It seems that, by the release of Furious Six in 2013, the Fast and the Furious saga had slipped into a rather comfortable routine: a new film every two years, pushing forward the increasingly soap opera-like narrative each time and also pushing the franchise further and further across sub-genre borders. Not content with their shift from street racing movies to heist flicks, the makers of The Fast and the Furious now expanded their repertoire to include international espionage as well.
Federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) needs help tracking down and apprehending the criminal and terrorist Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). To achieve this goal he enlists retired international robber Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), with the promise of a full pardon – not to mention the chance to reunite with Lette Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s lover who is supposed to be long dead. Cue the entire team getting back together, including ex-FBI agent Brian (Paul Walker), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang), Gisele (Gal Gadot) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges).
Another growing element behind the Furious movies by this stage was seeing just how far the audience’s credulity could be stretched before it hit breaking point. A key plot development of Furious Six is that Lette, who very clearly died in Fast & Furious back in 2009, did not in fact get shot in the head but was actually blown into a ditch by an exploding car, suffered amnesia, and wound up working as a driver for the international criminal mastermind who ordered her murder in the first place. Who’d have seen that coming? The ludicrous excess extends to the film’s action sequences, which include a sports car versus tank fight and a chase down the longest runway in the history of the human race.
Here’s the thing though: this push further and further away from realism was done in such an incremental fashion, and the films performed in such a likeable and engaging manner, that it is genuinely hard not to throw caution to the wind and enjoy the stupidity. Nothing makes sense in this film: not the storyline, nor the villain’s master-plan, nor the logic of the action bits. There’s a confrontation midway through the film between Dom and Shaw, where Shaw emphasises the importance of having a code to live by and Dom pushing for “family” all the way. The constant emphasis on family is driven to the point of hilarity, but again it’s hard not to just shrug and go with it. By this stage of the franchise it is all effectively critic-proof: anybody likely to roll their eyes at the content here almost certainly gave up on the films two movies earlier. It is also a dangerous progression for critical response though: there is a line somewhere between Furious Six and Fast & Furious 9 where it all simply gets too silly and farcical to accept, but claiming ‘turn off your brain’ here increases the odds of saying and writing the same thing later. Acquiesing to breezy dumb fun in 2013 still seems reasonable; doing the same another eight years later is a little more embarrassing.
The returning cast all continue to do their thing in amiable ways. Gal Gadot seems a big winner here: her part was slight and fairly tedious back in Fast & Furious. While she got more to do in Fast Five she gets a hell of a lot more to do here. It’s a pleasure to see Michelle Rodriguez back as well. I’ve always been a fan of her in a number of pictures, and she slips back into the ensemble without difficulty.
Dwayne Johnson’s got a new partner in the form of ex-MMA champion Gina Carano, who’s got a huge amount of screen presence and who dominates an excellent violent altercation between her US agent Riley Hicks and Michelle Rodriguez’s Lette. Of course since I wrote the first version of this review a few years back Carano has demolished her profile through a series of transphobic and racist social media posts, but credit where it is due she is a very watchable alleged bigot in this. Thankfully it is less problematic to be impressed with Luke Evans as Owen Shaw: he oozes charisma in a fairly underwritten role, and he followed it up with prominent roles in The Hobbit trilogy and Dracula Unbound.
Another aspect of the film that fascinates me is its treatment of film-to-film continuity. It takes characters from earlier films and weaves them seamlessly back into the narrative. In one particular master-stroke it actually folds the fairly self-contained The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift back into the main series and repositions it between this and the subsequent Fast & Furious 7. It’s the sort of thing you expect to see in a Star Trek or Marvel Studios franchise, but not necessarily in an action franchise. In the original review I noted: ‘Looking forwards I could easily see Universal Pictures splitting the franchise into multiple offshoots: they could easily spin Hobbs off into his own films any time they wanted to, for example.’ Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw premiered in 2019.
Ridiculous action scenes, overly earnest gushings about “family”, fast cars, well-dressed attractive characters, and a populist rap soundtrack all get topped off by the best post-credit scene since Nick Fury confronted Tony Stark. These may be ridiculous films, but they know it – and they warmly invite their audience to shut up and go for the ride. With the benefit of hindsight, I still think the franchise peaks with the fifth film, but – pardon the phrasing – there’s still plenty left in the gas tank at film six.
An earlier version of this review was originally published at The Angriest.