Words fail me in even attempting to describe or encapsulate just how incredibly entertaining and over the top Fast & Furious 6 manages to be. It’s generally and critically agreed upon that the previous entry in Universal’s biggest franchise of the new century was the best, and the series has actually been getting better with age. This film is on a whole other level of awesomeness. Even those who adored Fast Five will more likely than not be taken aback by just how much director Justin Lin and his stunt driving, kicking, punching, and leaping crew has accomplished here. It’s bigger, dumber, exceedingly thrilling and purposefully funnier, shattering the previously high water mark that was already set. What’s even more astounding is that in spite of a ludicrous plot and complete disregard for things like physics, it manages to be a great film overall if you look between the lines. This is exactly the kind of blockbuster that the audience for these kinds of films deserve.
After stealing over $100 million from a drug dealer in Brazil and getting a head start escaping tenacious special agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the perpetrators of the heist have moved into seclusion living the good life. Their world gets shaken when Hobbs comes looking for a favour. A deranged former British special forces leader (Luke Evans) has stolen two out of the three parts he needs to create a Nightshade device – something that can take out the entire power grid of a country for 24 hours that’s potentially worth billions on the black market. Hobbs team of drivers are no match for the crew assembled by his new nemesis, so in exchange for full pardons and amnesty, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) reunites his partners in crime. Making things more difficult for them, however, is how right hand man Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) now has a family to worry about, and somewhat mysteriously and inexplicably Dom’s former lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) has turned up alive and working for the bad guys.
From the opening seconds, Lin and long time franchise scribe Chris Morgan put the pedal to the floor and don’t even bother to take themselves seriously for a microscopic part of a moment. If Fast Five was a heist film, this one comes across as a bit of a cross between a Bond film and a superhero movie. The action and good natured ribs come at a pace that admittedly some might find exhausting, but if you go to these films wanting to have fun (and honestly, why else would you even bother?) it’s the most rewarding exhaustion possible.
From the preview audience I watched the film with, the thing that I gleaned the most from the experience was that these kinds of films are what cinema is all about and why films of this calibre are important. I would be hard pressed to think of a film that garnered more gasps, chuckles, sustained applause, hoots, and hollers than this one, but it earned every single one of them. It stopped feeling like a film after a while. It began to feel like an all inclusive party where everyone forgot about their lives for 130 minutes to get caught up in something ridiculously entertaining. You can laugh at it or laugh with it and neither response would be incorrect. In fact, Lin openly invites both, making for a pleasingly balanced experience that extends beyond simply giving the audience what it wants in terms of vehicular mayhem and hand-to-hand combat.
For example, the film’s sublimely implausible finale on an airport runway requires a suspension of disbelief that can only come as a result of every other crazy sequence that preceded it. Those scenes include people literally flying across bridges while fleeing tanks, chasing souped up armour plated Formula One racers through claustrophobic tunnels, and entire subplot involving Brian getting forced into going to prison to get information. Even while having fun in the moment, it’s hard not to question what’s going on as being patently unbelievable. When the climactic sequence has ended, Lin includes a really subtle sight gag designed to acknowledge the viewers that were questioning the reality of the scene the entire time. There’s no self-reflexive joking or smug brushing off of the subject because doing so would be doing a disservice to those actually enjoying the film and not questioning anything. The whole movie is designed and streamlined to invite its own criticism without being a jerk about it. Even the sometimes laughably on-the-nose dialogue is perfectly calculated to elicit exactly the response the filmmakers want from it. More films of this size and structure could stand to learn a thing or two from Lin’s welcome efforts.
The inclusiveness also extends to the story and cast, which might be filled with a bunch of people that can be dismissed as lunkheaded grease monkeys masquerading as secret agents, but there are also great roles for people of all races and both sexes. In this film it doesn’t matter if you are a black man, a white woman, a latino woman, or an Asian man dating a European woman. At some point the film will give them all something equally badass to do, and unlike other films of its type it won’t go out of it’s way to make jokes about it or rib the audience with how progressive it’s being. The point of Fast & Furious 6 is to kick ass, take names, and give the audience a good show. To make misanthropic, sexist, racist, or sleazy jokes simply isn’t this movie’s M.O. It’s one of the few films that could credibly be all things to all people. It’s what sets it apart from the equally chaotic Bad Boys II, which in terms of action might be the closest reference point despite this one blowing that film out of the water.
The plot simply exists so the film has something to hang off of outside of just tying into the greater mythology of the series that started several entries ago. The actual specifics of the device the baddie is trying to build are never really discussed, and his reasons for doing so are fairly stock. In a way that makes him the perfect foil for our heroes. There’s no reason to get too deep here. Evans is a fine choice of villain, snarling and bringing a sense of British class to everything. He seems to enjoy what he’s doing, which is something the actor never really had much of a chance to do in other similar roles.As for the rest of the cast, none of the returning faces have changed all that much, and their characters are only barely removed from the events of the previous film. Walker and Diesel keep the chemistry they’ve had for quite some time now. Ludacris and Tyrese bring the banter. Rodriguez returns – with an openly chuckle worthy case of amnesia – and brings a certain degree of toughness, especially in her two fight scenes with series newcomer and MMA superstar Gina Carano as Hobbs’ new partner. Johnson is as delightful as he always is, continuing his pretty great year. Also bringing some welcome new life to the series is Joe Taslim, who was previously seen in a supporting role in The Raid: Redemption, as one of the bad guys and who gets to showcase his martial arts background quite beautifully.
There’s no point in talking about nuance or subtext here, and it might sound strange for a critic to say this, but I’m almost eternally grateful for that. I’m even more grateful that despite a lack of depth there are still dozens of things worth applauding. This isn’t a film you analyze. It’s a communal experience that you share with friends in the dark, all of whom want nothing more than to be entertained. Every dollar of the film’s budget is up on screen and pays the viewer back by making sure that their investment of the film was totally worth it. If films of this size continue being this great over the summer, we’re in for a great year at the movies. If they aren’t, at least May was a pretty great month overall. (And for the love of everything holy don’t leave as soon as the credits begin to roll.)