(If you read nothing else of this review, know this: do not leave the theater until the credits start rolling up the screen.)
It’s pretty hard to up the ante and the game from one sequel to the next. However, Furious 6 (also known as Fast & Furious 6) director Justin Lin manages to do exactly that for his final film of the series, and he makes his exit from the franchise with an epic bang. With both Fast Five and Furious 6, Lin knows precisely what the target audience wants to see, and he makes damn sure that they get what they’re expecting: exciting car chases, big action set pieces, brutal fight choreography, and, of course, the family that makes the Fast & Furious franchise worth revisiting every time.
The franchise has evolved from movies about car racing and tuning to heist movies in the style of 2003’s The Italian Job, a calculated move that has seen success with every subsequent film. The first film follows undercover LAPD officer Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) as he infiltrates a street racing gang led by Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel), whose members include Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). It’s no small surprise that O’Conner pulls a Point Break and sympathizes with the people he’s hounding, letting Dom and his crew mostly walk away from the sting operation. Resigning from the LAPD in disgrace, O’Conner finds his own way in the racing world, where he finds racer/garage owner Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and old childhood friend Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). The film series winds up doing a little time-shift, as the events of the third film, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, occur after the events of Furious 6; Tokyo Drift serves to introduce us to Han Lue (also known as Han Seoul-Oh, played with a wonderful aloofness by Sung Kang), a man who can slip in and out of any job and get what anyone needs for it. Fast Five and Furious 6 combine the best characters from the first four movies, including two characters that die in the third and fourth films; these characters were brought back due to audience response, something which the filmmakers seem to be taking seriously.
Furious 6 starts right where Fast Five left us, with the entire team being banished from the US and making lives in non-extradition treaty countries. Brian and Mia are about to have a baby, while Dom is leading a peaceful life free of criminal activity. Han and his ex-Mossad agent girlfriend Gisele (Gal Gadot) are still traveling the world, with Tej running a garage and Roman living the high life, complete with a private jet with a hilariously vainglorious slogan on its tail. But they’re all about to be called back by Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson); after promising to hunt Dom in the pursuit of justice, he finds himself turning to Dom for help instead, needing Dom and his team to find Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a master thief who, along with his team (which now includes Letty), has been stealing components for a weapon that could bring about large disaster on a scale never before seen. In exchange for the team’s participation, they will be given full pardons, allowing them to return home.
With that much of a miniscule setup, Furious 6 winds up being one of the most gleefully and totally out of control movies I have ever seen. Once again, the laws of physics don’t apply whatsoever to the action; instead, the stunts, action, and the car chases have been ramped up and made to be howlingly entertaining. Where else can you see two people on different sides of a highway engage in one of the most ridiculous stunts ever? Where will you be able to watch a plane attempt a 10-minute takeoff on a military base runway? Seriously, some of the events in Furious 6 will make you wonder afterward if the filmmakers recognize the laws of physical space, but you’ll be too busy whooping and cheering to notice during the movie. You don’t go into a Fast & Furious movie to overthink it; you go in expecting to see gargantuan action, and that’s what it delivers in heaping truckloads.
Having directed the last four movies of the Fast & Furious franchise, Justin Lin has grown so much as an action director. Comparing Tokyo Drift to Furious 6 will reveal that not only does Lin know how to make an entertaining movie, he also knows how to build on each film’s successes and learn from each film’s failings. With Furious 6, Lin gives us a tight, lean film with a good balance between explosive action and breath-catching breaks in between. He gives us as much story as we need to know in order to move on to the next set piece, and he also inserts tension in some of those quiet scenes, keeping us on edge and our expectations up. In the acting department, the best move the filmmakers made for this franchise was bringing Dwayne Johnson into the mix. His physicality, his charisma, and his oddly charming persona seem to have injected a new life into the series, and his second portrayal of Luke Hobbs is one of the bright stars of Furious 6. The acting ranges from solid to meh, as it has always been, but the actors’ screen presence alone carries the weight nicely. Furious 6 seems to rely on the audience’s foreknowledge of each of the characters and what they represent, giving us a small, wordless recap of the previous movies under the opening credits.
Lin has found a formula that works: give the audience what they want, and then go a little bit over the top of that and make them love it. And by going that extra mile to make it more fun, Lin ends his tenure with the Fast & Furious franchise on one of the highest notes he could possibly have hoped to hit. Furious 6 defies the rule that the first movie in a franchise is always the better one; in fact, with the last two movies, Lin has torn that adage to shreds, taking the series to improbable heights and daring us to come along. Stay tuned for a very revealing scene that sheds a little more light on an event in Tokyo Drift… and it may just expose who the next movie’s villain will be.