First of all, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on the miracle of the THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS series. It started in 2000, a studio b-movie, a dumb subculture exploiter with hot up-and-coming stars, quite good for a Rob Cohen movie and with a star-making performance by Mr. Vin Diesel, but undeniably corny. I don’t think anybody could predict that 11 years later it would be Universal’s most valued franchise/trademark/anti-intellectualproperty or that a part 5 would be bigger and better than the previous ones. Especially when you consider that Diesel ditched out on part 2 and Paul Walker bailed before part 3 and that even the naming of the movies poses a challenge. You don’t see I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER still coming out with new chapters but they keep doing FASTs and FURIOUSes even after running out of sensible combinations of those words.
When they moved it to Tokyo with Lucas Black and Bow Wow you know they were thinking “well, let’s squeeze the last couple drops out of this one before we call it quits.” Now it’s two movies later with that same director and the stars of all four previous movies are reunited to face their first worthy adversary.
What I love about this series is that they each have kind of a different spin on the material and a different charm to them. I like part 1 for Diesel’s dedication to his ridiculous character, part 2 for its utter silliness and video game plotting, part 3 for its unorthodox leading man and loving tribute to the imagery of urban Japan, part 4 for its hybrid of all the previous entries, its reunion of original characters (including a much tougher version of Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner) and slick visual execution of preposterous concepts like the high-speed gas truck robbery and Diesel-as-Dom’s car-whispering crime scene investigation where he reads skidmarks like a TV psychic reads visions of serial killers.
Now part 5 takes a similar approach but with more returning characters, more action and at least by the looks of it alot less computers. I think this might be the first one not to use the FURIOUS trademark of a CGI camera move through a car engine. Instead the emphasis is on real cars crashing, flipping, falling, exploding, being scraped and smashed and riddled with bullet holes. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a new movie with this many cars rolling or being crushed (I just now read that they destroyed close to 200 cars filming the big climax.) And it’s nice to see so many real-looking stunts of people leaping off structures or hanging off of vehicles. No obvious green screens or show-offy virtual cameras.
But the masterstroke of this one is pretty obvious, it’s casting the motherfuckin Rock Dwayne Johnson as the antagonist (anti-anti-hero?) Luke Hobbs, leader of the paramilitary D.S.S. team chasing our fugitive heroes through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. And luckily it’s not just a gimmick to get the name on the marquee. He gets plenty to do in the movie (both action-wise and tough-talking-wise) and I’m sure we all hope he’ll continue to be a main character in however many more movies they make.
This is not the charming, vulnerable version of The Rock that I always talk up, but it is the first movie to make full use of his old wrestling persona, the blustery, self-promoting superman. He’s a dominating team leader, barking out commands but also personally filling the air with clouds of bullets, punching with fists like sledge hammers and denting the hood of Dom’s favorite car using Dom’s head. (Dom has had to deal with bad things happening to many people close to him, but it might require a whole trilogy for him to avenge what happens to his Dodge Charger.)
Diesel looks more ridiculously burly than ever, but then is dwarfed by The Rock. It’s so unlikely and so perfect that they actually got a man for the role who can match or best Diesel in each of the following categories: star power, screen presence, macho swagger, muscle, baldness. It’s great to see them standing face to face, trying to melt each other’s skulls with the power of hateful staring. It’s like a boxing event poster or one of those historic plot twists in wrestling where Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant or somebody reveals that they’re betraying their long time ally and they stare each other down.
I could be wrong but I think The Rock being in this movie is part of an Expendables Effect. Regardless of the quality of Stallone’s movie, his assembly of a macho action superteam was a dream come true for many movie fans that opened some eyes in Hollywood about casting. I think that paved the way for producers to look for those type of unexpected teamups and facedowns and for the actors to realize that it’s not all about hogging the spotlight, that their star power can be increased in one of these all star lineups. I know there are low budget producers trying to dig up all the ’80s and ’90s icons and sub-icons they can and of course there was Trejo, Seagal, DeNiro, Don Johnson and everybody in MACHETE. And now there’s characters from all four previous FURIOUSes getting chased by The Rock.
I got a half-formed theory that manliness is starting to come back into fashion, too. After a decade-plus of cultural overreach by comic book nerds and skinny kids in tight jeans and eyeliner there’s starting to be some nostalgia for the masculine arts of the ’70s and ’80s. Even the nerds and the tightpantsers want to see dirt on the lens and heroes with scars and deep voices and they want to see actual objects getting destroyed sometimes, not just clean computery flash. Even this series is getting manlier, it’s almost entirely classic American muscle cars or military vehicles, none of the glowy fluorescent pink and green shit that was so big at the beginning.
I know of at least two web-based movie critics who’ve turned their nose up to this series for ten years and finally watched them last week and admitted that at least this latest one is pretty good. Some of the reviews I’ve seen are kind of a condescending “Okay, I guess I see why you people like these things” type of attitude, but at least they’re coming around.
I thought alot about THE EXPENDABLES during FAST FIVE because I think this is a movie with a comparable level of testosterone, better execution. It does a good job of having all its macho dudes lined up in one shot, giving them each a specialty, having them work together on different missions, bond and fight and man-hug and all that. There’s no emotion as strong as Mickey Rourke’s tearful monologue, but there are heavy themes of brotherhood, opponents-who-respect-each-other, codes of honor, all the shit I love, the stuff that’s so strong it makes people uncomfortable so they gotta accuse it of being gay.
There’s a more captivating story and characterization than EXPENDABLES, more of a build to a spectacular action climax where you get the thrills and also care about what happens to everybody afterwards. It feels very satisfying.
The one area where it shares the same weaknesses is the fight between Diesel and The Rock. (Yes, they have a fight. I’m not gonna call that a spoiler because if they didn’t fight that would spoil the movie.) It’s a pretty cool scene because there are some good moves and it’s real vicious (although Diesel must be made of rubber considering the lack of visible damage from a fight that should’ve crippled him) but as is standard practice now it’s shot closeup and wobbly and not very clearly edited. But most of the other action scenes are shot better than that.
Man, in this movie, with these characters, if this had been a carefully staged showstopper of a fight sequence it would’ve been the scene of the summer, could’ve even started a new trend of theatrically released movies with good fight scenes in them. You know how after THE MATRIX everybody copied bullet time for a while, it would’ve been like that. “You know what this movie needs? A really great fight scene where you can clearly see what happens, like in FAST FIVE! That’s the newest thing, kids love it!”
The Rock is the best new addition to the series, but the returning vets are a big part of the attraction too. For those of us who’ve enjoyed watching and/or laughing at these movies over the last decade it’s truly enjoyable to see our old chums back together again, in new combinations like Dom finally meeting Tyrese’s character Roman (since he was introduced in part 2 as Brian’s childhood best friend) and even the return of Matt Schulze’s character Vince, who we haven’t seen since part 1 and who’s much tougher and more charismatic now than he was then.
In fact, all of these actors have kind of grown into their roles. I think they’re all better now than when they started. I thought Jordana Brewster was a bland, forgettable main-girl in the first one. Now she’s stunning, she’s jumping off roofs, she’s speeding after her brother’s prison bus barely suppressing a wicked grin. She’s won me over. Not that that was a goal of hers or anything, I’m just saying. Look, it’s a compliment, let’s not make a big thing out of it.
Unfortunately Paul Walker doesn’t call people “bro” very much in this one, if at all. That’s gonna disappoint alot of people. Also I could be wrong, but I don’t think the movie used this great RIGHT STUFF type shot from the trailer, which I assume takes place after a deleted White Shirts Only Beach Party scene:
If the shot really wasn’t used I blame this guy behind Tyrese:
Thanks alot, pal. And that guy to your left, too. You guys’re fuckin it up for everybody.
Rio’s a good location for this too. You have the poverty of the favelas contrasted with the spectacle of the cities and the beaches (alot of it actually filmed in Puerto Rico I guess, but at least it’s not Vancouver). Obviously this doesn’t have the weight or authenticity of a CITY OF GOD or ELITE SQUAD, but it uses the crime lords, corrupt police force and economic divide as an important elements of the plot. The villain played by Joaquim de Almeida even has a monologue about the history of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism in Brazil. And I like how it’s not a fish-out-of-water deal, they just adapt to Brazilian life like Lucas Black did to Tokyo. Brian and Mia don’t have a problem staying with Vince and his wife and baby in their tiny shanty. This cross-cultural business is a theme in all the Justin Lin directed sequels as the cast of many races and cultural backgrounds moves through the Dominican Republic and the favelas and instead of treating it like an exotic vacation it’s just a new place to live (and maybe find some good people to race against).
I made fun of some websights for repeating a story that Deadline ran about Universal’s plan to “switch genres” in part 6 and turn it into a heist movie. It sounded to me like some of these reporters had never seen or heard about this very popular movie series, since from the beginning it’s been about a gang of armed robbers who are into street racing. After seeing this I guess I have a better idea what they were getting at because the one actual street race that takes place in the movie is offscreen. You don’t even see the trademark starting line sexy girls. There are some good butt shots, though. Also it’s true that one of the robberies in this is done with a little bit more of an OCEAN’S 11 touch than in previous installments. They’re all street racers doing it but they do some training, disguises and trickery and what not along with the crazy car stunts.
There’s another movie that would’ve been funny for it to lift from. As I mentioned, part 1 was a loose remake of POINT BREAK, part 3 was THE KARATE KID, I would’ve loved if this one was a lift of THE FUGITIVE. Obviously you got this Hobbs character doing his Tommy Lee Jones, with his version of the “outhouse, henhouse” speech, chasing our fugitives. Instead of escaping from a prison train crash it’s a rolled prison bus (although there’s also a train crash in this movie). There’s a part where they jump a car off a huge cliff, that’d be funny if it had the same purpose in the story as the part where Harrison Ford jumps out of the drain pipe. What if Dom was framed for running somebody over, but he knew the person who really did it drove a car with one white tire, and he travels around helping people while trying to prove his innocence? It could’ve worked.
This is a really enjoyable movie, I’d say mainly for fans of the series but it seems like everybody else likes it too. It does a great job of revisiting most of what we enjoyed in previous installments and improving on them in many ways. Most of these sequels have some weakness in the end, this one starts out good and ends way better. It even has the confidence to set up a new installment kind of like they do in the Marvel comics movies. (or, hell, like they did in TOKYO DRIFT. That’s where they got the idea for THE AVENGERS in my opinion. And everything else.)
Best part 5 of all time? FAST FIVE has gotta be up there, at least in the top five part fives. What’s it up against, YOU NEVER LIVE TWICE? Other than that a part 5 this strong might be unprecedented.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.