08 June 2013

First Impressions: Furious 6

Against really all odds imaginable, the sixth installment of a film franchise that wasn't Harry Potter or James Bond has become not only one of the best, but is on rapid pace to become the highest grossing film of the whole series. This series, still unbelievably, is the Fast and the Furious. After Fast Five (2011) proved to be a game changer for the franchise, its direct follow-up, Furious 6 (2013) is not only one of the best in the franchise, but probably the best damn movie that has come out all summer. This post will contain an open discussion of the film, its merits, and its path to greatness, so needless to say, SPOILERS to come from here on out!
Han and his chewies

This doesn't make any sense. Over ten years ago Paul Walker and Vin Diesel made one of the most knuckleheaded movies of all time, The Fast and The Furious (2001). It continually spat in the face of physics, and centrally highlighted an obscure street racing fad while wearing its "extreme-ness" on its sleeve with pride and containing more esoteric car jargon than had ever before been attempted on film. Its follow-up, 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) was not only prescient enough to include Ja Rule, but featured an innocuous turn in Miami in what was essentially the same exact film, with a narrative that was actually more straightforward than the cop-to-criminal turn of Brian O'Connor (Walker) in the first film.

From there, this franchise plummeted. It jettisoned its entire cast and shimmied off to Tokyo for The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift (2006), which always felt like a step above a direct-to-DVD release if not for two things: Its luscious soundtrack (which may only be matched by Fast Five among the series), and the sudden shock appearance of the Diesel at its finale. Somehow this legitimized the entire film and helped round out a world that promised that these characters had more in them yet.

Sometime during this era, these cheesy, shlocky stupid movies took off. Perhaps it's because out of all the loud, dumb action movies that assault us every summer (actually most of these were spring releases...), so many trend towards two kinds of tones: 1) They either take themselves too seriously and self-important while the lead character is still flying around in tights (Man of Steel [2013] anyone?) or 2) They totally lose control of any coherent thought, instead blasting us with constant cries for attention like a needy child (think Transformers: Revenge of the Swollen [2009]). The Fast films continually walk a line between these extremes - they revel in what they are without doubting themselves, and they show us their awesomeness without needing to jump up and down for their attention.

People responded to this and through many runs on USA (I feel like for a few years there 2 Fast 2 Furious was on every Saturday late afternoon on USA. Characters welcome), somehow all of these characters won our hearts. Mostly because they're fun and every movie is damn fun, too. So when Fast & Furious (2009) got the gang back together it felt like a momentous event, even though the movie kind of sucked. Finally, Fast Five got even MORE of the gang back together and in its own way, canonized its history as important while simultaneously retconning some its characters to fit an entirely new genre - the group heist with cars rather than the cop-to-criminal angle so thoroughly explored by its predecessors. For instance, Ludacris' Tej Parker from 2 Fast suddenly becomes their tech guy and Sung Kang's Han Seoul-Oh (seriously - say that with me - HAN SEOUL-OH.) from Tokyo Drift takes up the Brad Pitt "Guy Who Eats All the Time" role.

Essentially, the Fast franchise pulled off the miraculous in switching genres to massively expand its fanbase while not alienating its original gearhead supporters. It has become one of the bigger Summer franchises, and unlike just about everything else this summer, hit theaters with a ton of positive support and actually left with greater support. No disappointment of villains not living up to expectations or stupid twists here. Fast cars. Hot babes. Even hotter dudes, and a tank on the highway. Nuff said.
The racial blender

So let's get into Furious 6. It may not be greater than Fast Five, but it's at least a worthy companion. One of the cooler things about the whole franchise (and needless to say, one of the sources of its broad appeal) is its ability to spin its wheels in a new town for each movie (L.A., Miami, Tokyo, L.A. again, Rio, and London - I'm just waiting for that Fast Seven: Muncie Drift [2015] moniker) along with its multi-ethnic cast. In fact, out of every movie that has been #1 at the Box Office in the past two months, Furious 6 is the only one to universally pass the Bechdel Test (The last #1 movie to do that, by the way, was G.I. Joe: Retaliation [2013]. Yeah.). It also prominently features black, white, Asian, middle-eastern, and latino characters (along with whatever the hell The Rock and Diesel are), all in roles that aren't stereotyped to their gender. It's actually a vision of what the future of moviemaking should be - none of this is pandering, either. It's Furious 6 for crap's sake - and nothing could be more naturally integrated. Now, why do we still only have white male Avengers?

So - let's actually start digging into this thing. The movie centers around the Gang's efforts to bring Letty Ortiz, recently discovered as actually alive (she seemingly died in Fast & Furious - after which she became a Fridge Girl that fueled Diesel for most of that movie), back into the "family", which is Diesel's colloquial name for the gang of them who used to hang out in L.A. committing car-related crimes. Letty, though, has amnesia and is working for Owen Shaw (Luke Evans, one of the better Fast bad guys). The best part is that by the end of the film, none of her amnesia is cured. Diesel has her on his lap as they're digging into the "beers and brats" spoils of war and he asks her, "Does any of this feel familiar?" Letty's response: "No."

Rounding out the cast, it's nice to see that there is plenty of eye candy for the women in addition to the men here. Ludacris makes his first appearance showing off some ridiculous abs he got somehow, and Tyrese is really coming on to his own in his third portrayal of the character, Roman Pierce. This is in addition to Gal Gadot, Jordanna Brewster, and Michele Rodriguez who are three of the hottest women in this series. Adding Gina Carano and a magnificent early, extended side-boob shot of Elsa Pataky makes this a damn fine movie for both boys and girls to beat off to.

Lastly, we have the two big men. Really, the biggest men of all. The Rock (Samoan Thor) and the Diesel. Their double-team clothesline towards the end of the film may be one of the greatest moments to ever be put on film. That would be true if not for Diesel's Solo Headbutt that happens mere moments before. He doesn't even bend his knees - suddenly he's just flying towards two dudes (who were kicking his ass), and just launches his big bald head into their flailing torsos. It's spectacular. This movie has every kind of action you could want - tanks coming out of cars, cars coming out of planes, Diesel flying everywhere, across bridges and shit - it's awesome with a capital FUCKING.

As for our deuteragonist, Paul Walker, whose portrayal of Brian O'Conner we once named among the Best Brians in Media, has less to do here, but that's probably for the best. His awkward white boy ways have always stood out in these movies - often it makes him a formidable, underestimated opponent, but it's also usually really awkward. Brian O'Conner is also the whitest name ever. He actually pulls a cool stunt that calls back a lot of Fast & Furious (this whole film does, actually), where he is temporarily incarcerated with Braga in L.A. to get info on Letty. He comes back feeling really depressed, but in the meantime, Diesel has actually talked with Letty, and his whole trip, where he risked lifetime incarceration, mind you, is proven unnecessary to the narrative. The only thing that was actually necessary was getting O'Conner out of the narrative, actually, so I suppose it has its purpose. Forcefully.

Lastly, this film lacks Rico Santos (Don Omar) and Tego Leo (Tego Calderón), who are not missed. They were kind of the comic duo in Fast Five (think Casey Affleck and Scott Caan), and they wouldn't really have a purpose here. All comic relief is handled rather well by Tyrese. One of the more interesting tricks this flick pulls is by putting up some doppelgangers in the form of Owen Shaw's team, including Joe Taslim from The Raid: Redemption (2012), who notably kicks everyone's ass all the time. The evil twin idea isn't played with too much, except for the fact that Gina continually fights her "twin", Letty (until they switch sides...and still fight each other), and the fact that we get some jokes about White Hobbes and Brian's evil twin.

This film not only calls back many of the events from Fast & Furious, but virtually every film in the franchise. Well, besides 2 Fast 2 Furious, which seems to have been swept under the rug. It's kind of crazy that Tokyo Drift is given more stock than that, but that could be for the best. While this is in may ways a direct sequel to Fast Five, and thus finishing up director Justin Lin (this series' version of David Yates...)'s trilogy within the franchise, it also finally brings us back to Tokyo Drift. See, due to the presence of Han, all of these movies had actually been set prior to the third installment, making the current chronology: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 3, 7. And as we flash back to Han's demise we see...what...no....what the hell....

omg it's Statham.

Parker himself!

Thus, The 7ast and the 7urious (2015) will seem to represent another shift in genres for the series. Furious 6 ended with beers and brats - which is really how Diesel started his life in The Fast and the Furious. Despite having millions of dollars and nice pardons (which, by the way, The Rock didn't hand to them until they were in L.A. - how the hell did they get into the country?), the dream of Diesel and his family is still to chill in a cruddy little house in East L.A. Of course, one has to wonder what the hell amnesiac Letty's life is going to be like, but still, there's even more closure here than at the end of Fast Five.

Statham is poised to utterly ruin all of this - and if Fasturious Seven (2015) continues being the utter license to print money that these latest installments have been, there's no reason to stop there. And the thing is - I have no problem with that. There isn't any purity to these characters or natural ways the stories should end. This isn't Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy which deserved a proper conclusion, or Indiana Jones that deserved to have its book close twenty years ago. This series has faced franchise failure plenty of times - there's no getting worse, there's no limit to how crazy, stupid, loud, and obnoxious this can get. Getting big and crazy and dumb isn't ruining anything for the Fast and the Furious. It's in a unique position among Hollywood to do whatever the hell it wants. It's possibly the greatest franchise of all time.

We're in for a glorious ride.

Fun last bit - check out how long that runway was!

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