Success can be an excellent motivator. After The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift underperformed, one could be forgiven for thinking that Fast & Furious wouldn’t fare much better despite bringing back the film’s original cast. At that point, being four movies deep didn’t guarantee its success but fans clearly liked seeing the gang get back together because the film was a massive hit. After grossing $70.9 million on its opening weekend (more than the entire run of Tokyo Drift) the film went on to gross $363.1 million on an $85 million budget and pretty much sealed the deal that we’d be getting another sequel.
Perhaps the rejuvenation and glow of a hit transferred over to Fast Five because it’s arguably the best film of the franchise so far (an argument can be made for Furious 7 but we’ll get there soon). The reason Fast Five is memorable is because it officially morphed the franchise into something much bigger and it widened the film’s scope on a more global level. If you’re looking for the moment this franchise became the Marvel Cinematic Universe of Universal Pictures, this is it. The chemistry between the cast is on point. The action sequences defy all logic but they’re a sight to behold and the addition of another major cast member gives the franchise the jolt it really needed. It’s a jolt that it has held onto, to some degree, as each new sequel is released.
Fast Five opens an undetermined time after the fourth installment. The opening sequence is shorter than the one in its predecessor as Brian (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend, Mia (Jordana Brewster), organize a jailbreak for Dominic (Vin Diesel), who is being taken to prison in a bus. This is where the last film ended and all it takes is a little fancy driving to flip the bus and spring the criminal. For their efforts, Brian and Mia get their own “Wanted” posters and have to hide out in Rio. Soon their goals become somewhat bigger: the $100 million cash stockpile of a drug kingpin (Joaquim de Almedia). To accomplish that theft, the trio must assemble a team – a dirty dozen of sorts that brings back old friends from the previous installments. However, not only are Dominic, Brian, and Mia at war with the Brazilian drug lord, they are being hunted by an elite United States special agent named Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), whose methods are charitably referred to as “wrath of God” type stuff.
By 2011, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had essentially asserted his box office dominance. He is someone that was being groomed to be an action star once he put wrestling behind him to pursue an acting career. His inclusion here is a stroke of genius, something allegedly sparked by fans who told Vin Diesel on Facebook who they wanted him to face off with in a future film. It’s genius because Johnson has the physical presence and charm that fits right in with what the franchise has been known for and, since Diesel was also groomed for action movie greatness at the start of his career, it seems fitting to watch this generation of action titans go at it. To say watching these two square off in a major fight sequence is a highlight would be a vast understatement. The machismo is on full display here and it never really lets up.
Justin Lin melds balls to the walls comic book action with heist movie dynamics. This is pretty much the perfect marriage of high octane action and visceral tension. There is a confidence in his direction this time around that is evident from the start of the film. You feel like you’re about to get something a little different and that’s what makes the experience exciting. Having two souped up cars dragging a giant safe down city streets may seem absurd but doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. The film defies the laws of gravity but who cares (this is even more true during the over the cliff sequence that remains a highlight of the franchise). The action is so expertly crafted that plausible just enough that you accept it.
The focus has shifted from cars to burglary. There are still plenty of chases and stunts involving high powered vehicles, but Fast Five is more about the heist than it is about racing. One can make a case that this movie shares more of a kindred spirit with The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven than with The Fast and the Furious. The characters are the same but their purpose has shifted. As is almost always true of a heist film, the most enjoyable elements relate to the plotting, rehearsing, and execution of the caper.
The chemistry dynamics have also shifted. While Brian and Dom remain the heart of the franchise at this point, the film feels more like an ensemble. We get some solid moments between Paul Walker and Vin Diesel but this is the first film on the series that doesn’t rely entirely on their comradery. Perhaps the best character growth comes from Jordana Brewster as Mia who finally gets to be involved in the action and has more to do than just fill the thankless role of girlfriend to Brian and sister to Dom. Also a nice touch is bringing back Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris from 2 Fast 2 Furious. They may not have been used to the best of their abilities in that film, but this installment utilizes them much better and it’s nice to see all the installments coming together to form the “Fast Family.” Gal Gadot and Sung Kang round out the returning members of the squad and they continue to feel like a perfect fit.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the film has one too many endings. It’s hard for me to say the film goes on too long because it’s so entertaining but there are several times it appeared the film was about to reach its climax and it simply continued on. That has more to do with editing and pacing and it’s not a major gripe but it’s the one detriment that stands out from me watching the film again.
That being said, Fast Five is still a near perfect action film and signals a new beginning for the franchise. It takes what fans loved about it from the start and turns it on its head a bit to allow the films to expand on its mythology so to speak. The film does end with a nice little epilogue that fixes a problem most fans had with the fourth film and it serves the purpose of getting you pumped to see where the films would be headed. Definitely one of the best films of the Fast franchise.