To put it bluntly, Fast Five was a beast. Not only was it a solid entry in the franchise, but it was also a top notch action film that started a new era for the series. It was a hit with critics (something the other entries couldn’t really boast about) and fans responded fondly as well when it grossed $626.1 million on an $125 million budget. Fast Five ended with an epilogue that signaled the return of a major character so there is no denying that Fast & Furious 6 was highly anticipated upon release. The end result is a solid effort that gives fans what they have come to love from the franchise but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Fast Five because it feels like more of the same rather than breaking any new ground.
In the film, a top British criminal, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), is in the process of gathering the components for what will be, when assembled, a doomsday weapon worth several billion dollars. A member of Shaw’s crew is none other than Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) previously thought dead and now afflicted with amnesia. When her ex-lover, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), learns that she’s alive, he agrees to work with special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his ass-kicking female cohort, Riley (Gina Carano) to bring in Shaw. Dom re-assembles his team, including best bud, Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), and everyone heads off to London for more globe-trotting action.
I have to give it up to director Justin Lin because, as of now, this is the last film of the franchise he has directed. He became the voice of the franchise beginning with the third film and by the time he reached his fourth outing, he had fully honed his craft as an action director. Again, the action is very over the top but that doesn’t make it any less exhilarating. It takes a keen eye to make these sequences work and he clearly has it. There is a chase involving a tank barreling down a freeway that is unique and ends in a very over the top manner but I can forgive it because it’s done with precision. The ending sequence on what seems like the longest air traffic runway ever made is also a tad absurd but it definitely elevates the pulse and provides a visceral experience.
Bringing Michelle Rodriguez back into the fold is essential to the film’s success. Even though she spends most of the film alienated from the team because of her amnesia, she’s pretty much the final piece of the “Fast Family” that needed to return after being absent in Fast Five. The reason Rodriguez was killed off in the fourth film, according to various sources, is that she also had obligations to shoot Avatar so she could only come back in a limited capacity. Vin Diesel, who listens to fans in a big way when it comes to these films, heard the outcry from fans about her demise and made moves to bring her back. She’s just as integral to the success of these films as anyone so it’s great to have her back here.
What some of the sequels have lacked are villains that really make an impression and that is fixed in a big way with the addition of Luke Evans as Owen Shaw. I think what makes him work is that he seems to take the role seriously and doesn’t come off as a one note Bond villain wannabe. He offers up a fair amount of energy, but most importantly, he’s intelligent which makes him a bigger threat than the foes that have come before.
The chemistry remains intact with the bulk of the cast and it continues the trend in Fast Five to make it more of an ensemble rather than a showcase for one performer over the other. The only one to scale back a bit is Jordana Brewster as Mia who had more to do in the previous film but is regulated back a bit in this film. This is also an entry that offers up some casualties to the core family and hints at the fact that no one is really safe. A mid-credits scene throws it back to Tokyo Drift to offer a new spin on how one character meets their end and officially links it up in a proper way with the rest of the franchise.
Fast & Furious 6 feels like the natural trajectory after Fast Five. The only reason it doesn’t fare as well is because Fast Five was so good. This feels more like a copy rather than trying to do something new with the concept. It is by no means a bad film and is solid entertainment but when it feels like more of the same, it’s hard to achieve true greatness.