The Long and Winding Road: Chapter 6 – Kick It Up A Notch

Things are finally meshing well. The tide finally rose on Fast & Furious movies, despite the stiff competition from superheroes. In fact, Marvel’s rising success made the Fast Saga Universal’s answer to international conglomerate IPs easily exploitable for a myriad of profits. They didn’t have a Captain America but they did have Dominic Toretto and his crew.

The next outing, the 2013 film, would bring in all the same elements from Fast Five only this time they were bringing back Michelle Rodriguez. This movie continued the success of its predecessors by upping the ante on all the things fans loved before: a multinational cast of personalities, big fights and even bigger stunt scenes, family melodrama, a bumping soundtrack, and Vin Diesel’s gritty voice saying “Ride or Die.”

In the longevity of the franchise only its initial three entries really bared a resemblance to its Point Break meets Gone In Sixty Seconds origin story. Still, stories grow. This story, especially, grew beyond it’s south L.A. setting into an international caper, whether by accident or by choice can be argued forever but it doesn’t change the fact that: The Fast Saga was now in the upper echelon of summer blockbusters.

Justin Lin returned to direct the sixth entry off a script that Chris Morgan wrote. The pair had worked so well for three movies before this. Lin’s penchant for practical effects and go-big-or-go-home set pieces. Morgan’s intimate knowledge of the “Fast universe” and soap opera dynamics helped fuel the franchise’s plot. Vin Diesel was back on as a producer with Neal Moritz (the great Granddaddy of this whole thing.) Dom’s Team would go on another international adventure, this time on the other side of the law.

Luke Hobbs finds Dominic Toretto in the Canary Islands canoodling with Elena (Elsa Pataky’s underutilized character from Fast Five.) He needs Dom and his crew to take down Owen Shaw, the new baddie for this movie. Shaw’s bona fides as a former special ops soldier in the mobility combat division makes him legitimately terrifying. More importantly Letty’s back and she’s running with his crew.

Dom consults with Brian, and they agree “You don’t turn your back on family, ever.” Dom assembles the crew to stop Owen Shaw and his evil team from robbing important tech pieces to make a Nightshade device – an EMP-like device that can knock out the military communications of an entire country. Hobbs brings on a new partner, one equally good at ass-kicking: Riley (played by MMA legend Gina Carano.)

Read along on the rest of our Fast Saga coverage with these articles on the other Fast & Furious installments:

Fast Five: A New Ultimate Heist Franchise Emerges

The Most Ultimate Fast Cast Ever?

The cast list for this movie is insane. Just starting with Dom and his crew you’ve got Vin Diesel, Paul Walker (of course), Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, and Dwayne Johnson. Don Omar and Tego Calderon sit out this adventure (and future adventures as well) proving they were never series regulars.

Fast & Furious 6 adds subsections of fandom by incorporating more international icons: Luke Evans, Gina Carano, and Joe Taslim. Evans holds prominence in British television and movies. Carano pioneered women’s MMA to international renown. Joe Taslim may be recognized in another Ultimate Action favorite: The Raid: Redemption. While unfamiliar to many in the North American markets these new members bear significance around the world as performers AND as athletes; a win-win as far as the Fast Franchise goes. All three rise to the occasion.

Michelle Rodriguez’s return to the franchise signals soap opera territory. In later films this revolving door of villains echoes the rebounding plot points of a soap opera, only Fast & Furious tells it over several movies. Fast Five was family fun but Fast & Furious 6 has some continuity to lean into and that means doubling down on the bizarre plot twists. Don’t forget: the cornerstone of this whole Saga started with Han dying in Tokyo (something they allude to in this sixth movie.)

Fast & Furious 6 puts the crew back on their feet as they react to Shaw’s villainous designs. The initial encounter has them up against the Anti-Crew: evil doppelgangers of Dom’s crew. At one point Tyrese Gibson even comments about their anti-qualities. Only once they start stepping forward does the movie really fly. It sends them off on different paths to investigate providing opportunities to really settle in to the roles we enjoyed seeing them play in Fast Five.

Paul Walker’s performance in the movies especially needs to be commended. While Diesel carries the franchise on his shoulders with a dour tone Paul Walker helped balance him out as an even-keel character. His love for car racing was genuine and half the time he’s on screen he’s playing himself: a self-serious man with pure love for fast cars. Each movie he’s turned in a performance that shows love for the franchise and the role he plays. Whether he’s cheering, making fun of Tyrese Gibson, or musing on being a father you can tell he takes it seriously. Without knowing it Walker’s level head and character loyalty made him as much a pillar of the franchise as Diesel and it would take losing him to find out just how much that meant.

The sixth outing in the Fast Saga requires even more over-the-top stunts and fights than its predecessor. Topping the bank vault heist sounds difficult, but clearly the studio had faith as it not only one-ups Fast Five but also ups the ante with every single fight and chase. Notable Ultimate Action fights include the beatdown Joe Taslim gives to Roman Pearce and Han as well as the knock-down-drag-out brawl between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano culminating in a stairway fall that looks downright brutal.

On the stunts side we get a new invention alongside our more common stunts. One of the new element worth enjoying is the Flip Car (it’s a formula one European model car with a low angle battering ram designed to flip cars racing towards it). Dennis McCarthy, the vehicle designer for the entire franchise, went all out and designed a car that can actually flip other cars (albeit when it’s the right angle and with a little wire help.)

Lin manages to drag out entire sequences for twenty or thirty minutes at a time. The cars race across an international highway attempting to chase down a military tank as it shoots at itty bitty dodge chargers racing around. The final sequence features six cars attempting to take down a plane while it’s taxiing off the runway. In a fit of inspiration Dom yanks the wheel of his car, while standing on the hood, to shoot himself over the gap between the two bridges and intercept Letty as she falls off the back of a tank. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the superhero moment.

Fast & Furious: From Underground Street Racing to Mainstream Action

The Superhero-ification of Fast & Furious

At this point in cinema history the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in full swing. Disney/Marvel churned out two to three superhero movies a year. Fox clung to the Bond franchise putting out critically lauded Skyfall and Sony taunted Marvel by making their own Spiderman movies. Universal flirted with it’s own shared universe of famous movie monsters by creating The Mummy but the entire idea came dead-on-arrival with the film’s failure. The Fast & The Furious franchise was Universal’s greatest cash cow and that meant Dominic Toretto had to compete with Captain Marvel and as such he was going to need a super power.

Now, it may feel like extrapolation to say Dominic Toretto defying gravity to football tackle his girlfriend and save her life is a superhero beat but these moments of beyond-human capabilities became a recurring part of the franchise. Not only does he time it perfectly to save his love he also doesn’t break a single bone. Admittedly this is the franchise where two Dodge Chargers can toss around a bank vault like it’s a tetherball so concerning ourselves with physics seems an exercise in pointlessness. Still, this gravity-defying stunt stretches our suspension of disbelief pretty thin as we watch Vin Diesel literally fly. Voila! Superhero.

Just like the semi-nude models and flag girls of the franchise the movie’s women carry little to no agency except at the very top. While Michelle Rodriguez utilizes her tomboy persona for her character and Gina Carano kicks genuine ass the more effeminate female characters seem to drop out of the plot entirely as more devices than anything else. While not intentionally an endorsement of sharply divided perspectives on femininity the movie wastes a chance at providing the full package by losing Gal Gadot.

At the beginning of this franchise Gadot was introduced as a glorified assistant with style who flirts. In Fast Five she’s introduced as a mercenary or stone cold killer, constantly cleaning guns or filing weapons. In that movie she never actually delivers on a true fight. Love interest Han constantly saves her. In Fast 6 one might hope they finally gave her something to bash, but it appears once again that she’s relegated to “strutting around and getting saved by Han.” Which is a criminal negligence and Gadot would go on to prove her REAL action bona fides by playing icon Wonder Woman.

Gal Gadot can literally get in the trenches with the boys but the Fast franchise wastes it. In the end she’s used as a plot point: she dies saving Han in the final battle, confirming her love for him as she literally falls into darkness. The actual stunt- falling off a car and shooting a man in the head while smiling – plays like gangbusters but it underscores a more ominous beat: you can be effeminate or kickass but you can’t be both. It will literally kill you. Gadot’s death would motivate Han to go to Tokyo and become the misanthrope from Tokyo Drift we first knew him as. The circle is complete. Or is it?

An Ultimate Look Back at ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’

Where is the Fast Saga Heading Now?

The Fast Saga, in competition with the MCU, opts to include yet another mid-credits scene. This time Deckard Shaw, a character briefly mentioned by little brother Owen Shaw, stalks Han in the streets of Tokyo. We find out that HE, not the Yakuza, killed Han as revenge for the brutal murder of his brother. You don’t know him yet, Shaw threatens over the phone, but you will. He hands up on Dom and Han’s car goes up in a ball of flame. It seems the saga isn’t quite over yet and there was more to Han’s death than we initially thought.

Fast & Furious 6 falls pretty deep in the franchise but the music this time around doubles down. This pop-centric soundtrack reflected trends finally starting to peak across American radios. The titular single “We Own It (Fast & Furious)” features infamous rappers 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa and scored a spot as number six on the UK singles chart. Swedish House Mafia member DJ Axwell produced a track “Here We Go” for the trailer and Russian DJ group Hard Rock Sofa had a song prominently underscoring several moments. This international conglomerate of musicians continues to display a global approach to making movies: one that incorporates music and actors from every corner of the globe.

The Fast and Furious train went full steam ahead as far as production goes. On a budget of 160 million dollars (six times the budget of the original) it earned 789 million dollars around the world. It beat out Fast Five’s gross of 630 million by tacking on another 35 million in budget to gain an extra 159 million in revenue; a risk that paid off.

The truth is audiences around the world LOVED Fast and the Furious at this point. Unlike the superheroes they existed in a familiar world. There was always someone in the crew to relate to for international audiences and the plot didn’t require any knowledge or backstory (even though there’s plenty of continuity to dig into.) Explosions are an international language and apparently so is EDM music.

The sixth outing doubles down on the things that make the series great. This even more hyperbolic perspective tests even avid fans’ disbelief. It criminally wastes it’s female actresses by typifying them as either tomboy or feminine (and dead.) It serves as a ramping up point for the continuous story being told here.

Fast & Furious 6 may not be perfect. It leans heavily on it’s “anything is possible” conventions stretching even the gravity-defiance thin. Still it delivers on what people want when they go to these movies now. While it’s not as fun as Fast Five the movie still entertains and ensnares audiences with it’s big stunts and maudlin family dynamics.