As a celebration of both their 20th anniversary, and the upcoming release of F9, Past of the Furious is a series of retrospectives going through the Fast and/or Furious film franchise, one by one, movie by movie. Together we will discover how a series that began about stealing DVD players became a modern-day GI Joe riff and Universal Pictures’ third biggest franchise ever (only behind Jurassic Park and Despicable Me/Minions).
After the series gamble that was Fast Five, it was suddenly undeniable: Fast and Furious was a top shelf franchise for Universal. With the intentional pivot from “racing movies” to more broadly appealing vehicular action, as well as a focus on a multicultural ensemble, the series had lifeblood and a significant amount of hype going into Fast and Furious 6. And while part of the deal for Fast Five was a guaranteed schedule, director Justin Lin was still uncertain about his future with the franchise, began pre-visualization for the next film even as Fast Five was wrapping up production.
Ultimately, the behind the scenes creatives of Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan were brought back, as was nearly all of the cast of Fast Five, and the return of Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Dom’s previously presumed dead girlfriend and crew member. New cast members included Luke Evans as the big bad, and Gina Carano (pre-controversy, mostly) as the Rock’s new lady heavy.
The original new pitch for the series was to be a series of “heist” films, but wisely the long term viability of trying to follow the plot beats of Fast Five were somewhat questioned. Instead, the new entry sees Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs coming to Toretto to ask him for a favor, as there is a new crew of car-bound street criminals headed by Owen Shaw (Evans) that are causing havoc across Europe. Initially, Dom isn’t interested, but when Hobbs informs him that Letty has been seen with Shaw’s crew and even sweetens the pot with full pardons for all of The Family’s past offenses, it doesn’t take long before the crew agrees to get back together. Thus The Family goes from fleeing the cops in Rio to essentially being the police trying to take down a dark reflection of who they could have been without their sense of loyalty and decency. If Fast Five has the basic franchise mindset of an MCU film of uniting disparate elements, Fast and Furious 6 transitions the series right up to the edge of being a superhero franchise full stop.
And once again, lightly pushing at the boundaries of the franchise’s shape worked out for all involved. Ticket sales were up, and the general impression of this being a series that mattered only continued. It certainly wasn’t hurt by the stunning post-credits sequence, which promised to close the loop on one of the biggest question marks of the series: when was Han going to Tokyo and meet his tragic end? Not only does this film reach us up to the present, but it makes a shaking revelation (Spoiler alert): Han didn’t just die in a crash, but was intentionally killed by none other than Jason Statham! The series now was calling its shots, saying that their caliber could draw in known names to play in their sandbox. What once was a series of discordant experiments and rebrandings finally settled into a set identity as one of the most successful original film franchises in the world. And it showed no sign of slowing down.
But what do we think about it?
So far, so furious. I’m truly enjoying this ride. Each film after the previous one is a step up for me — with the exception of the necessary small step backwards from Tokyo Drift to Fast & Furious. I loved the fifth installment, but this sixth one is my favorite yet. This film very clearly leans heavier into the nonsense and big-budget insanity than the previous installment and is all the better for it.
In Fast & Furious 6, the dead are resurrected, the Rock teams with The Family, and the most intense action yet takes center stage. Ultimately, it really all just works… even when it shouldn’t. Having not experienced these films before, I didn’t realize just how much having Michelle Rodriguez back in the fold would benefit the entire film. Rodriguez’s Letty is a real badass and adds some heavy emotional stakes. Add in Luke Evans as baddie Owen Shaw, and the formula for a game of exploding cat-and-mouse in ultra-fast vehicles is born.
In other words, every time I watch one of these movies, I’m a bigger and bigger fan of the series. This film legitimately got me so excited I immediately went out and bought the next two installments and am trying my hardest to hold out until next week to watch.
Is… is Vin Diesel a good actor? Or does he just really get Dominic Toretto after playing him for so long in the only franchise that keeps him flirting with A-list status? I ask because he’s actually somewhat great in the role in this specific installment. He’s got a pretty unique face, that guy, and it pulls some all-timer expressions in this outsized sixth chapter in the pulp saga.
Re-watching this installment over two nights, I have to say I was feeling what I’ve self-diagnosed as Fast Fatigue on night one. There was a sense of samey-ness creeping in. A recognition that for all the drama and histrionics of this franchise, it’s ultimately about car chases and explosions, and the much celebrated family dynamics almost start to feel limiting when every single character must somehow be related to another major character. One begins to feel the cycle of writer Chris Morgan’s playbook.
And there’s no doubt that Fast & Furious 6, or Furious 6, or whatever its real title is, suffers immensely from the shedding of the outlaw spirit inherent to all the other installments thus far. We’ve gone from Robin Hood and his merry men to the Federation of Street Race Cops. Ultimately, the unending talk about “running” and being on the lam was starting to get old and really crescendo’d with Fast Five. So I’m not sure what other direction The Fambly would go except becoming legitimate and saving the planet and all. But Brian’s journey from cop to criminal is undercut by all our favorite criminals becoming squares.
All that said, I did love the Rocky-esque sequence in Part 6 when the team absolutely gets their asses handed to them by Luke Evans’ Shaw & Company. Vin Diesel’s ego rarely allows himself or his team to even break a sweat, much less get beaten handily. But the hubris of The Fambly leads to a mid-film beatdown gloriously rendered by all-time great action star in the making Joe Taslim’s henchman character. Taslim isn’t wasted here as he gets to absolutely demolish Roman and Han in a searing fight sequence. Dom & Co. must lick their wounds in a way we’ve really not seen from them before, and that felt fresh.
Night two of my revisit proved more thrilling, with the well-regarded set pieces of The Fambly versus a tank, and then the infamous endless-runway climax with our crew battling it out against a giant airplane that they must keep from taking off at any cost. The highway tank scene is an especially good action set piece that feels exciting, offers great character moments, and iconic visual flourishes. It’s the real standout component to an installment that just can’t quite reach the heights of the last one.
I also have to note that with a cast this big, and a plot this busy, and a runtime of well over two hours, a mixed bag of outcomes are almost bound to occur. Where Diesel seems to have perfected Toretto by this round, Gal Gadot (who’s frankly great in Wonder Woman) never really feels essential to The Fambly, and her departure from the series here carries extremely little dramatic consequence. It must also be said that, as much as I think the problematic and recently cancelled Gina Carano is astonishingly gorgeous and has the absolute look of an iconic big screen action heroine, she’s never nailed a performance and her Riley character is a genuine black hole of charisma.
Oh, and Letty’s miraculously not dead. It’s fine. And it won’t be the last time a member of The Fambly beats Death at Mario Kart and returns to the land of the living as their reward.
In some ways, the fact that Fast and Furious 6 feels disappointing is not its fault. It is just following such a masterstroke of big-budget, franchise-building cinema in Fast Five, it was never going to feel as seismic in its intentions as its older brother. It couldn’t. Plus a lot of the film’s focus narratively is tying up loose ends. How do we keep Dom, Brian, and Co. from running forever? How can we bring Michelle Rodriguez back in? Are we ever going to catch up to the “present” of Tokyo Drift? In many ways, 6 is a bridge movie in the way that 4 is a bridge movie, linking together what has come before to set the table for what comes next.
The difference between 4 and 6 however is that while Fast and Furious’ action sequences are mostly forgettable, Fast and Furious 6 has some of Justin Lin’s most innovative sequences. My research suggests this is the most heavily pre-vized of the films, which totally makes sense because each action sequence pays out like a slot machine, escalating with patience and setting up climatic payoffs that feel both surprising and inevitable. I especially have a soft spot for Owen’s crews weird wedge cars, which just flip anything in their path, and of course the endless runway sequence, which is just glorious chaos happening all at once.
I’m going to use my last inches here to say a potentially controversial statement: I think Luke Evans might be the best villain of these movies? I have a lot of love for a lot of the baddies, from DK to Reyes, but Evans is something unlike we have seen before: He is an equal. He beats Dom as his own bullshit, and when they have the mandated philosophical debate, he essentially picks apart the weaknesses that Dom’s sense of loyalty to his family generates. Of course, he eventually fails because family always wins blah blah blah, but there is significant loss. Gisele dies a self-sacrificial death, which in turn sends Han to Tokyo a haunted man. In a film where the stakes are literally “Stop the bad guy, save your girlfriend,” Evans brings a seriousness and gravity to a role that on paper is fairly generic (as most Fast villains ultimately turn out to be.) We will have plenty of time to talk about how this series treats the Shaws from here on out (Spoiler: I’m not a huge fan), but the fact we never get to see this side of Owen again is actually a big bummer. He’s the only bad guy in the series up to this point I legitimately wish got a second shot.
Our Next Pit Stop: The series attempts to continue its upward trajectory into the stratosphere even without Justin Lin behind the camera, but has to contend with real world tragedy. It’s Furious 7, and we’re all going to have a good cry about it.
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