Fast & Furious 6: Thrilling Joyride

Going out of its way to up the ante of the previous chapter, “Fast Five,” “Fast & Furious 6,” also directed by Justin Lin, offers the basic good expected of this flick, but no more. One feels a sense of eagerness (perhaps desperation) to match the fast-paced action, the high adrenaline, the preposterously glorious set-pieces generated by the 2011 feature.

Admittedly, “Fast Five” is a tough act to follow. Representing the biggest bow in Universal’s history, that film opened with $86 million in its first weekend, grossed $209 million domestically, and over $625 million worldwide.

It is unusual for a franchise of that duration (it began low and small in 2001 before it became a sleeper) to have a fifth chapter that is the strongest installment. In many ways, “Fast Five” revisited and redefined the artistic and technical dimensions of everything that was good and commercial about the franchise’s conceptual origin and technical execution.

The series, easily the biggest blockbuster in Universal’s history, has accumulated $1.5 billion over five movies. The turning point in the evolution of the tentpole was the third entry, after which the box-office take has doubled, and then almost doubled again.

What might help the latest installment is the increasing influence of the new social media, the growing number of fans who have seen the previous chapters on DVD, and the ever likeable cast, which now has several additions.

The producers know that the fans do not go to see F&F pictures for their plausible plots, or shapely narratives, or logically motivated characters. Indeed, director Lin and writer Chris Morgan unabashedly go for ridiculous plot, over-the-top action set-pieces, which offer exhilarating, non-stop thrill rides that even the best engineers of Disneylnd cannot match.

In other words, they embrace silliness and encourage the viewers to totally suspend disbelief right from the first moment, when they check into the moviehouse with ultra-size popcorn and drink.

However, despite the growing scale of the films, the filmmakers still know the importance of casting, and here, like in the past, they populate their tale with charming actors whose dramatic range may be limited, but possess sufficient likeability to pull the audience into a fantasy joyride for two hours (actually 130 minutes).

While the stunts have gotten bigger, and the locations more exotic, the core characters and the basic relationships have remained (more or less) the same, following a minimalist, formulaic structure.

After the Rio Heist of Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker), which yielded north of $100 million, the heroes and their accomplices have decided to scatter across the globe. But there’s a price to be paid: The inability to return home means lack of roots and living frustrating, incomplete lives.

Meanwhile, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) has been tracking an organization of lethally skilled mercenary drivers across many countries. The mastermind (Luke Evans) is aided by a ruthless second-in-command, who’s revealed to be the love Dom thought was dead, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).

The filmmakers claim that they could never expect the viewers’ reaction to the revelation of Letty Ortiz’s survival at the end of Fast Five. Letty’s apparent death had been a jolt to audiences. The return of Letty was a direct result of the fans’ demands. Appealing to the filmmakers to bring their beloved heroine back to the series, loyal fans sent a flurry of correspondence to Universal execs.

In this story, Dom has a fresh adversary, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a heavy whose philosophy is diametrically opposed to that Dom and the heroes. A former soldier of the British Special Air Services (SAS), the elite special forces unit of the British army, Shaw has assembled a team of skilled mercenaries who are behind high-profile robberies of new technology that could fetch billions on the black market.

The only way to stop the criminal outfit is to outshine them, and so Hobbs asks Dom to gather his elite team in London. In return, he promises full pardons for all of them so that they can return home and rejoin their beloved families.

Returning to this installment is the series’ main architect, Justin Lin, who has directed the last three films in the Fast & Furious franchise. For Lin, one of the big reasons to do another chapter was to have an antagonist worthy of Dominic Toretto. As he explains: “With Fast & Furious 6, I wanted to take a different tack and create an antagonist that had the opposite philosophy. Dom often goes with trusting his gut, whereas Shaw is more analytic. The ability to develop that aspect of the ‘team versus team’ idea was worth coming back for.”

Fast Five was the ultimate thrill ride for audiences, when it opened in April 2011, setting a record best for Universal as the highest-grossing film for that weekend.
In Hollywood, producing a sixth installment in a blockbuster franchise is a rare, enviable position; most series begin to decline at their third chapters.

While I have no doubts that there will be Fast and Furious 7 in two years, I wish the filmmakers could come up with a more engaging story. Is it too much to expect?