[24 May 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
When did it happen? When did the car crash chaos of The Fast and the Furious franchise turn in The Automotive Avengers (copyright owned by yours truly)? No, seriously. Up until this latest installment of the street racing series, the plots usually revolved around amped up vehicles and individuals with vendettas driving them at very high speeds. Then, Fast Five discovered you could alter the formula to include actual plot (in that case, a full blown heist from a drug dealer). Suddenly, the franchise became a collection of combustion engine experts, each with their own special skill set which, when combined, can take down any annoying enemy.
Thus, the Automotive Avengers were born, and Fast and Furious 6 is the high octane result of this goofy gathering. Making little or no sense narratively and bringing back as many previous players to the fold as fiscally possible, the plot revolves around the now “retired” gang getting an offer the government knows they can’t refuse. Still hanging out in a tranquil paradise with no extradition treaty, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his pal Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) like playing family. The former is settling in with Elena (Elsa Pataky) while the latter is a new dad with Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). When rugged Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) shows up at their door bearing pictures of the supposedly dead Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), our heroes mumble something about family and agree to help take down the international terrorist, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) who she apparently works for now.
Gathering together his crew—childhood pal Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), car expert Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), street racer Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang), his gal pal Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot), and Hobbs new assistant Riley (Gina Carano)—they set-up shop in London and begin the process of tracking down leads. Apparently, Shaw is trying to construct some manner of Nightshade device, a technology bomb that will disable an entire city’s power system. With connects to Arturo Braga (John Ortiz), a drug kingpin who Brian put behind bars and the ongoing mystery with Letty, it looks like all roads lead to a US military base in Spain. When they get there, however, it’s obvious that Shaw and his crew of similarly styled gearheads have one final trick up their villainous sleeve.
Airheaded and awfully entertaining, Fast and Furious 6 (or as it was initially conceived, Furious 6) is so over the top and outrageous that it doesn’t mind pushing the very boundaries of believability. How else would you defend a film which features Diesel (or an equally bald CG/stuntman version of same) and Rodriguez colliding in mid-air over an elevated Spanish superhighway, the former flinging himself off a moving car while the latter is launched off a tank (yes, you read that right) that’s being anchored to the road by another stray vehicle? Like a skinned Superman, Toretto takes flight, catching Letty over the canyon-like median, the duo then propelled into the windshield of another stationary auto… and they shrug it off, like it’s another day on the Vías de Gran Capacidad.
Or how about the finale, which sees our gang hanging off of the wings of a massive Russian cargo plane, feverishly attempting to bring the aircraft down by…well, it has to be seen to be believed. Justin Lin, who made a name for himself with the crime drama Better Luck Tomorrow, has taken the franchise in a whole new and yet completely familiar direction. This is no longer a look inside underground car culture. Instead, the characters and their motors only function as pieces of a massive in scope stunt epic. The opening offers up a mind-bending race through London. We then get a chase and fiery fisticuffs in the subway. Blah, blah, blah, some mandatory exposition, and we are watching Toretto and Letty reliving past glories in England’s biggest metropolis. When you add in the Spain sequences, you’ve got at least five electrifying reasons to enjoy this otherwise brainless mess.
Indeed, because they are now close to indestructible, the F&F gang are superheroes for the common man. They don’t have the complicated backstories or run-ins with radiation, but they do things that normal humans would find difficult to manage even with the US government giving them every toy in the tech rack. When the standard issue cars can’t capture Shaw and his crew, Tej goes to an auction and buys up every old school muscle vehicle up for sale (he has millions, remember). When called for, Gisele will climb on the top of Han’s car so she can help him shoot a massive rocket-launched anchor into the wing of a plane. There’s at least two major girl on girl fights here as well, and they are brutal. Of the guys, only Brian gets into it, but his beatdown of Braga and his guards is intense.
Still, the movie suffers from a solid case of the superfluous. Shaw is a stand-in nemesis, a well-acting con to the heroes’ patterned pro. Evans is excellent at being evil, but his plan seems patterned on a dozen different screenplays, not an actual working idea. Similarly, the twist that comes toward the end is telegraphed relatively early on, since the notion of someone on the “inside” would suggest a player other than those we’ve seen for the last six films. Finally, if the word “family” is used once, it’s used dozens of times. Toretto and O’Connor clearly consider the rest of the F&F gang to be their blood, but if that was indeed the case, why would they not figure out a way to simply kidnap Letty and let Shaw come to them? Or not bother with him at all? Perhaps they knew that, as in any other action film, the bad guy has to stay a step ahead of the champions… that is, until the last act comeuppance (if any).
The average fan, however, will see these as mere glitches in a given that is one big fat continuous car chase, empty but incredibly entertaining. By taking the material and glomming it onto various genres and subgenres, the Fast and Furious films can go on indefinitely (the stinger at the end of this one suggests who, and what, we will be dealing with next). Sure, without Lin and his hyperkinetic directing style, the series may suffer. As long as they keep playing The Automotive Avengers, however, the future looks finer than a custom made Maserati.