At the time of writing, Fast & Furious 6 (as the posters put it) or Furious 6 (as the actual movie does) has, in a few short weeks, grossed almost $600 million dollars worldwide. Not many franchises make it to six movies at all, never mind ones that can still claim wide cinema releases. The Fast & Furious series is even more unusual in that it has, for the most part, become progressively more successful. Furious 6’s current gross is more than double that of the 2001 original. What started as a Point Break rip-off has become one of Universal’s top earning series, something I’d have never expected twelve years ago.
Part of this new found success surely has to do with the starring actors’ careers (or lack thereof, Vin Diesel hasn’t played another character in the last 5 years). Of the original four principle cast members, only Paul Walker stuck around for the first sequel, the absurdly titled (and downright awful) 2 Fast 2 Furious, and the third film (which I’ve still never seen) featured a whole new cast. The stars’ failure to secure successful roles outside of this series led to them all coming back for a fourth film, whose surprising success in turn led to a hastily produced fifth instalment. That film, Fast Five, gave the series a chance to re-invent itself as a globe-trotting heist adventure (involving fast cars) rather than continuing to focus on illegal street racing. Fast Five proved to be a monster hit, and even more surprisingly, saw the series garnering mostly positive reviews for the first time, (though I found it wearingly overblown myself).
So now, inevitably, everyone’s back for another round of fast driving and physics defying stupidity, and you can’t fault Furious 6 there, it does deliver on its promise.
Following their successful heist last time, Vin Diesel’s gang have all retired into living relaxing and/or luxurious lives around the world. However, another criminal gang is causing some sort of trouble somewhere, so DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a man whose law enforcement methods could be described as ‘wildly illegal’, tracks Diesel down to get his crew to assist him in catching them. That’s right, this government agent’s plan to bring down a dangerous gang of international criminals is to hire a fugitive gang of dangerous international criminals. Such is the logic of this movie.
Of course they accept, and just like that, we have excuses for some massive action and chase scenes.
Furious 6 is not going to win any prizes for screenwriting, but at least some effort’s gone into its plot, which connects to several of the prior films, and as absurd as they are, the action sequences do have some grounding in the overall story, rather than just being diversions. When the set-pieces come, they throw all caution, physics, and common sense to the wind, with the fast cars taking on tanks and planes, but are undeniably quite spectacular in their absurdity.
While the leads aren’t exactly oozing with personality, the series adds an increasing number of colourful supporting characters to spice things up. Sung Kang’s charismatic racer Han and Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs (who’s developed a habit of leaping from one fast moving vehicle onto another) being particularly welcome. Even Tyrese Gibson’s Roman, who was so irritating in his 2 Fast debut, is quite amusing here.
The ridiculous elements in the chases can mostly be forgiven, but there are some story ones that can’t so easily. Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty is revealed (at the start) to be alive again (after dying in part 4), but has some contrived form of amnesia that only exists in the world of movies (she can’t remember Dom but can remember everything about cars), also Walker inexplicably breaks into, then out of, a US maximum security prison with no trouble at all (and for no particular reason). There’s also the minor niggle of all the unseen innocent civilians who surely met violent deaths during some of the chases.
In this case, it seems that if you just keep on trying, eventually you’re going to improve. Fast & Furious 6 keeps the characters and the spectacle, but is altogether tighter than its bloated immediate predecessor, and miles ahead of the franchise’s lowest points, ultimately emerging as the most enjoyable film (that I’ve seen) of this series so far.