It’s easy to see why the Fast and Furious series — which started rather modestly twelve years and five films ago — has developed into a major going concern and reliable ATM for Universal. Yes, the vehicular mayhem has gotten crazier and more convoluted with each new entry, but it isn’t just that. Partly it’s the same reason a TV show succeeds: people like the characters and want to hang out with them. The reason for that, in the F&F movies, is simple: they show a well-calibrated team, a tight unit, a family, and without much bickering (aside from some good-natured ribbing). Over and over again, Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto spells it out: family this, family that, all that matters is family. And this family is a bunch of people of different colors and genders working smoothly to get the job done.
This franchise has turned, very lucratively, into a fantasy of being part of a super-cool group, being part of something larger than oneself, where everyone is respected (once they’ve earned it by right of talent) and nobody is judged (as long as they stay true to the family). Former FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) once betrayed the trust of Dom and his crew, but has since made up for it to the extent that Dom is now the proud uncle of Brian’s son (by way of Dom’s sister Mia). Dom’s girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), presumed dead but discovered alive at the end of 2011’s Fast Five, has gone to work for a group of international thieves, but only because she has amnesia. You see, once you’ve been in Dom’s family, only a catastrophic memory loss can break the bond.
Furious 6 (as it’s actually titled onscreen) doesn’t have as much tough-guy sentimentality or, consequently, as much amusing inadvertent (or perhaps advertent) homoerotic subtext as its predecessor, which offered hostile staring contests and a brutal fistfight between Dom and the oak-necked special agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Here, Hobbs recruits Dom and his crew to help catch the thieves who took Letty away. Yeah, blah blah, the thieves also possess a MacGuffin that threatens national security, but the real mission is to get Letty back in the family. Other things have to happen first, though, including a mad chase through London employing “flip cars” (which, as advertised, ram into oncoming vehicles and flip them), a highway chase involving a tank, and a climax featuring a plane trying its best to take off while weighed down by several cars attached to it by grappling hooks.
None of this is quite as much hilarious fun as the endgame in Fast Five involving two cars dragging a ten-ton vault at high speed through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. But it’s fun enough, with a satisfyingly vicious fight between Letty and agent Riley (Gina Carano, pretty much as wooden an actress as she was in Haywire) and frequent comic relief via Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. The villain this time (Luke Evans) isn’t much, but the villains have never been the point of the F&F series; the plot of the next sequel — and there will be a next sequel — could be about how Dom and his posse have to stop a movie critic from drinking too much iced tea as he writes a review, and as long as it retains the family dynamic and somehow involves outlandish stunts, it’d still fly.
These last four F&F installments have been directed by Justin Lin, who has taken a shaky franchise and beefed it up into the monster it is today. Furious 6 is his farewell to the series, and I think he’s getting out while he’s ahead. Where else can the stunts go? Will Dom and his people be chasing a space shuttle in Faster and Furiouser? Or will the series do a U-turn with Slow and Mellow, featuring Dom and his family sitting around their picnic table and encountering no bigger adversary than the occasional mosquito? The end-credits stinger promises the introduction of a new Big Bad played by a veteran of not one but three recent action franchises noted for their cranked-up excess and machismo. The thought of the sullen staring contests between him and Dom is more exciting than the idea of however the new filmmakers plan to ramp up the action.