Archives

All posts for the month December, 2015

Last time: a previously mediocre car-based action franchise discovered they’d accidentally created the Ocean’s 11 of car-based heist crews, so they put everyone in the same movie and sent them to work in BRAZIIIL!

Sorry, it is just so hard to stop doing that...

Sorry, it is just so hard to stop doing that…

Han continued to cheat the death that we already saw two movies ago, and as the credits start, we learned that Michelle Rodriguez wants to buy a bigger house is about to return to the franchise. Let’s roll! (Damn it, these stupid movies just get in your head…)

Name a second American action franchise THIS successful with only one white guy on the poster.

Name a second American action franchise THIS successful with only one white guy on the poster.

This time around, the action moves to my favourite place in the world: London, England. Now, the streets in London are narrow, twisty, and congested, and it rains a lot, so surely this means the franchise will have to forgo the usual “illegal street race surrounded by scantily-clad women” scene, right?

No. Nothing ever means that.

Last we saw these furiously fast folks, Brian O’Connor and Dom Toretto were about to have a Rocky III-style private (and unfilmed) rematch race across their new, tropical, non-extraditing home. One might think that’s exactly where we pick up, but no: Dom and Brian are actually racing home to see Dom’s sister/Brian’s wife, Mia, as she gets well and truly sidelined from being an active player in the movie, just when she’d finally started getting interesting shit to do last time out. Sorry, I mean “as she goes into labour.” Autocorrect, am I right?

“As soon as you go through those doors, everything changes,” says Dom. “Our old life is done.” Also, he’s still with now-former Rio PD officer Elena, as long as I’m mentioning things that aren’t going to last past the first act.

The opening credits serve as a swift “previously on” montage, highlighting the major players and plot points from the previous movies… save for Tokyo Drift, which due to the Han issue still hasn’t happened yet. They also serve as a reminder of how much Paul Walker has aged since F&F1, but that’s old lady mortality for you.

Anyhoo, with all of that done, we rejoin Special Agent Hobbs, who pulls up (in a truly ridiculous pick-up truck/humvee… when you want an armoured car but might need to move a couch) to a crime scene in Moscow, where he meets his new partner Riley Hicks (MMA fighter/former American Gladiator Gina Carano), introducing her to us in the least graceful burst of exposition I’ve seen in ages. Hobbs is investigating a high-speed car-based crime, one we’re led to believe must have been Dom and company. But when Riley gets him five minutes with the only suspect the Russians caught, it’s not Dom at all, but a low-rent British Vin Diesel impersonator who Hobbs asks about his boss, Shaw. He asks him pretty hard, as Sin City’s Marv would say.

Okay, we’ll get back to Shaw and his evil-doing in a minute, but can we just talk about how ridiculous what’s happening is? Hobbs, an American agent, being allowed access to a Russian crime scene, allowed to interrogate a prisoner in Moscow, who he proceeds to toss around like a rag doll and nobody stops him?

F&F6 01

The way he hurls the 230 pound suspect into the ceiling hard enough to break it is the least improbable part of this entire sequence.

“You don’t just pick up Owen Shaw like he’s groceries,” announces Hobbs, having learned his quarry is in London. “You wanna catch wolves, you need wolves!” And once again, Dwayne Johnson’s delivery is so over-the-top-macho perfect that it makes me forgive the fact that the last thing any serious law-enforcement officer would do is recruit a team of international fugitives to hunt a different, similar team of international fugitives, but that, ladies and gents, is our plot.

Dom wakes up to another perfect morning of tropical sunshine, fresh air, and Elena’s tasteful sideboob to find Hobbs waiting for him on the porch. Despite Dom’s desire to stay retired, Hobbs informs him that he’ll soon be begging Hobbs to help catch Shaw and his crew, by giving him a file proving that Dom’s true love Letty is alive and working with Shaw. Right in front of Elena. Come on, Hobbs, there’s a way to be a person about this.

Time to call in the team! Roman has a private plane that’s flying him and five (we have to assume) prostitutes to his penthouse (and giant yacht) in Macau, which I guess means he either invested his $10 million from the last movie really well, or is having one last party before going flat broke.

Tej has left his dream garage (maybe because it was lamer than his pre-established garage in Miami) and is hacking ATMs somewhere in the Carribean. Because Tej, the mechanic-turned-safecracker, is a hacker now, I guess?

F&F6 02

Han and Gisele are interrupted from talk of settling down by the arrival of a squad of Chinese police… who seem to only be there to hand Han a phone so that he, Tej, and Roman can all receive the same phone call from Dom. And so they all drop what they’re doing (not hard, only Roman was doing anything difficult to interrupt) to meet up with Dom in jolly old England.

(The previously nameless Mexican henchmen are not present: they bet their entire Rio payoff on one spin of roulette in Monte Carlo at the end of Fast Five, and according to Brian were never seen again. Never were the brains of the crew.)

Brian’s the only one who needs convincing (the only one, which is weird for reasons I’ll explain in a sec), as he’s convinced Hobbs is lying, but if Dom’s going to be chasing Letty’s ghost, Brian’s in too. Brian’s wife and mother of his newborn son, Mia, swiftly agrees. Seriously. Right away. No question at all. Just bam, “Absolutely my husband should help you chase down an international thief and his dangerous crew. I’ll feel safer if my entire family is at risk.”

I mean, I guess she has a point, sort of? Dom and Brian protecting each other does add a level of safety that either running off on their own wouldn’t have. And I guess Letty is family to Mia as well. But it still feels odd that there wasn’t even a moment where Mia thought maybe this wasn’t the best idea. Or Elena! She gets on board with her new boyfriend trying to reunite with his great lost love super fast. I get that she understands what he’s feeling, but wow, she gave up her entire life for Dom, and has no qualms over what she will or could do when he inevitably dumps her for a not-dead Letty.

Moving on.

Hobbs explains to the crew that he wants them to capture Shaw, who has stolen a weapon that could cripple a country. Brian is the first to remember that only two people in this room have actually met or care about Letty, so he demands full pardons for everyone, something that worked so well in number four that Dom ended up sentenced to twenty years without parole.

The legality of this arrangement is suspect.

The legality of this arrangement is suspect.

Also Roman spent most of that scene begging change for the vending machine and ends it asking if they’re getting paid. I’m gonna go ahead and assume I was right about him blowing the last of his Rio heist money on that plane.

Shaw’s crew manages to outmanoeuvre team Toretto in their first encounter thanks to some car-hacking hockey pucks and bulletproof go-carts packing ramps capable of flipping cars twenty feet in the air.

Which is deemed... improbable

Which is deemed… improbable

And we learn that Letty may be alive, but she has… AMNESIA!

F&F6 04

Seriously, is anyone else really over amnesia as a plot point? I’ve hated it since the mid-90s and it has not improved.

The two crews begin sniffing around each other, as Roman identifies Shaw’s gang as their “evil twins” (only with triple the white folk). After a run in with their counterparts featuring a pretty badass fight between Letty and Riley, Han and Roman getting their asses kicked by Evil Han, and Gisele scoring the first kill with one impressively calm and precise bullet to Evil Roman, Gisele finds a solid lead: to find Shaw, they need to see returning villain Braga, the Mexican drug-runner Brian and Dom brought down two movies back. The one who supposedly had Letty killed.

(I mean, he did, but flashbacks reveal that the henchman in charge of doing it was just the worst assassin ever. That was not a hard gig but he fucked it up royally.)

As part of their newfound respect for interfilm continuity, Brian calls in an improbable favour from one of his former FBI colleagues from F&F4 to get him into Braga’s LA prison under an assumed name (to make it easier for wanted fugitive Brian O’Connor to get back out of the US after), so that he and Braga can have an awkward reunion. Meanwhile, Dom tracks down Letty at… you guessed it… an illegal street race filled with scantily clad women, the one thing all cities in the Fast/Furious universe have.

F&F6 06

It makes sense that Dom would try to win Letty back into the fold through a race. First, it’s neutral ground, and second, he’s been making women question their allegiances through smouldering looks and tragic memories of Letty since his return to the franchise. Why wouldn’t it work on actual (if amnesiac) Letty? Although it is a little odd that once they pass the starting line, there are no spectators. I guess British racers use the honour system. Seems British enough.

Skimming forward… Dom’s team catches Shaw after a car vs. tank chase/fight, Dom saves Letty’s life through a mid-air catch so physically improbable it made Daniel storm out of the room, and all seems well… but Shaw has captured Mia, so they have to let him out of custody.  Also, Letty’s switched sides, but Riley was working for Shaw the whole time, so it evens out. This leads to Team Toretto and Team Shaw having a fight on and alongside a cargo plane driving down the world’s longest runway. Everyone (but Mia) gets a moment to be badass, Shaw is thwarted… but Gisele doesn’t make it, giving her life to protect Han. Don’t worry, Gisele… you’re going to a better place.

Wonder Woman

Themyscira, or Paradise Island, to be precise.

Not only do the surviving crew get their full pardons (in the US, anyway, probably still wanted in Brazil over the death of half the Rio police department), Dom gets his old house back. The crew gathers for a Toretto family barbecue, Han announces he intention to follow through with Gisele’s earlier suggestion they move to Tokyo (“It’s just something I gotta do,” he says, acknowledging that they’ve stalled catching up to Tokyo Drift as long as possible), Elena pops by for a final farewell before leaving to work for Hobbs (and to pay deference to Letty as Dom’s One True Love Interest), and all is mostly well.

But wait! Before the credits roll, we flash back/forward to Han’s fatal crash in Tokyo Drift. Turns out it was no accident… Han was hunted down and killed… by Jason Statham.

Jason fucking Statham. Now our car-based action franchise is finally complete.

Reactions

It’s both better and worse than Fast Five, in different ways. Fast Five was an import car heist movie, whereas number six is trying to be an import car spy movie. And unless you actually are a James Bond flick, I find heist movies more entertaining than spy movies. There’s more satisfaction to the climax: it’s the culmination of all the pieces they put together, whereas here we just have a series of escalating car chases/action beats. Good ones, to be sure, but still.

Shaw is an effective villain, if kind of annoyingly smug. Actually most of the villains have been really smug. It does make it satisfying when they get knocked down a peg, though.

We probably have some of the franchise’s best fight work. They have Gina Carano and Dwayne Johnson in the cast, and know how to use them. Okay, Dom’s flying headbutt was ridiculous. No getting around that. But otherwise, the action beats are pretty impressive, if physics-defying.

However, it’s clear that following Fast Five, the ensemble got too big. Yes, it was already big, but they found stuff for everyone to do last time. This time out, with Hobbs already part of the crew, there wasn’t enough time for everyone, and it’s Elena and Mia who suffer. They’re sidelined almost immediately, with Mia only coming back to serve as a hostage in the climax. Elena I can live with, but after finally making Mia an active part of the team in Fast Five, it seems particularly sad to cut her role down so severely.

It’s not like the film wants to be a boys-only club… Gisele’s more kickass than ever, Riley and Letty get their moments to shine, but Mia (who even got to be part of the heist crew while pregnant) gets left out. It’s a shame that it’s the women who–

SHIT the no-name Mexicans. I keep forgetting about them. They’re just gone this time, which is a shame since they finally get both of their names spoken for the first time in three movies. Okay, fine, it’s not just the women who got cut back. Look, it’s a bit of a dick move to marginalize Mia, given she’s one of the original four. That’s all I’m saying.

And in terms of the overall series? It’s hard, when watching this, to recognize it as the same series as the first three movies. Yes, women in tiny skirts/shorts cavort around illegal street races, but the physics-nope action set pieces seem like an entirely different world than the simple drag races of F&F1.

Actually, if they WERE on a different world, that would explain a lot.

Actually, if they WERE on a different world, that would explain a lot.

It’s hard to follow a success. Fast Five was a breath of fresh air, a whole new twist on what these characters could be doing. Fast and Furious Six just kept running with that, and tried to crank the volume a little. It still works better than it has any right to… it’s just the novelty’s worn down a little.

I’ll say this, though. They made something happen that I would have thought impossible earlier in the week, when this all began as I watched Brian fail at undercover work… they made me eager to watch the next movie. God help me, when Jason Statham tells Dom “You don’t know me… but you’re about to,” I actively and unironically wanted to watch Furious Seven. I haven’t yet… but it’s coming.

And if the rumours are true, and Methusa-brah is taking Brian’s place in the crew in the eighth movie, which after “Fast Five” and “Furious Seven,” I assume will be called “And The Eight?” They will make me miss Paul Walker. That I never saw coming.

Fasts and Furiouses is over for now… next time, there is only The Smurfening.

And we’re back! When we last left those who are fast, but in a furious persuasion, they had, in their fourth instalment, finally managed to make a proper second movie.

Now, we rejoin Dom and crew/family as they hide from the law somewhere more exotic than ghetto Los Angeles…

brazil

BRAAAAZIIIIIL!

As the poet said…

Let there be light…
Sound…
Drums…
Guitar…
Let there be Rock!

Hail, hail, the gang's all here.

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.

We pick up exactly where we left off… Dom’s being sent to prison for 25 years, despite his help with the super illegal extradition of Mexican drug lord Braga. I guess eight years of literal highway robbery aren’t swept under the rug because of one mission against a worse bad guy. Probably takes, like, three missions against worse bad guys. Anyhoo, former cop, sometimes drag racer, about-to-be-former FBI agent, and two-time winner of World’s Worst Undercover Operative Brian O’Connor throws away his law-enforcement career (again) to stage a bold prison break mid-transfer, because of course it’s mid-transfer, these people don’t get out of bed for a heist if customized racing cars aren’t involved.

But while the high-speed prison break was only implied in the end credits of Fast & Furious, here it’s presented in its entirety… they stop the prison bus by making it veer around Mia’s car, then crash into Brian’s, so that it flips so many times you just have to assume everyone inside is dead. Just super dead. This is what happens when Dom’s out of the action… the quality of their car-heists just goes way downhill. However, a news report featuring the man I am incapable of seeing as anything but Pawnee Indiana’s Perd Hapley informs us that there were no casualties (somehow) and that nobody escaped but Dom. Because I guess the old A-Team writers snuck onto the set.

Still, nice that Dom’s sister/Brian’s somehow still girlfriend Mia gets to play too. Mia is often reduced to “Brian’s love interest,” or “Method of making his career-ending attachment to Dom less gay.”

From there, we cut to Brian and Mia on the lam way, way south of the border (since Mexico would also like to round up the whole crew), in Brazil.

I promise this will eventually make sense.

I promise this will eventually make sense.

f501

They take shelter with an old friend, for given values of the word “friend:” Vince, the biggest asshole form Dom’s crew in the first movie. He still has a soft spot for Mia, still doesn’t seem to like Brian, but I guess Brian saving his life that time he nearly got killed by a trucker with a shotgun has soothed his “Look at Mia and I’ll murder you out of jealousy” demeanour. Or maybe having shacked up with a Brazilian woman sometime after escaping the hospital did that.

Anyway, he soon asks Brian and Mia to help him steal some high-end cars (because of course) from a train. Brian reluctantly agrees, because he is already a wanted fugitive, and hey, in for a penny, in for a pound. Also there’s not a lot of legitimate work for twice-disgraced ex-cops.

Dom arrives just in time for Brian to notice that the cars they’re stealing were seized by the DEA, and that Vince’s… associates have their eyes on one car in particular. Dom and Mia swiftly decide to betray said associates and steal that one car, the job goes wrong in a hurry, and the DEA cotton on to what’s happening.

The DEA make some questionable choices.

The DEA make some questionable choices.

After some train-and-car based fighting, and an improbably survivable fall off a cliff into a distant river, Dom and Brian are briefly captured by Brazilian crime kingpin Reyes. They escape super fast, but it all has Dom wanting to know what’s in the car that’s so valuable.

Since one of Reyes’ men (who IMDB tells me is named “Zizi”) killed three DEA agents, and then let Dom and Brian take the fall, they end up being hunted by the US government’s best man… Special Agent Hobbs, played by none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who struts into this franchise like he owns the joint and damn near does own it from his first lines.

f503

Vince the Asshole returns, and quickly proves himself untrustworthy (because of course), as he knows exactly what Reyes’ men want: a memory card hidden in the car’s computer. Vince is banished, but doesn’t leave without giving a tirade about how everything that’s happened is because Dom never listened to Vince, proving that he still hasn’t 100% learned that being an asshole 100% of the time makes people not consider you a trusted friend.

Hobbs and his team are joined by Rio PD officer Elena, who he figures is the one cop in Rio that can’t be bought. After exchanging some delightfully ridiculous cop lingo, they’re on Dom’s trail. Sadly, so is Reyes.  While Dom and crew figure out that the chip contains all the information on how Reyez moves his money around, Hobbs and Reyes’ thugs descend on their hideout, resulting in a chase over the favela rooftops (because of course) that can be somewhat hard to track if you’ve already had several adult beverages to get you through the last two movies. In short, Reyes’ men (led by that pesky Zizi) attack; Dom, Brian, and Mia make a run for it; Hobbs intervenes, managing to kill several bad guys but not catch Dom; and in the process, Dom saves Elena’s life, making this the second consecutive movie in which a woman reconsiders which side she’s on thanks to Vin Diesel’s smouldering gaze.

Dom wants to split up for safety, but Mia’s sick of the family splitting up, especially when she finally reveals she’s pregnant (something we’d known since six minutes into the movie). So instead of splitting up… they do something much cooler.

The Fast Five Nine

After a talk about fatherhood, Dom and Brian decide they can’t run anymore, so they’re going to use Reyes’ memory card to steal all of his money and use it to buy new lives somewhere with no extradition. But for that, they’ll need a team… and so they assemble a Fast and Furious supergroup of supporting cast members from the last four movies. Roman and Tej (Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris) from 2 Fast; Han, who still hasn’t managed to make it to Japan for his death in Tokyo Drift; Gisele (the previous woman to reconsider her side thanks to smouldering looks from Dom) and the two Mexicans who I swear didn’t have names from Fast & Furious. It’s the Oceans’ 11 of people who like custom racing cars. Or the Fast and Furious Avengers. One of those.

Don't worry, they got to it eventually. They always do.

Don’t worry, they got to it eventually. They always do.

The gang hits one of Reyes’ money houses in order to make him move all of his money to a central location. Sadly, it’s a police station, proving that Hobbs had a point about there not being a lot of cops in Rio who can’t be bought. Hey man, it’s their stereotype, don’t be blaming me. Pulling some straight-up Oceans’ 11 moves, they get the lay of the land, a copy of Reyes’ safe (which of course Tej the mechanic knows how to crack), and thanks to Gisele knowing how to work her good looks, Reyes’ hand-print.

f505

Also Dom and Brian score some fast, nimble cars by hitting street races filled with hot girls hanging around the cars because of course they do. Streak unbroken.

Just one problem… while they’ve been prepping to hit Reyes, the perpetually sweaty Hobbs has been hunting them, and now the whole team has been flagged, leading to a tense standoff in which Dom reminds Hobbs that he isn’t in the US anymore. Where is he?

Naturally.

Naturally.

It’s impossible to think of this movie and not think of this moment. I have a hard time seeing Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue and not think of it yelling “BRAZIL!”

Okay, let’s skim forward. Dom continues to work his rugged “I sure did love my dead girlfriend Letty” charms on Elena, Vince returns long enough to save Mia from Zizi and have one last Toretto family dinner, Tej announces that he’s using his share to open a garage back home, despite the fact that he already owns a garage in Miami, that’s why he’s in these movies…

Opinions are elicited.

Opinions are elicited.

Hobbs successfully tracks down Dom, Mia, Brian, and Vince, leading to the best fist fight in the series to date…

True story.

True story.

…but when Reyes’ men kill Hobbs’ entire team (minus Elena) while trying to get at Dom and Brian, Hobbs decides to join the heist after Dom saves his life. Because. Of. Course. This was a sweat-soaked bromance waiting to happen.

Seriously, it’s like they sprayed The “Dwayne Johnson” Rock down with a hose before every scene he’s in. The man is damp.

Zizi manages to be the only Reyes thug not to get shot for the third time, Vince dies more tragically than you’d expect, given that I spent the entire first movie hoping someone would kill him, but with all other obstacles cleared, it’s time for the big heist: stealing the safe itself from the police station, and using their race cars to drag it through the streets of Rio. The nicer streets, though. It’s nice to see a high-class neighbourhood get torn up in the car chase instead of a favela.

It’s like in the Final Destination movies, when the victim survives the elaborate Rube Goldberg death but then something heavy crushes them three second later. They drop their more elaborate heist and just smash into the building with Hobbs’ bulletproof SUV, then run off dragging the safe behind them.

After a certain amount of car chase shenanigans, Dom cuts Brian loose, then takes out their remaining pursuers by firing his nitrous (BECAUSE OF COURSE) and whipping the safe around like a morning star.

Fans of physics had qualms about this sequence.

Fans of physics had qualms about this sequence.

Brian returns just in time to break his streak of bringing the main villains alive by killing Zizi (finally) to save Dom. Hobbs then arrives in order to straight-up murder Reyes, before giving Dom and company a 24-hour head start, provided they leave the safe behind. He swiftly realizes that, during a “ten second window” in the chase, they managed to switch the money safe for their training safe, leaving them with $100 million and him with an empty safe surrounded by crushed cops cars.

Everyone gets away clean (except Vince, but fuck that guy): Tej opens his garage (which is worse than the one he had in Miami), Gisele and Han hit the road together, and when Gisele asks Han if he wants to go to Tokyo, he says “We’ll get there… eventually,” (translation: the producers are in no hurry to catch up to his death from two movies back) Elena leaves Brazil to be with Dom, and Dom and Brian have a Rocky III-style unfilmed rematch as we go to credits.

But wait! There’s more! One last returning player! Partway through the credits, Eva Mendes returns as customs agent Monica Fuentes (the inside woman from 2 Fast), with news for Hobbs… Letty isn’t as dead as everyone thinks.

Dun dun DUUUUNNNN. (Don’t get comfy, Elena)

General reactions

This is where the switch flicks. We’re still in “high-speed thefts” territory, to be sure, but the franchise has crossed a line that will leave “Point Break knock-off” in its rear-view… mirror… god damn it, now they have me doing it…

One would be forgiven for thinking that there is no way they’ve spent the last four movies world-building. That they made one “undercover cop loses his way” crime movie, then spent seven years flailing around trying to make a decent sequel. And you’re right, you’re entirely right. But while flailing, they accidentally created a somewhat likable ensemble that manages to be the most ethnically diverse cast of any American action franchise in living memory. Han remains cool, Gisele has become impressively badass, the Mexicans make a passable comic duo, and 2 Fast’s Roman comes into his own. With Vin Diesel also in the movie, Roman didn’t need to be “replacement Dom” anymore, and was free to become the comic relief and the second most quotable character. Tej… is whatever the franchise needs Tej to be from movie to movie. Mia got to participate in a few action beats before revealing she was pregnant, at which point she just ran comms and tactics from HQ, because no way Dom and Brian let her back into the field at that point. She did some super dangerous things when they didn’t know.

Paul Walker had either settled into the role, or they started writing it to suit his abilities, because he feels far less awkward here than the first two. He hasn’t said “bro” since 2 Fast, which is for the best.

And I cannot overstate what a valuable addition Dwayne “The Johnson” Rock is to this franchise. He steps off the plane, knowing he’s in a dumb, aggressively macho action flick, and by god he swings into it. Hobbs is instantly the missing ingredient we never knew we always wanted in these movies. His badass cop lingo scenes are a damned delight.

Now, I do like a good heist movie, and half the fun is seeing the heist carried out, so in theory I should be disappointed that they switched the plan to a smash-and-grab. But it’s hard to be. The mashy-smashy final act is just too hard to dislike, even with its merciless assault on the laws of physics.

They also do frequently pause the action to hit on themes of family, honour, and all that… and one largely pointless drag race between Brain, Dom, Han, and Roman, but it drags the film down less than you’d expect. Soon enough Hobbs will swagger his sweaty self back into frame, and we’re in ridiculous fun territory again.

Up until Fast 5, these movies were a bit of a slog. Especially in the dark, Vin-less times. Maybe you had to be into street racing. I hear that helps. But with this entry, I finally began to see the appeal.

Next time, they realize they have a good thing, and keep running with it. Which is less common than you’d like.