At this point, there's no franchise as consistent as The Fast and the Furious. Six movies and counting about driving cars real fast, there's only one outright failure — 2009's Fast and Furious, which brought back Vin Diesel but CG'd every cool car stunt. Still, that's pretty remarkable for a movie series that does not give a fuck whether it's enjoyed by critics or the people who talk about movies on the Internet. Think about this — there are more good Fast and Furious movies than there are good Batman movies*.
The franchise even transformed into its own Avengers and stole Marvel and Joss Whedon's thunder a whole year in advance as the legitimately incredible Fast Five used the series' vague premise — street race illegally to catch the real crooks, I guess? — to team up every major character for an Ocean's Eleven style adventure with its own take on the goofy bank vault switcharoo. Hell, in this movie they even refer to Rock "The Dwayne" Johnson** as both "Hulk" and "Samoan Thor."
Fast and Furious 6 is a direct sequel to Fast Five — it's even called Furious 6 on the title card, which is a fucking amazing idea — taking place only months after the previous film as agent The Rock enlists great drivers Vin Diesel and Boring White Guy to help track down a gang of supercriminals who are also great at driving cars real fast. After the last film they decided they were "outtie 5000" on the "driving cars for a purpose" game, but The Rock has a shocking twist for them: one of the supercriminals is Vin's old girlfriend Michelle Rodriguez, killed in part four.
That's some silly shit, considering Vin straight-up ditches his way-too-understanding girlfriend from the last movie to see what's up with this dead lady, and then it gets even more hilarious when you find out why she's joined the gang. The emotional drama and sentimental elements have always been the weakest part of the franchise, and that continues here as we get a few too many scenes of Vin Diesel gravelling something about "fam'ly" or the gang saying grace around a table of homemade barbecue. But I guess it's a requirement of populist cinema to have a heart, so I'll allow them this indulgence.
That's because the very first frame of Furious 6 is cars driving real fast, which is a good sign. Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan have been leading this franchise since part three, Tokyo Drift, which is a pretty impressive feat considering how many other long-running franchises switch out directors and screenwriters every outing. But because of Universal's sticking with the same bros, there's a consistency and a familiarity there. Even as the franchise goes deeper into its James Bond/Ocean's Eleven mashup, these guys know what they should be doing with a given installment and pull it off. By which I mean "figure out the best place to shoehorn in an illegal streetrace."
The closest point of comparison otherwise is, surprisingly enough, Iron Man 3***. At 130 minutes, Furious 6 is a long-ass movie and so much of that runtime is a whole lot of plotting. On one hand, the amount of shit they have to do to get from point A (driving cars real fast) to point Z (saying grace around some barbecue) is exhausting, but that runtime also affords the film the ability to give every character something to do — especially considering they left out Tego Calderon and the other guy from the previous movie and downplayed the girlfriend characters into extended cameos. It allows for fun diversions like new addition Gina Carano MMAing the shit out of Michelle Rodriguez in the London Underground and Boring White Guy taking ten minutes to be put in American prison just to get crucial info from the bad guy from part four (Fred Armisen, pretty much). For a movie that had its roots in short but sweet illegal streetraces, this pacing grows increasingly closer to NASCAR lengths.
But the point of this thing is that you get to watch cars drive real fast and pull off sick stunts, which Furious 6 has a lot of even though Lin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon tend to jerk the camera a little too much. Before the Fast and Furious franchise, I never considered how many ideas you could have for an action scene where somebody drives a car. Here you get a whole bunch of variations — car vs. tank, car vs. plane, car vs. leftovers from Universal's remake of Death Race — and most of it seems practical. Or, at least practical enough as far as the cars are concerned, as there's one people-based stunt that would have been an all-time great if it weren't totally CG'd. Maybe y'all should have spent some of that money on suicidal Thai stuntmen.
The film's greatest weakness, however, is its need to work with continuity. What made Fast Five work so well is that, despite being a team-up movie, you didn't actually have to watch any of the prior installments to enjoy it, which I say as someone who watched this entire series out of order****. If you were a fan, I'm sure it was a rush to see everybody all in the same movie. If you were a newcomer, you saw a bunch of pretty people who seemed to smile a lot in every scene and drove cars real fast. Here you not only get lots of stuff from part four (including a flashback) but the film also finally catches up with the point in time where Tokyo Drift takes place, which is a shame because I hoped that they would just keep making movies that fit within that gap and just leave Tokyo Drift as some movie that takes place in the distant future of 2006.
The other big fault of this film, shockingly, is the lack of stakes. The big McGuffin is a computer chip that can kill cities, but it's not like it ever comes into play, and the gang of supercriminals who stole it are barely present even when they're on screen. Headed by Luke Evans, a UK export seemingly engineered to rival Aussie Sam Worthington in genericness, they're basically evil Team Fast Furious — they even have a muscle guy to match The Rock — but they're so boring that they hardly register beyond models for leather jackets. I guess one of them looks like of like Bjork? Either way, it feels like a hugely missed opportunity, considering you could have filled this other half of the cast with some interesting faces and given them entertaining things to say. You seriously couldn't pay Ian McShane to be in this group? Have you seen the jobs he's willing to take? I know it's cool to name-check Shane Black — I've been doing it since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang — but the dude handles henchmen so well that I wish screenwriters would more often steal that element of his work. You don't need a budget to give somebody a funny line.
I wish Furious 6 was a perfect action movie so I could give it five stars and further confuse Comics Bulletin's critical situation, but I'll take a really entertaining installment of Fast and Furious if I can't get the action movie perfection of Fast Five. The film can be taxing at times but is quick to offer a shot of adrenaline when it's most needed — and after the oligatory but MAD PROMISING mid-credits teaser, I'm ready for the sequel. It's crazy to realize how this franchise went from diminishing returns to constantly raising the bar with subsequent installments. Not bad for a film series that began as a Point Break knockoff.
*For what it's worth, I think they're about tied with the Marvel cinematic universe.
**The best thing to do with this man's career is to credit him as "The Rock" in his action movies and "Dwayne Johnson" in his family comedies. Also? Never do real dramas.
***Like Iron Man 3, the credits are made up of footage from previous films. Which — real talk, Hollywood — always makes your movie seem like a TV show.
****I regret nothing, as this franchise has a timeline only slightly l
ess weird than Planet of the Apes.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his Tumblr. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, recently ended, so now you can read it in its entirety.