No character ever flinches in a Fast & Furious movie. They don't cower, hold back or obsess over the likelihood they'll die doing some insane car-based antic. They are act-first/think-last guys and damned if every person in the series' vast and loyal audience doesn't love them for it. And in Fast & Furious 6 (incredibly the fifth sequel to the 2001 original) they think less and act more outrageously than ever before. So yeah, this is the best Fast & Furious movie yet.
First let's clear up the name. While all the ads and Universal's marketing materials have this film's title as Fast & Furious 6, director Justin Lin's opening credits have the title as just "Furious 6." That makes perfect sense since the previous film was just Fast Five. Hell, they could have titled this thing "&" and everyone still would have known what it is.
This movie series is how the world views gearhead culture. Love it or hate it, it's practically impossible to ignore it.
Plot Beyond Plot
Yes, there is a plot. And what that plot is, is only minimally important.
There's some sort of "component" that if obtained by British bad guy Shaw (played so intensely by Luke Evans that his eyeballs seem to shoot out of his head) will allow him to shut down an entire nation, leading to such calamitous events as a four-day extended weekend. But because Shaw is a super-stud former SAS special ops guy with F1-level driving skills and his evil driving crew all operate with scalpel-like precision, the only team on Earth capable of taking them on is that of sledgehammer Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and super-dreamy dreamboat Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker).
Recruited for the job by federal agent Luke Hobbs (the well-oiled, vein-popping Dwayne Johnson), they can't refuse the assignment because working with Shaw's team is Dom's great love, Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez). Retrieving the amnesiac Letty is so important to Dom that there's no way he could forgo the opportunity. Because, well, he cares: a lot. And it's all about family.
That Letty had apparently died two movies ago is overcome in a quick, revisionist re-creation of her not-so-fatal accident. But how she winds up hooked to Shaw is ridiculously convoluted. That she also has an epic catfight battle with MMA fighter and all-around female badass Gina Carano is, however, wicked awesome.
Part of the movie's appeal comes from how unashamedly it pursues hoary plot devices that other films wouldn't dare attempt. Amnesia? Really? The characters are so sincere, so un-ironic, so familiar and so oddly beloved that you go with it anyhow. And you will enjoy it.
There are details in the plot that, if shared, would constitute spoilers. And those details make up the few surprises in the film. But the central narrative rockets forward, powered by primitive emotions and straightforward motivations to a preordained conclusion with a small coda at the end setting up the inevitable seventh film.
All along the way there are particular nods to the previous five films. There are even genuine laughs from Tyrese Gibson as Roman, and there's real emotion in the relationship between Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot). None of this is subtle or sophisticated, but it all works.
And it's to director Lin's great credit that the characters are recognizable and worthy of affection at all through the mayhem.
Action Beyond Action
Whether you get wrapped up in the story or not, the sheer craft of the insanity onscreen is spectacular. This is a state-of-the-art action film and the action is supercharged and relentless.
Lin's camera never seems to settle down for a shot but instead orbits the action like a police helicopter. Every car crash and fistfight is seen from what seems like every possible angle. It's an almost impatient perspective; Lin seems to constantly be pushing the audience into the action and then beyond to even more action.
The action itself is well-built and robust. There's a lot of computer-generated graphics work, but it's used to amplify the effort of the stunt team instead of replacing it. Those are real cars flying through the air and never once does the audience's collective mind wander off to consider whether it was done on set by real stunt performers or ginned up in some high-octane version of Photoshop.
Everyone working on the technical side of this film, from Justin Lin down to the lowliest, underpaid sound editor is working at full auto here. And that sound editor has gone beyond Spinal Tap and set all his volume knobs to 14.
That noted, this isn't a driving movie like 1968's Bullitt or even 1971's Vanishing Point. Those classics were constructed around long takes of amazing work from stunt drivers like Cary Loftin and Bill Hickman. Instead, F&F 6 is a quickly cut action spectacular that relies on hard crashes through big set pieces to keep the moviegoers mesmerized. And as soon as one crash is done, there are another 15 lined up right behind it. This is cutting-edge action filmmaking and not an homage to car movies of the past.
While the early chase scene that pits Shaw's and Toretto's teams against one another is exceptional, it's the concluding battle on a Spanish runway — where cars take on a giant Russian Antonov cargo plane — that is the movie's greatest piece of action. It's an astonishing scene that ranks up there with the chariot race in 1959's Ben-Hur for breathtaking spectacle. And yet within all that crashing excitement, Lin also manages to insert the movie's most heartbreaking moment.
Absurdly Well-Made Absurdity
If the audience ever had a chance to stop and think about what's going on in Furious 6, they'd groan at the ludicrous nature of what's happening onscreen. So the film never stops long enough to allow them that moment.
In fact, the biggest laugh of the whole movie comes at the end when, out of relief and collective irony, our fellow moviegoers reacted to the inane disclaimer imploring that no one try and duplicate "any action, driving or car play scenes herein portrayed." Universal's lawyers, it seems, are some of the best comedy writers around.
Every film asks that its audience suspend its disbelief. To get the most out of Furious 6, it's best if you gag your disbelief, hogtie it and throw it down a well. And while it's drowning, you'll have a great time.