I think it’s fair to say that the Fast and Furious series now constitutes director Justin Lin’s life work. Yes, other people directed the first two movies, and yes, Lin has made other movies that have neither Vin Diesel nor Paul Walker nor even Tokyo Drifts. But as far as I’m concerned, Lin’s earlier movies do not matter. In fact, Lin’s first two Fast and Furious movies, the third and fourth, don’t really matter, either. What matters is that he made a terrifically entertaining movie called Fast Five and has now made a follow-up to that movie that the posters identify as Fast and Furious 6 but the opening credits identify, far more pleasurably, as simply Furious 6.
When this series began, it was about street racing. That seems so long ago, to such a degree that when two characters in Furious 6 have a street race, it’s a surprise. What is this street racing stuff doing in a series that has become about international heists, spies, and occasional supervillainy? The previous installment had Dom (Vin Diesel) and former cop Brian (Paul Walker) reuniting their team for one last big score, with Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) hot on their tails. Here, Hobbs approaches the retired drivers, hiding out all over the world, with a proposal: help him catch world-renowned auto-based criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and receive pardons for their past crimes. The team (also including Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, and Gal Gadot) reassembles for what one character refers to as “007-type shit.”
Furious 6 takes a little longer to rev up than its predecessor, which began by smashing cars against a train and then hurtling its stars off a cliff; this one marks the first Fast and Furious movie to feature an intense drive to the hospital to witness the birth of a child — the Baby Furious spawn of Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster promised in the last movie. The baby doesn’t have much screentime, but he performs his major function: continuing to sideline Jordana Brewster. Brewster’s character Mia is too loyal to play the worried wife to Walker’s Brian; she just gives him her endorsement, and then turns up at the climax to pretend to drive a car.
But there other women on the team! Like three of them! Four if you count Dom’s replacement love interest from the last movie — which you should not, because Dom’s original love interest Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is back in the picture as teased during credits of Fast Five, as I dearly hope you recall. She seems to be aligned with Shaw, and Dom is determined to find out why. Letty is often pitted against Riley (Gina Carano), a sidekick for Hobbs — who, I’m sorry to report, never once calls her “lil’ buddy.” The Riley-Letty fights are satisfying, though I had to wonder: Why hire the stars of Girlfight and Haywire and then decide they can only fight other girls? What have I done to deserve not seeing Gina Carano fight Vin Diesel and/or Luke Evans?
On the other hand, what good have I done in my life to deserve the five-ring circuses Lin stages for the movie’s climax and its equally exciting bonus climax? For much of the movie, the characters split off into side mini-missions, the most ridiculous of which has Brian flying back to the U.S. undercover to infiltrate a prison for about four minutes of intel. But in the extended home stretch, everyone burns rubber toward spectacular moving targets. You may not get to see Carano fight Diesel, but you can see the entire cast of Furious 6 fight a tank.
The action sequences have a slightly more computerized texture than the stunt-filled Fast Five, presumably because Lin does not consider his actors expendable enough to actually throw them back and forth between moving vehicles (not even Paul Walker!). But considering that I’m not sure even The Rock himself actually dents walls every single time he throws a man against one (I might venture that in real life, he seems like the sort of fellow who might not throw anyone against walls for any reason), the movie is reasonably convincing. The suspense comes less from the fates of the characters than from wondering just how Lin is going to crash and crumple vehicles from various angles. The choreography in the centerpiece smash-’em-ups is relentless, as if Lin has spent most of the two years since the last movie maniacally storyboarding the demolition derby of his dreams. His set pieces are cut quickly, but not senselessly, as if he’s excitedly pointing at each stunt and punch saying: look at this! Now this!
Though it’s less structurally evenhanded and more scattered in its first half, Furious 6 might have less downtime than Fast Five — or maybe it just seems that way because it has more laugh lines (even grumpy Tyrese, still the weak link charisma-wise, gets a few funny lines), and sometimes the breaks between action sequences are actually just more action sequences. But I don’t want to give the impression that this movie is nonstop action. No: the series is about family. I know this because the newest installment has drilled it into my head as if afraid the audience will need to pass a remedial test on it at the end. This is who we are, the characters keep saying, and then also they say: blah blah blah something about family. I wasn’t always paying attention because I was busy looking forward to Fast and Furious 7. Will it take the next director (Lin has abdicated) two whole movies before he learns the ropes? Also: what will they call it?