those who are closest to them. For it’s ability to combine camp spectacle with pathos and emotion, it’s a worthy companion to Fast Five, showing that (like that movie) the franchise isn’t ready to squander the good fortune they’ve stumbled upon.
Fast Saga Reviews: