“And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.”
When street racing doesn’t pay the bills anymore, it is time to find another lane that will. Fast Five begins right where Fast & Furious left off, when Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) lead an attack on a bus transporting friend and brother Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to Lompac federal prison. The successful breakout and those who staged it make national headlines.
The three are forced to flee out of the states and to Rio de Janeiro, where they run into corrupt businessman Herman Reyes, who isn’t the guy to cross. But, their options are limited, pushing Dom and Brian to an idea: To get their freedom, they must steal from the man who runs Rio. It isn’t going to be easy, and it will require the help of past friends Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang) and others, but if successful the crew will net $100 million. Dealing with Reyes and his mercenaries is serious business as is, but throw in relentless special forces agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the job is, in Roman’s words: “Mission infreaking sanity.”
It isn’t everyday that a franchise gets to five movies. Even rarer is a franchise reinventing itself in a fifth movie. Fast & Furious 2009 in retrospect got the ball rolling with the evolution to the series, but Fast Five takes the ball and runs with it, blazing a new, wildly fun path for the series. Though it is a new path aimed to reach out to a wider population and a fairly doable jumping point for newbies, it is hard to see many people despising 1-4 and immensely enjoying this, but is is certainly possible.
The shift to a broad action flick with cars in the rear-view as opposed to cars being at the forefront is a sound, efficient change, but there are one or two moments where fans of the earlier films may miss the traditional race scenes. One moment in particular has a perfect build towards one that occurs, but all that is seen is the aftermath of it. If the story shift wasn’t believed before, it is here where F5 cements it.
However, it is only a small downer though, because the street racing story focus had a limited ceiling, especially in 2011 (or now) compared to the start of the franchise in 2001 when street racing was still very popular. Those earlier movies may still have been filled with mayhem, but they always felt restrained, restricted to only one gear. Not so here. Director Justin Lin fully embraces the departure from the norm, removing the shackles from the car culture focus and in the process creating over-the-top and physics-defying action set-pieces. They are also loaded with fun and extremely hard not to enjoy, shot with great precision and clarity, and Rio makes for a new, unfamiliar playground to feature the craziness. Look past the impossibilities, and it is hard to find flaws from an action perspective in Fast Five.
At least script-wise, F5 shares more in common with the Ocean’s movies than it does with its franchise brethren. With that similarity, there is a feeling of “been here, done that,” but for every film save for possibly the first, the story found here is all and all pretty good, even if some aspects of it aren’t bought into easily (for fugitives, these guys sure do get a lot of time and resources to hone their plan). The more “emotional” sections may do nothing for people unfamiliar or long uninterested to the F&F universe, but for those who have had enjoyment with it more times than not, these occurrences do work, if only for the simple fact that five movies does lend a level of connection to these characters.
In addition, just seeing many of the key players from previous entries come together to assemble and banter is like a poor movie’s The Avengers. These interactions are cool and amusing, but they can feel stretched out in spots, which is a reflection of the movie’s runtime. 130 minutes could and probably should be no more than 110.
For all of the things F5 does better than the rest, for yours truly there is one thing that it finally gets right: the villain(s), or a more fitting description, the opposition. And, it isn’t as obvious as believed. There is a traditional villain, and he isn’t really all that great, but contrasted with others from earlier films, he does grab attention. But he pales in comparison to the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as dogged Luke Hobbs. Johnson steals scenes and ups the ante anytime he appears, and gives Dom, Brian and the crew a formidable and intimidating foe for the first time. To the main characters he may be the bad guy, but Hobbs fighting on the right side of the law actually makes the crew, namely Dom & Brian, villains and opposition in their own right. This dynamic, not mind-blowing in the least, does give a extra layer of intrigue to the events.
Enough has been said about Dwayne serving as a newfound rock to this series, but the old hands are still as consistent and effective as before. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel will forever be Brian and Dom, their characters being a great combination of chemistry and healthy rivalry mixed with respect. The supporting characters of Roman Pierce, Tej, Han, Gisele, and others fit nicely throughout, whereas before many were stretched in the movies they appeared in. Jordana Brewster’s role is scaled back but still pretty important. No one is going to blow viewers away with their performances, but for what they are all asked to do little complaints can be had.
At this point, Fast Five will likely not be the epiphany to change those who cared little or nothing at all for the franchise. For those that have been having fun riding with Dom and Brian for a while now, this still has trademark NOS running through its vehicle, it is just not the singular thing anymore.
Photo credits go to fanpop.com, pixarplanet.com, and fastfive.co.uk
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