Friday, 24 April 2015

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

It’s catch-up time again on this blog, this time as part of the lead-up to my inevitable watching of Fast & Furious 7. I remember getting a triple DVD pack of the first three films in the franchise for Christmas one year and getting a tad obsessed with them for a time, to the point where they got me interested in racing games like the Need For Speed series just to further feed that hunger for high-octane ridiculousness. Honestly, it’s kind of spellbinding that what started out as a loose adaptation of a Vibe magazine article about an anonymous street racer has since turned into the primary action franchise of the 2000’s. The fact that this evolved out of a Rob Cohen film only makes this more confounding. So, before we get into the seventh installment, time to check out the one that came before because it came out post-2012 and any new film I see has to be reviewed or else I end up in purgatory… which will probably mean just watching Love Is Now again and no-one wants that less than I. Anyway, tangent: This is Fast & Furious 6.

The plot: After the birth of Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia’s (Jordana Brewster) first child, Dominic (Vin Diesel) and the rest of his crew retire from their life of crime with the money they got from the Rio heist. However, once a photo reaches agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) of a presumed-dead Letty (Michele Rodriguez), he uses the information to convince Dom to bring the gang back together to help him take down mercenary Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), whom Letty is currently working for.

In keeping with the rest of the series, the cast is a mixture of really damn good and just average. Rest assured, Dwayne Johnson is still the best thing to be found here; his physical presence, charisma and remarkable delivery of some pretty cheesy lines never fails to entertain. Vin Diesel, one of the most underrated actors working today, brings his usual brand of loud actions and effective words to his performance and actually manages to stand toe-to-toe with Dwayne in the majority of their scenes together. Ludacris and Tyrese as Tej and Roman respectively work really well as our comic relief with Luda as the tech-savvy jokester and Roman as the team punching bag, both roles they accomplish equally well. After Tyrese’s extremely man-crushy performance in 2 Fast 2 Furious, he’s at least mellowed out a bit on that front since re-appearing in Fast Five and actually manages to walk down the line between annoying and charming… most of the time; every so often, he will say something that will make you wish he would just shut the hell up, but thankfully it doesn’t happen too often. Sung Kang, who previously made for my favourite character on screen as Han, seemed a little too comfortable in his role and was letting his natural coolness slip away a bit but he’s still playing Han; he’s still the coolest guy in the room, even when he’s outside. Luke Evans, whom would have really needed to impress me here after seeing him in the lametastic Dracula Untold and the rather disappointing Hobbit finale, is really effective here as the main antagonist; he carries the character’s underlying disdain and yet begrudging respect for the mains equally with his calm and collected criminal business sense and makes for a great enemy for the Toretto crew. Honestly, when compared to everyone else here and even despite how well he himself plays the role, Paul Walker comes out comparatively weaker against the others. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Gal Gadot; the fact that this is supposed to be the next Wonder Woman baffles me to no end and I’m not even going to try and feign optimism about how well she’s going to play the character, if this is anything to go by.

The Fast & Furious series hit a rather bizarre milestone with the fifth installment, which lead to a shifting in focus from street races to just about any other ridiculous car stunt showcase they could scrounge up. Now, while I could call out Justin Lin and Chris Morgan for selling out and abandoning the concept that the series was built on, that would be implying that the series didn’t take a gigantic leap forward in quality with that decision. Not only did this expansion in the variety of action scenes add a lot to what the series had to offer, it also gave a way to a general feeling of “We just want to make a fun movie” and not wanting to let little things like restraint get in the way of that. This is Bugs Bunny personified, circa High Diving Hare when he said “I know this defies the laws of gravity but, you see, I never studied law.” One of the bigger problems I had with the first few films, and also with a large amount of Rob Cohen’s post-2000 filmography, is that they tried too hard to convince the audience that what they were doing was cool; with Fast Five onwards, they just knew that it was cool and focused more on just showing that off. This is especially true for the car play action scenes, which almost read like self-parody of the testosteroverdosage that is modern car culture that only increases the closer to the end it gets, where we get the Toretto crew squaring off against tanks and airplanes. It’s kind of glorious how over-the-top it gets, and the fact the filmmakers are completely aware of it makes it even more fun to witness. Also, one of the great advents that came around with Dwayne’s inclusion into the main cast is that fist fights started featuring more prominently, with Dwayne and newcomer to the cast Gina Carano throwing down to amazing effect. Hell, I’d slate Carano’s two fight scenes against Rodriguez as the best moments of the film (and no, the word ‘catfight’ doesn’t factor into why that is) because of how well they are choreographed.

A side effect that came around with this shift in the paradigm is that the character dynamics have grown stronger than ever before: The banter and general interactions between the characters have a new peak here, probably because the new found sense of fun has led to more of an emphasis on funny dialogue for Chris Morgan to write and the cast perform it very well. Another result of all this, bizarrely enough, is that the emotional connection to the characters has increased as well: The main crux of the story revolves around the return of an old ally, and her scenes with Vin Diesel make for some properly touching stuff. Sure, Letty’s entire character sub-plot concerns that age-old soap opera cliché of amnesia, and her mere presence in this movie opens up all kinds of plot holes , but this film handles it surprisingly well considering and has it work to the film’s advantage. One of the major themes of the film, and by extension the series as a whole, is that of family and looking out for one another; the fact that the characters work this well together really helps sell that notion.

As a kind-of obsessive hip-hop head, I have always loved the Fast & Furious soundtracks and this is no exception. I mean, I normally can’t stand 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa at all, let alone on a track together, but them combined with some truly banging production from The Futuristics make for one hell of an opening song, especially when set against the recap montage at the start. I’ll admit that I have definitely grown to like the more international track selection of the last few installments, which this unfortunately diverges from, but there’s still a decent line-up here: deadmau5, Peaches and The Crystal Method all provide good content, and the inclusion of the Ludacris track Rest Of My Life was definitely a nice touch.


All in all, this has somehow taken the last film’s lack of restraint and gone ever further with it, making for a damn fun watch. The action scenes are over-the-top fun, the acting is mostly good with some interesting characters who all have really good chemistry on screen together, the writing leans on clichés at points especially with one of its main plots but for the most part it works out, and the soundtrack is up to the series’ standard. It ranks higher than Wolf Children, which may be better written but I personally found this more enjoyable overall, but it doesn’t fare as well as Pacific Rim, where the scope and effects work won out. This is a very close-knit series, meaning that it is pretty much required to have seen the previous films before checking this one out to get the full effect; some of the earlier films may not be all that great, but I sincerely mean it when I say it is completely worth it if it means going into this film fully prepared. Or, if you can take the action scenes on their own merits and don’t really care about the characters, check it out now. Either way, I highly recommend this one.

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