With 2011’s Fast Five, director Justin Lin managed to boost a franchise that was rapidly running out of fuel. By increasing the budget and introducing Dwayne Johnson’s enormous federal agent Luke Hobbs, Lin took what was once a film series primarily about illegally racing cars on city streets into absurd yet entertaining action heist territory.
Two years later, and Lin’s faced with the unenviable task of improving on the template he established with his previous movie – not to mention finding new things for his increasingly bloated cast of car thieves, racers and disgraced cops to do.
Taking place shortly after Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6 sees Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and the rest of his gang of fugitives scattered across Europe and Asia, filthy rich after their Rio heist yet constantly on the lookout for the heat around the corner. In Moscow, Hobbs is on the trail of Owen Shaw, a former SAS expert in “vehicular warfare” who’s been stealing expensive scientific parts from military convoys and leaving a trail of devastation in his wake – including a burned out Moscow bridge covered in debris and melted tyres.
Hobbs’ new partner is Riley, played by former MMA fighter turned Haywire movie star Gina Carano. “How did the hell did that get up there?” Riley asks, pointing to a car embedded in the seventh floor of a nearby building. Riley’s clearly never seen a Fast movie before, because embedding vehicles in buildings is its signature move.
True to form, Fast 6 ups the destruction quotient yet further: tanks, planes, bridges, Mad Max-style custom cars and family hatchbacks all collide in exciting and unexpected ways, resulting in a kaleidoscope of fire, twisted metal and burning tax discs. And just to freshen things up a little bit, Fast 6 also adds what can only be described as a Magical Harpoon Gun – a mystical firearm that can flip vehicles and pull down bridges pretty much as the action requires.
Inevitably, the story’s rather crudely sketched in, such is the rush to get to the next explosive set-piece. We know that the evil Shaw is after the final part of a deadly invention that’s worth a “billion dollars” or something, but the description of this doodad is mumbled in one exchange so brief that it’s easily missed among a screening room full of laughing punters (well, this was my experience, at least).
This means that, as the chase-filled story shifts from London to Spain, we’re never really sure what’s at stake, other than that Brian, Dom and the rest of the good guys really, really need to get a shiny metallic lunchbox back from the bad guys – all in exchange for “full pardons, all the way around,” as Paul Walker’s increasingly morose Brian O’Conner puts it.
Fortunately, the characters are all well established by now, and the camaraderie is what lifts the film, even when its attempts at proper drama fall embarrassingly flat. Tyrese Gibson continues to exude an easy charm as Roman, and sparks off well against Ludacris’ Tej, who’s gradually becoming the franchise’s equivalent of Q.
The charm is important, because attempts at generating suspense rarely work. It’s no secret that Dom’s old flame Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is back, but the story surrounding her reappearance is fumbled, and the scenes between she and Vin Diesel’s buff mechanic are entirely cringeworthy.
Like most other Fast franchise villains, Shaw is an unremarkable and underwritten bad guy. This isn’t Evans’ fault – he looks wirily threatening, and seems at home behind the wheel of a car – but rather the script, which spends far too much time flicking between different characters and locations. Paul Walker, in particular, seems like a fifth wheel here, and his mid-point fact-finding mission adds almost nothing to the story other than an additional 10 minutes to an already lengthy duration.
Then again, there’s precious little sense to be found in Fast 6‘s crash-happy story. A weapon that wrecks havoc on cars with computers inside them is established early on, but then quietly dropped. An illegal street race (which appears to take place somewhere in London’s posh White Hall area) occurs for no reason at all, and even guest star Rita Ora (inventor of orange squash) doesn’t seem to know exactly how she ended up there. By this part of the film, it’s probably best just to sit back and take in the action and the ridiculous dialogue.
And boy, is there a lot of action and ridiculous dialogue. Among the line-up of heroes and villains, there’s now Joe Taslim, a charismatic actor who was great in Gareth Evans’ The Raid, and gets one spectacular fight scene between two utterly unprepared opponents. Gina Carano is rarely required to speak, but she features in some impressive brawls of her own.
Miraculously, Fast 6 manages to find someone even bigger than Dwayne Johnson to spar with – an opponent who was presumably grown in a lab somewhere – which is but a single spinning cog in one of the most over-the-top action sequences I’ve seen this year. It’s sufficient to say that, as daft and predictable as the movie is, it’s at least entertaining – and some of the gravity-defying stunts truly boggle the mind.
Lacking the impact of Fast Five, which had the benefit of franchise-invigorating surprise behind it, Fast & Furious 6 is a bumpier, saggier movie. But for every mark against it – an illogical plot, lack of genuine peril, a protracted middle – there’s a positive: namely, spectacular stunts, amusing one-liners, and as ever, an overarching sense of good-natured fun.
So in spite of those road bumps, Fast 6 still had its audience cheering – and by the time the final credits roll, it’s difficult not to look forward to next year’s sequel, and all the cars embedded in buildings it will surely contain.
Fast & Furious 6 is out in UK cinemas on the 17th May.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.