Ten years and still going strong -- Fast Five cements the staying power of the Fast and the Furious series.
2009's Fast & Furious was the real sequel that The Fast and the Furious deserved, and Fast Five is an equally remarkable follow-up to that film, picking up from the final minutes of Fast & Furious and charging forward. This new entry has all the hallmarks that fans have come to expect from the series: great cars, terrific driving, beautiful women, and a definite adrenaline rush. Most importantly, although it's an action flick, it's one that's got character, putting it head and shoulders over the big, loud, mindless entries we've come to expect from the genre. I came for the ride, but I stayed for the characters, and Fast Five delivers in both categories.
If Fast & Furious was a family reunion, Fast Five is one of those huge get-togethers where you run into that cousin you only see once a year. It brings back characters from each of the previous four films, in addition to introducing several new ones. I was surprised to see that even with the enlarged cast, the film did well by almost all of them. The familiar faces are as we remember them, and we get to see some of them interact together for the first time, plus some memorable reunions (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Tyrese Gibson nearly steal the movie with their banter as Tej and Roman respectively). I felt like I was seeing old friends, and remembered within moments why I'd liked them to begin with.
The new characters don't fare as well. As expected, Dwayne Johnson is awesome as Hobbs, the federal agent tasked to rein in our heroes - though at moments he lays on the "tough guy" act just a little too thick. Elsa Pataky falls flat as Elena, his rookie sidekick. Her lack of energy comes through especially in heavy-handed romantic tension with Dom, as Vin Diesel dwarfs her in both size and personality. TV fans will see some familiar faces do well, though: Joaquim de Almeida (24) is the new villain Reyes, with Michael Irby (The Unit) as his chief henchman, and Alimi Ballard (Numbers) plays one of Hobbs' agents.
Even with the enlarged cast, the film still belongs to its two stars, Diesel and Paul Walker, and they're even better in their roles now than they were ten years ago, with the benefits of more experience and deeper chemistry that only time can bring. They're far better actors than they're given credit for, and this film shows how well they know these characters by now. There's no doubt in my mind that no one else could play the roles of Dominic Toretto and Brian O'Conner. Diesel has made Dom a near-mythic figure in the series, and not just because of his size and that voice -- he has a gravity that makes the audience see Dom with as much respect as everyone else does. He never loses the character in the midst of all the action. Brian's the character that's changed the most since we met him, and Walker shows us just how far he's come. Brian has definitely moved out of Dom's shadow and become an equal now if he hadn't before. Diesel and Walker together are a winning combination -- certainly one of my favorite team-ups. The final act belongs to them, just like it's their franchise to drive. The rest of us are just along for the ride.
And it's an awesome ride. Not once during the entire movie did I even think about checking my watch. There's plenty of high-speed action, shooting, fighting, and an inestimable amount of property damage, all of it beautifully shot by director Justin Lin. (It makes you wonder who has to clean up after all these things.) Cars are decimated. Things explode. People get their necks broken. All the action that you'd expect from a Fast and the Furious movie is here, and thankfully, it stops short of getting so big that it becomes a blur. The plot -- yes, there is a plot -- is easy to follow and doesn't get swallowed up by the hails of gunfire or a bunch of special effects. It's not quite as engaging as that of Fast & Furious, in large part because it lacks the emotional component that drove that script, but there's a real story here and not just random dialogue in between action clips. I love that there's a substance to this franchise which reminds us that an action-oriented film doesn't mean action-only.
The film isn't perfect, of course. There's a hint of that "bigger, faster, stronger" Hollywood mentality here, in bringing back characters from throughout the entire franchise and coming up with even larger setpieces, making me hope that should there be a Fast Six, the series will not try to outdo itself at the expense of just making a good movie. There's a big red flag in the form of a scene after the end credits which is cringe-inducing, relying on a concept best left in comic books and a cameo that made me wonder why on Earth someone thought we needed it. As good as the rest of the film is, that scene is that bad. (It induced groans and someone yelling "What is that?" at one of the showings I went to.)
Another downer is that for a franchise that started in street racing, there's less of it here than in any of the previous films. Part of what made The Fast and the Furious so unique was the street racing culture, and I don't want that to become an afterthought. For all the action, one of the most fun parts of the film for me was a certain quarter mile. But those things don't spoil a great flick.
Here's the greatest thing about this movie, and in turn, about this franchise: it gets the audience going. At both showings I've attended so far, there were laughs, cheers, applause and exclamations. This is a film people truly enjoyed, and that's what matters most. At least, I've no shame in saying I was one of those vocal fans cheering from my seat.
Fast Five is a worthy successor to Fast & Furious, as well as to The Fast and the Furious. It proves why fans have been loyal to this franchise for the last decade. I was waiting for this since the credits rolled on Fast & Furious, and this was worth every minute of the wait. By the time you read this, I'll already have seen it twice, and I expect I'll be seeing it again. Fast Five is a ride that got my own engine roaring -- one you should definitely take.