Fast & Furious 5 ****
In 2009, Fast & Furious injected a huge shot of nitrous into the engine of the Fast and the Furious franchise which had been seeing dwindling box office returns ever since the 2001 first film was followed up the sequels 2 Fast 2 Furious – which brought back only Paul Walker from the original film’s cast line up – and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – which, had it not been for a cameo appearance by Vin Diesel would have had no connection to the first two films at all, being more of a spin-off than a sequel. The fourth instalment in the series – although technically only the third chronologically as it brought back the character of Han from Tokyo Drift, a character who had been killed in that film – could be considered as much as a reinvention of the franchise as an outright sequel – even though, with it being the only sequel to bring back all four of the original film’s leading cast members, it could also perhaps be viewed as the only true sequel to the original – and the architect of this reinvention was none other than Vin Diesel himself.
Diesel had bailed on the franchise after the first film, and Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster seemingly went with him, but studio Universal Pictures later came back to him with an offer he couldn’t refuse. In exchange for him making his cameo appearance in Tokyo Drift, they let him get behind the wheel of the fourth film as a producer and, not only that, they also let him completely strip down the franchise and rebuild it into a model more appealing to him. The new direction that Diesel took the franchise in, coupled with the reuniting of all four original cast members – Diesel, Walker, Rodriguez and Brewster – and the simple but effective tagline “new model, original parts”, lead to Fast & Furious becoming the most successful instalment of the series yet and with that another two sequels were swiftly greenlit, both to be made under the guidance of Vin Diesel.
The success of the fourth film and the promise that all of the leads would be returning again with exception for Michelle Rodriguez, whose character was killed off in that film, has virtually guaranteed that the fifth film would be another box office hit right from the moment it was announced but the filmmakers have not allowed themselves to become complacent and have gone all out to really up the ante for the unimaginatively titled Fast & Furious 5 – originally titled (and technically still as the name of the film hasn’t actually been changed, rather just the marketing materials for it and then only international ones with the US release of the film still carrying the original name) also unimaginatively as Fast Five; apparently they didn’t think international moviegoers would get from the title that it was a Fast & Furious movie – this not only being the first film in the series to get an IMAX release – although the film has wisely steered clear of conversion to 3D, despite rumours that the studio might go that route – but is also positioned to the biggest film in the series in terms of the scale and variety of the action on display, this latest instalment boasting foot chases and hand to hand fights in addition to the franchise’s trademark car chases, and also the biggest in terms of its cast.
Not only are Diesel, Walker and Brewster returning, along with Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan behind the camera, but this film also brings back a number of cast members from other Fast & Furious movies, among them Matt Schulze, who played Vince in The Fast and the Furious, Tyrese Gibson and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, who played Roman and Tej in 2 Fast 2 Furious, Sung Kang, who played Tokyo Drift’s Han – thus establishing that, chronologically, this fifth movie also takes place before that film – and Tego Calderon , Don Omar, Gal Gadot, who played the roles of Tego, Rico and Gisele respectively in Fast & Furious. As well as boasting one hell of a Fast & Furious cast reunion, there is also a major addition to the cast this time around in the form of Dwayne Johnson, who here continues his return to the action genre following recently released revenge actioner Faster and whose involvement suggests what could be one of the greatest action star fights of the decade – Vin Diesel vs. Dwayne Johnson. “This model is fully loaded” says the trailer and, with everything that Fast & Furious 5 has going for it, it is hard to argue with that statement. Not only is this latest film in pole position to be the biggest event in the Fast and the Furious franchise to date but it is also set up to the be the first big event of the 2011 summer moviegoing season and one that looks to start the summer off with a real bang.
Since Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) was broken out of custody by his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and former cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) all three have been on the FBI’s most wanted list and they have had to traverse many borders in order to elude the authorities who will seemingly stop at nothing to apprehend them. With Brian and a secretly pregnant Mia travelling apart from Dom, who is keeping his distance in order to best protect them, they do their best to stay away from trouble but finding themselves in a desperate situation in Rio de Janeiro they reluctantly take a job offered to them by old friend Vince (Matt Schulze). The job, involving stealing some cars off a moving train, is supposed to be simple and easy but it turns out that they have all been set up by men working for Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), a powerful criminal who owns most of Rio, and it is only as a result of Dom showing up at the right time and joining them on the job that they even survive.
With one of the cars in their possession and something within it that Reyes will do anything to get his hands on, they all find themselves the targets of Reyes and his brutal employees. With them all marked and their chances of escaping virtually none existent, they decide to mount an offensive. It turns out that what Reyes is after from the car is a computer chip that contains all the information about the locations of where his money is being stored. Using this information, Dom comes up with a plan to attain their freedom and destroy Reyes’ criminal empire once and for all. They can’t do it alone though and so they recruit a number of old friends, comrades and associates to join them – Han Lue (Sung Kang), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludracris’ Bridges), Gisele Harabo (Gal Gadot), Tego Leo (Tego Calderon) and Rico Santos (Don Omar). The plan is seemingly simple – destroy the money from one of Reyes’ secret locations and thus force him to move the remainder of his money into one secure location in order to protect it, thus enabling them to steal the whole lot is one singular heist.
There’s one thing that they didn’t count on though – that Reyes, who has most of the police on his payroll, would put all his money in a vault inside a heavily militarised police station. “This just went from mission impossible to mission in-freaking-sanity” says Roman but they aren’t going to let this one unexpected development stop them and they set about planning the most daring heist every known. Reyes is on to them, however, and is going to do everything in his power to stop them from carrying out their plan. To make matters worse, several DEA agents were killed by Reyes’ men on the train and they have now found themselves taking the blame, something which has put them right to the top of the most wanted list and prompted the authorities to send in their most ruthless man to apprehend them, Lucas Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Tough as nails and completely no nonsense, Hobbs will stop at nothing to get his man and, commanding a crack team armed with the latest in high tech weaponry, with the assistance of Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), a motivated Rio cop who cannot be bought, he is going all out to make sure Dom and Brian don’t escape again. But as his men tear through Brazil, Hobbs learns he can’t separate the good guys from the bad. Now, he must rely on his instincts to corner his prey…before someone else runs them down first.
Picking up right where the last film left off with Brian, Mia, Tejo and Rico breaking Dom out of a prison bus, Fast & Furious 5 throws us straight into the action from the get go. Suffice to say if you’re looking for subtlety and depth you won’t find it here but if you what you want is fast cars, sexy women and loud action you will find lots to appreciate. This is a film that knows exactly who its target audience is and it is geared precisely to that target audience. The action is unrelenting and spectacular, the film delivering some of the most thrilling and exciting Fast & Furious car chases and action sequences yet – including a daring train heist that sees the guys stealing cars right off a train, getting into hand to hand fights aboard the train and a moving truck, crashing an exploding truck into the train and driving a car right off a cliff then jumping out mid air; a foot chase over the rooftops of Rio as they are pursued by both Reyes’ men and Hobbs along with his team; Vin Diesel going mano a mano with Dwayne Johnson in a hand to hand fight that could be described as the ultimate action star showdown; and one hell of a climax which boasts one of the most audacious car chases ever committed to celluloid as the characters steal a giant safe from a police station by crashing through the walls and hooking it up to a couple of cars before going on to drag it through the streets of Rio while every police car in the city and all of Reyes’ men in cars armed with mounted machine guns pursue them and the safe destroys virtually everything in its path; not to mention a whole load of fight scenes and shootouts – and providing many bangs for your buck, and being all the better for the fact that little, if any, is done with CGI, meaning that the exorbitant number of cars that get completely wrecked here are actually real, something that makes the action all the more exciting.
Additionally, the cars featured are as fast and cool as you could possibly wish for and the women are as sexy as ever too, something no better exemplified than in a scene where Gal Gadot sports a sexy bikini as her character tries to obtain Reyes’ handprint by having him put his hand on her derriere. This is also a film made very much with the fans in mind and virtually everything here is geared towards the people who have followed the franchise from the very beginning. While, aside from a couple of obligatory street racing scenes, one that doesn’t actually feature a race and the other which sees the guys racing in four stolen police cars, street racing doesn’t really feature much, the film being set more in the crime world, the reunion of cast members from all the previous films provides much for fans to enjoy and there is a certain rush to be had from seeing all the characters appearing together in the same film. There are a lot of in jokes and references that only those who have seen the previous films will appreciate, such as when Vince calls Brian “Buster” and when Brian says to Dom, ahead of a street race, “Just don’t cheat this time” as well as a scene at the end of the film where Gisele says to Han “I thought you wanted to go to Tokyo” prompting him to reply “We’ll get there eventually” hinting at the events of Tokyo Drift yet to come, and the interplay between all the different characters is very entertaining, there being some very humorous back and forths, particularly between Roman and Tej, and a lot of humour coming from the interactions between the characters, this film being a surprisingly funny one, partly thanks to funny dialogue and partly thanks to extremely entertaining performances from some of the cast members.
The performances here are as good as could be expected. Obviously, no one is going to be winning any Oscars for their acting in this film but everyone performs well and the returning actors all slide back into their roles with effortless ease. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker once again prove to be strong leads, the former delivering a good balance between tough and soft while the latter also proves to be an appropriately strong (if unremarkable) performer and Jordana Brewster gets a more significant role to play this time, although she sadly still spends a lot of the film on the sidelines, while Sung Kang is as cool and laid back as ever, Gal Gadot is equally tough and sexy in a very strong feminine role and the likes of Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Tego Calderon and Don Omar all prove to be very entertaining. As for the new additions to the cast, the addition of Dwayne Johnson to the cast takes the testosterone level of the already testosterone heavy cast into overdrive.
With huge muscles, he looks the biggest he has ever been, so big in fact that he drives one of the biggest cars on the face of the planet here and he perfectly nails his character’s no nonsense attitude, looking and acting tough as nails – wiping the likes of Tooth Fairy from memory in the process – and coming across like a man you definitely wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, exactly what the role calls for. As for the other cast members Elsa Pataky convinces as a highly motivated and incorruptible character and Joaquim de Almeida nonetheless proves to be a sufficiently threatening screen presence even though, as was the case with the big bad in the last film, he is a very generic villain. In terms of the writing there isn’t a massive amount of depth here but you really wouldn’t expect there to be. That said, though, there is a lot more in terms of plot and character development than you might expect. The action isn’t non-stop and there are some very significant scenes of plot and character development in between the action sequences which actually boast a half decent story and rather good characterisation.
With the film’s events going off in an Ocean’s Eleven style direction – with the heist being not quite as it seems just as was the case in that film – and even throwing a hint of Mission: Impossible into the mix, the story here is far more exciting and interesting than the rather predictable one of the last film (although trained viewers will still figure out much of what is going to happen) and the characters are also better handled than in the last film. With the main characters sharing a family dynamic, the film is as much about the importance of family as it is about cars and each of the characters plays their own part in the heist, meaning that they aren’t all reunited for the sake of it, rather each contributes something significant. The relationship between Brian and Mia is also a significant factor in the plot, Mia’s pregnancy introducing a little bit more threat to proceedings as a bit more it at stake this time round. If there’s one gripe I really have with the film, however, it’s that more hasn’t been made of the Rio de Janeiro setting at times.
While, the film successfully portrays the dirtier and more corrupt side of Rio de Janeiro obviously not depicted in recent kiddie flick Rio, at times it feels a bit too much like some generic city with little to really distinguish it from cities in America. This doesn’t stop the film from being exciting though and is only a minor criticism. An adrenaline rush from start to finish, this is a film that might not seem to do much but what it does it does well, being a thoroughly entertaining popcorn movie and the fastest and most furious Fast & Furious movie yet. So, Fast & Furious 5 is one of the best films in the series to date and with a great scene during the credits (make sure you stay through them), which features an uncredited cameo appearance by a certain female cop from 2 Fast 2 Furious and a shocking twist about another major Fast & Furious character (okay, the twist may be rather absurd and a little derivative but you definitely won’t see it coming, that’s for sure), setting up the next film in the series which is certain to see Dwayne Johnson return as well as number of other major players, you will leave the cinema well and truly geared up for the inevitable sixth film in the series. As for this one, just put your brain into neutral and enjoy the ride.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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