Fast Five may be the fifth entry in the The Fast and the Furious series that kicked into gear ten years ago (wow, has it been that long?) but shit, it might as well be the start of a new franchise because what director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan have done here is surprisingly remarkable. By shifting the focus of the series from the races to heists, they’ve somehow managed to make the series fresh and interesting again. It’s the heist aspect of the picture that makes this installment arguably the best in the franchise (although that’s not really saying much) and it’s a decision that could end up keeping the engine running (sorry, couldn’t help myself) on the franchise for another decade.
Now, as derided as the movies may be in some sectors of the movie-going world, what’s kept them relevant to the rest of the movie-going public and has made them such a goldmine for Universal is the unchanged formula: Fast cars, testosterone-laden heroes, exotic babes, even sexier locations, and most important of all – grade-school level yet universally accessible plotlines. For the most part, Fast Five doesn’t mess with the formula. We still get the fast cars, grease monkeys, gorgeous women and ridiculous action sequences.
But as I mentioned earlier, for the first time in the series, there’s actually a plot and the musclehead caricatures somehow resemble characters. Say it isn’t so? Still, this isn’t to say that Vin Diesel and Paul Walker have suddenly transformed into Marlon Brando and James Dean. Nope, they’re still the one-note lunk-heads we know them as. Likewise, the script by series regular Chris Morgan isn’t really anything special but at least it’s smarter than Michael Bay’s catatonic Transformers films. Sadly, there aren’t any cheese-fest instant-classic one-liners such as “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time” being dished.
Joining series regulars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster are Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris (both reprising their characters from the second film), Han Lue (making his third appearance in the series) and Gal Godot (reprising her role from the fourth film) as the crew the trio round-up to steal $100 million from a corrupt Brazilian millionaire (it’s always a corrupt Latino millionaire!). The film’s most significant cast addition though is action-heavyweight Dwayne Johnson as the tough as nails, no-bullshit, testosterone-laden federal agent Lucas Hobbs. Johnson, with his intimidating beard, form-fitting military gear and ultra-serious demeanor plays Hobbs like one of the super-soldiers from the Alien movies. It’s a great role for him and man, he nails it. It’s probably the best thing Johnson has done since the underrated The Rundown. Something tells me we’re going to see Hobbs again in the sixth installment (which is alluded to in the shocking – yes shocking – post-credits sequence).
And what about the action? Well, yea… I don’t want to be ringing the cliché-bell but insane would be an understatement here. This series has always been renowned for its fantastic racing sequences and Lin takes things a notch higher this time around with a couple of set-pieces that’ll have you scraping your jaw off the floor. The opening train robbery which includes a dazzling car dive off a cliff (showcased in the trailer) and a thrilling parkour-inspired foot chase in the slums of Rio are adrenaline-guzzlers as is the finale which is probably the most destructive non-science fiction sequence I’ve seen in an action movie. As for that man-on-man fight between Johnson and Diesel… Oh it’s just what every testosterone-laden hand-to-hand fight should be: Brutal, bloody and extremely homo-erotic! It’s so manly that I think I may have even switch sexes during that fight. It wouldn’t be the first.