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Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

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fast6Plot Summary: Toretto and the crew are living it large after Fast Five, but they’re recruited by Hobbs to complete one last mission and take down a team of copycats.

Director: Justin Lin

Key Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson (The Rock), Gina Carano.

Five Point Summary:

1. They have a tank (but The Avengers have a Hulk!).
2. Street racing’s back! In London! Erm… where’s the traffic gone?
3. The Rock’s 85% less shiny this time round.
4. Spain has incredibly long runways
5. Gina Carano’s a new face, does that mean…?

 

 

So I’m now up to date with the Fast films, and I can at last take time to watch something else entirely. My Sky+ box is looking rather full at the moment, actually… Anyway, Fast 6, or “Furious 6” as it’s being billed in a few places. Sounds like a rubbish supervillain team… this is the latest to hit cinemas (at the time of writing, this week in fact), and was my Tuesday night cinema visit in a surprisingly almost sold-out screening. I’m far too used to being the only person in the screen.

The action is just as daft as ever, featuring tanks (and a daft moment where Vin Diesel auditions for Man of Steel), giant cargo planes, and a mixture of races and chases throughout the streets of London. Ignoring the fact you’d be lucky to break the 20mph mark in the city centre, as expected they’re nicely shot and you can actually see what’s happening without losing the excitement and tension. It goes to show that shakeycam, aka “a man with inner ear problems filming an action scene during an earthquake whilst jumping up and down” isn’t the end word in directing action set pieces.

A brief note regarding the tank scene (and indeed, the rest of the film where civilians come under fire) – how many people actually died? Nobody seems to care!

One major gripe (and there are a lot of smaller ones) is how often everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, kept going on about “family”. Yes okay, we get it, you all think of each other as family, you don’t have to keep reinforcing that point every five minutes. But then in place of any meaningful interaction between the cast members, this essentially takes on the role of characterisation. Nope, it really doesn’t. Okay sure, there are a lot of amusing one liners, but that does not a character make. Apart from Roman, he’s a quipping machine.

The final set piece, and I’m not spoiling this or any other part of the film because it’s all in the trailer, featured the gang trying to stop a cargo plane from taking off, which would allow villain Shaw (a slightly menacing if somewhat underplayed turn from Luke Evans) to escape with some device “worth billions” that could take out a country for 24 hours (or possibly longer – to be fair the specifics of the point were superfluous to my enjoyment of the film). The big issue here – how long was that runway? The plane didn’t turn at all, and the scene went on for about 15 minutes. Bearing in mind how fast those things have to go, I’d expect them to be halfway across Spain by the time Vin Diesel continues his “Man of Steel” impression and bursts out of the plane’s nose, triumphant. In a car.

It was nice to see the series go back to its routes and feature a bit of street racing, which served the plot much more cogently than the earlier films. It also provided an excuse to move back into that gaudy world of fancy cars, if only for a short while, before the mute colour palette reasserted itself.

Jordana Brewster continues her descent into ‘crone’ territory, I was half expecting her to start cackling and turn green at any moment, which given how ludicrous the story was wouldn’t have been unexpected. It would have made more sense than Theodora’s transformation in Oz The Great and Powerful, at any rate. Don’t ask me why I’m so negative toward Jordana Brewster, I’m sure she’s a lovely person and is no doubt attractive to some/most people, but all I see is a trainee witch.

I don’t think it had quite the same level of ‘awesome’ as Fast Five, but it’s still a solid if incredibly dumb action film. In some circles that would be a bad thing, but if you disengage your brain for a couple of hours and just go along with it, you’ll have a heck of a time.

Favourite scene: The dual fist-fights in the London Underground. Nicely choreographed and didn’t outstay its welcome.

Quote: “You’ve gone from Shaggy to Scooby. This is something we don’t doooo.”

Silly Moment: The tank chase. That is all.

Score: 3.5/5

Fast Five (2011)

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fastfivePlot Summary: So there’s this heist in Rio, blud, and they steal a safe or sutin, and The Rock turns up all sweaty, like.

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

Director: Justin Lin

Key Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson (The Rock).

Five Point Summary:

1. Big dumb action scenes
2. Look, it’s The Rock!
3. Yes, it’s yet another plot involving drug cartels.
4. Rio looks amazeballs
5. The safe – what a twist!

 

 

 

Analysis:

Bringing my epic catch-up weekend to a close, I watched Fast Five for the first time. To quote/paraphrase Father Ted, it was like two completely different sheep. Of course in this context the two sheep are Fast Five and the previous four Fast movies. The decision to eschew the focus on car modding and/or driving for the same of it in favour of big stupendous action moments, an actual plot, and witty banter between the ensemble cast was clearly a good move. I’d go so far as to say that it’s my favourite of the series to date.

Kudos also to The Rock for adding a breath of fresh air to proceedings, even if he spends most of the film in various warehouses looking shiny and moaning at people. He also looks stupidly big, in fact he’s not far off from looking like his WWE All Stars video game caricature. To me, anyway. After comparing the two, I’m not actually sure that stands up.

RockWWEAllStars

Having a character like this has helped the franchise immensely, even if it might alienate the fans who are only in it for the modding/street racing aspect (and for those people, I suggest you find and play Street Racer on the Super Nintendo. It’s not relevant in any way but just saying “street racing” made me think of the game…).

All of the driving scenes served the plot for a change, and once again whilst the action scenes were completely ludicrous, they were all well shot (none of this shakey cam nonsense) and are just big, dumb fun. In fact the final 20 minutes or so of the film sees the team heist a safe and drag it, via two modified cars, driven by Toretto and O’Connor, and much mayhem and destruction ensues. Now, big daft car chases like this work well for me, whereas street racing just for cred and giggles doesn’t. It’s all the better for letting the scene breathe – I can imagine the script was only about 3 pages long for the entire sequence. On a serious note, I’d be surprised if it was much more than that, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter. It’s a fun, over the top chase and I loved every second of it.

There’s a time and a place for big dumb action movies, and Fast Five knows its audience well enough that it can throw everything into the mix and see most of it stick. The detritus that drips slowly to the floor is still good fun, and even if it doesn’t quite work you’re moving onto the next big action scene before you have time to think about it.

So whilst there isn’t a huge amount of characterisation to be seen (characters have dialogue and one liners but that’s pretty much the extent of it), having some semblance of story no matter how ridiculous marks this a step above the previous four films.

Favourite scene: The chase through the streets of Rio. A suitably epic/ludicrous finale.

Quote: “Aright listen up! The guys we’re after are professional runners. They like speed and are guaranteed to go down the hardest possible way so make sure you’ve got your thunderwear on. We find ’em we take ’em as a team and we bring ’em back. And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.”

Silly Moment: Escaping through the streets of Rio with a massive safe attached to the back of two cars.

Score: 3.5/5

Fast and Furious (2009)

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Fastandfurious2009Plot Summary: O’Connor and Toretto have to unite against their common enemy (the Judean People’s Front?!) by infiltrating a heroin dealer’s operation. I would say it’s not as simple as that, but it really is.

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

Director: Justin Lin

Key Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, John Ortiz.

Five Point Summary:

1. Heyyy the old team’s back!
2. Black cars. Wherefore art the colourful stuff?
3. Some nifty action set pieces.
4. Some tosh about a drug dealer.
5. Bad CGI. I mean, REALLY bad.

 

Analysis:

Things were ramped up a notch in this 4th entry in the series, as O’Connor and Toretto have to team up to once again drive cars dangerously and take down a drug lord whilst doing so. Nothing original about that story, I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s about as cliche as the series gets, but I can ignore that just because the action is so impressive. The opening 10-15 minutes of the film are expertly done, as Toretto and his team assault a petrol tanker. We’re then re-introduced to O’Connor who now works for the FBI. He’s still clearly a bit of a rebel, but thankfully he’s done away with that ridiculous bleached blonde hairstyle. Unfortunately Jordana Brewster looks more liable to drift off in a breeze, and strangely looks a bit like she’s going to start her own witches coven (I imagined her cackling whilst throwing spare engine parts into a cauldron). That puzzled me for a little while, but then something else blew up and all was well.

Michelle Rodriguez showed promise in the opening scene, but her presence is soon curtailed and isn’t even given the opportunity to die onscreen. Sorry – SPOILERS. But then you could argue that the writers were planning a few films ahead with that one, who knows. I think that might be gifting the screenwriters more credit than they possibly deserve.

The key difference I noticed was the lack of pretty cars. The whole colour palette was much more muted, lots of blacks and darker colours, which was more apparent in the climactic chase sequence – a far cry from the gaudy racers we’ve previously been accustomed to. Even Vin Diesel spends most of his time in a black tank top. It’s as if the production team said “we need to make it darker”, so that’s what they did. Not just the script though – EVERYTHING. It even reaches the point where you’re looking at Vin Diesel wondering if he’s Toretto or Riddick. This also caused me much consternation for a few minutes.

If there’s one area the film fails, and quite spectacularly so, it’s the CGI. Cartoonish, video game-esque quality is the story of the day. It’s quite disappointing to an extent as the previous films got that bit right, on the whole, but here it feels at odds with this darker look and feel that they seem to have wanted to do. The final scene through the tunnels between Mexico and the USA are breathtaking and laugh-inducing in equal measure.

Essentially a reboot for the franchise, Fast and Furious is to me a sign of things to come. Okay, the CGI is really bad and as soon as they jump back into the tunnels at the end it feels a lot like the mine cart levels in Donkey Kong Country, but the action set pieces are fantastic and act as a bridge to Fast Five, both in the action stakes and literally in terms of the story. After the extreme focus on the cars in previous outings, for a general movie goer as myself this was a step in the right direction.

Favourite scene: Squashing Fenix with a car. Awesome.

Quote: “Stasiak, go get yourself cleaned up. You’re bleeding on my floor.”

Silly Moment: Vin Diesel leaps from one moving car to another, then narrowly avoids being burnt to a crisp by a fireball. As you do.

Score: 2.5/5

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

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tokyodriftPlot Summary:  Sean Boswell is faced with prison or moving to Tokyo (it’s in Japan, you know) to live with his father. Naturally he goes to Tokyo where he’s drawn into the underground world of drift racing. Or something like that.

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

Director: Justin Lin

Key Cast: Lucas Black, Bow Wow (seriously?), Sung Kang, Nathalie Kelley.

Five Point Summary:

1. Japanese culture (duh).
2. Lovely shiny cars
3. Another completely superfluous love story.
4. Driiiiiiiftiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!
5. Sonny Chiba classing the place up


Analysis
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Until this week, this was the only Fast and Furious film I’d seen. Yeah I know – random, right? Let me explain. I am a former subscriber to the Lovefilm rental service, and despite having all (four films, at that time) on my viewing list, they decided to send me the third one first. Go figure. So having little choice in the matter I watched this, returned the disc, then received something completely different next time round. I never did receive any of the other Fast and Furious films, and not being a massive fan of cars I didn’t get round to seeing the rest. Until now, of course.

On my first viewing all that time back, in the long dark recesses of 2009, I wasn’t overly enamoured with the story, and that feeling has remained. It’s passable, and certainly better than the old Fast and Furious method of “how can we get the characters to drive somewhere and make it fit it into the paper thin story somehow?” But to me it was a glossy reprint of the storyline from the first two films, only transferred to the gorgeous looking streets of Tokyo and handed to a younger (and mostly foreign) cast. The key twist here as well is that the focus is on drift racing rather than the usual 10 second race stuff. The stunts, as a result, look fantastic. I can fully appreciate the skill required to drive like an absolute NUTTER and yet still maintain control of the vehicle. Apart from the obligatory sections where Sean can’t drift and he hits pretty much everything, all of the driving sequences with cars slipping and sliding all over the place are a joy to watch. Additional bonus: not CGI. Practical effects for the win!

In an effort to give some of the characters a bit more than the standard 2D cardboard cut-out fare, Bow Wow (I’m never going to use his character name) is a purloiner of  half-inched (pinched) technology and similar gubbins, which is usually broken or damaged in some way. He’s beaten up by one of the Japanese guys (sorry I couldn’t tell you who, they all look the same… SHOCK HORROR -RACISM! I jest, I know who the actor is. It was… oh, erm… anyway, moving on.)

One more thing I love about the film is the cinematography. Stephen F Windon, I doff my proverbial cap to you, sir. This is the same guy who did the cinematography on Deep Blue Sea and Anacondas. Somehow I think he should focus more on lighting cars than actors reacting to CGI creatures in future. As he’s also done the same job on every “Fast” film to date, then I would say we’re in good hands. The cars look fantastic, enhanced by the Tokyo setting. In fact I would say that applies to any film that shows Japan at night, the Resident Evil film series included (but that’s for another review). Justin Lin brings a real sense of class to proceedings and pushes this a step above the first two films in every sense. Except for the script, unfortunately he couldn’t do much about that.

So… it’s more of the same, yet slightly different. Cinematography and a director who actually has a clue what he’s doing will only get you so far.

Favourite scene: Anything scene where Sonny Chiba turns up. Cinema gold.

Quote: “My mother, she’s blind in one eye and she can drift better than that.”

Silly Moment: Bow Wow slips into the lift alongside a group of ladies, then breaks the fourth wall and winks knowingly at the camera.

Score: 2.5/5

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

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2 Fast 2 FuriousPlot Summary:  The authorities catch up with Paul Walker and he’s given a choice of either going to jail or helping the police take down a drug lord. So far so mundane.

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

Director: John Singleton

Key Cast: Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Eva Mendez,


Five Point Summary:

1. Cars! And Cars! And more cars! Oh my!
2. Glorious Miami sunshine
3. Wisecracks and a knowing sense of silliness.
4. Paul Walker’s lovely yet off-putting bleached blonde hair.
5. An actual story!

 

Analysis:

My quest to watch the first 5 Fast and Furious movies in one weekend (or one weekend and the Monday night) continues with 2 Fast 2 Furious. This second entry felt more rounded in terms of story, but suffered from only focusing on Paul Walker rather than the ensemble of the original. With that in mind, however, it’s also great fun just for being so ridiculously silly. Walker’s O’Connor is finally caught by the police and is given a choice: to go to prison for his crimes or to go undercover again and help them take down a criminal overlord who, somewhat amazingly, needs skilled drivers to pull off a caper. I get the impression that all of the ‘Fast’ films are set in an alternate universe where drivers and/or driving in general are more important than hired help, gun fights or any other of the standard criminal underworld tropes. For that I suppose the series should be commended. Yeah okay there are guns, but they’re always secondary to the “get to this location before the other guys” that permeates the series. On that note, surely doing a basic CRB check on random guys who you’ve never met before would make sense before letting them come work for you. Too obvious? Hmm.

The CGI was more noticeable to me this second spin around the streets, but the cars themselves look amazeballs, so I think the standard ‘Fast’ fan will be more interested in that rather than how artificial the background looks. There’s the obligatory glut of street races and daft twists to said races, but we’ve got a proper story this time round, even if it is a complete throwback to the action movies of the 80s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I might add. My one gripe is the conceit that O’Connor will only drive if one of his old friends is his partner for the job. Surely the police in the real world would balk at the idea? This again supports my theory that drivers are the only thing that matters in the ‘Fast’ universe.

I honestly can’t rate the movie any lower or higher than the first – it had its good and bad points both in comparison to the first film and when considered as a standalone movie. You don’t need to have seen the first in order to understand what’s going on, much more of O’Connor’s history is covered in this entry. And what’s going on with his hair? I know he’s supposed to be operating outside of the law and everything, but did he really need to pander to the fashions of 2003 and bleach his hair, looking about 17 years old in the process? Yes, is apparently the answer. There’s a great scene with what seems like hundreds of cars emerging from a garage in an effort to distract the swooping police, and it’s stuff like this that make the film worth seeing. Simple idea, yet effective.

The villain, ably played by Cole Hauser, is about as cardboard cutout as they get, but he has a subtle air of menace to him that creates a decent sense of threat (as it happens, he also shows up later in Die Hard 5 and Olympus Has Fallen. I’m sensing a pattern). There was a slight problem in that I kept confusing him with one of the henchman, so I was never sure if it was the Big Bad doing the dirty work or if it was only the henchman. I’m pretty sure if I watched this again I would still confuse the two.

And finally – Eva Mendes. I suppose she’s in the mix to represent a “strong female character (TM)”, however she doesn’t get to do much apart from skulk around in the background being an undercover spy and acting, naturally, as a former/current love interest for Paul Walker. Before you can say “cliche!” she’s solidly in damsel in distress mode. Yawn.

Favourite scene: Attacking a boat with a car. And winning.

Quote: “Whoa, fellas, fellas. I know my tags are outta date, but damn.”

Silly Moment: Exactly the same as my favourite scene – with seemingly no other options available to them, and the life of Monica Fuentes in the balance, O’Connor does the only sensible thing – he drives his car up a ramp, at top speed, and lands smack bang on top of the moving boat. Incredibly silly but it’s fun at the same time. It might even be one of the inspirations for John McClane taking out a helicopter in a similar fashion in Die Hard 4.0.

Score: 2.5/5

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

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The Fast and The FuriousPlot Summary:  Paul Walker is an undercover cop tasked with taking down Vin Diesel, but he falls for Jordana Brewster and starts to question his loyalties.

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

Director: Rob Cohen

Key Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster.


Five Point Summary:

1. Cars! Ooh, pretty.
2. Michelle Rodriguez scowling.
3. NOS-related shenanigans (also known in wider circles as cheating).
4. Obligatory bit with cops arguing.
5. Vin Diesel’s bald pate.

 

Analysis:

Despite watching a ridiculous amount of films each year, with the exception of Tokyo Drift (more on that in a forthcoming review), I’ve never seen any of the Fast and Furious movies. My initial reasons for that were mostly due to my general disregard for car culture and my lack of interest in driving in general. Whilst I still don’t have any real affinity for all of that, I can appreciate the films for what they are. As action thrillers go, this was neither particularly action-led nor much of a thriller. The stars here are the vehicles (sorry, Vin), and as a result the story and most of the cast don’t get much of a look in. The only characters who are anything approaching three dimensional are Vin Diesel’s Toretto and Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor, and I think that’s only because the majority of the movie hinges on those two characters. Everyone else, even supposed love interest Jordana Brewster, has very little to do.

It might look like I’ve given this film a low score, but given the “out of 5” rating system I use (thanks for that, Flixster), to rate it any higher would put it alongside films like Jack The Giant Slayer (yep, it’s better than this) or Oz The Great and Powerful. It’s more in line with something like Bullet To The Head or A Good Day To Die Hard – serviceable but nothing special. With that said, it looks nice, the cars look and sound great, and the plot does enough to justify sitting through the entire film. Direction is crisp, but the soundtrack suffers from classic early noughties action movie fatigue, with half the soundtrack taken up by generic “modern” rock/metal tracks. They work relatively well, all things considered, but it’s a bit of a cliche of the genre with 10 years of hindsight. I rather liked the race sequences and that bit where the car blows up in a NOS-related kaboom. With a few tweaks to the script (or maybe even the performances?) I might have cared a bit more about what was going on, but in my eyes at least it’s mostly forgettable. That’s the problem when you watch a film about cars and don’t really have an opinion on them…

It’s not a film I’ll be in any rush to own, and many others have done this story before and in a much better way, but it’s a typically brainless kind-of action film and it’s worth seeing at least once. More so if you’re a fan of the ol’ brum-brums.

Favourite scene: The final truck chase/assault. It didn’t overstay its welcome and was nicely edited.

Quote: “I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.”

Silly Moment: Chinese chaps fire a ridiculous amount of bullets at Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Chad Lindberg. They only manage to hit the latter (seemingly with one bullet), with the rest of their bullets impotently hitting the grass, shrubs and the car that Chad Lindberg was supposed to give them at the end of an earlier race. Also… did Chad Lindberg’s character die? I don’t think that was established. Meh.

Score: 2.5.5