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Fast & Furious 6: the VaRaces verdict

  • Created on Sunday, 02 June 2013 23:39
  • Written by Martin Bigg

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Warning: the road ahead contains spoilers

Going into Fast & Furious 6 must have been daunting for director Justin Lin. After all, how do you top the spectacle of the destructive, physics-defying bank vault towing chase that concluded Fast Five? Answer: add a custom-built vehicle capable of flipping cars, a car crushing tank and a fiery finale featuring a fleet of cars bringing down a cargo plane.

Indeed, Fast Six cranks up the carnage to all new levels, and while the action somehow manages to be even more absurd than ever before, it’s certainly a statement of intent on Lin’s part.

This is a series that has strayed far from its roots, from a tale centred on the seedy underground street racing scene to the bombastic auto-action fest it is today. It’s a transformation that seems to be boding well with audiences, however. Many thought the series was close to being written-off following the lacklustre Box Office performances of 2Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, but Lin successfully managed to reinvigorate the series with the reintroduction of Vin Diesel and a more action-orientated focus, which took it down a new road to success.

Fast Five’s gargantuan success was highly unprecedented garnering over $625 million worldwide, and Fast Six looks as if it will be another success story for Universal. It’s already broken new records for the franchise, taking £9 million in its opening weekend in the UK alone. Clearly, this is a series that shows no signs of slowing down – how often can you say that about a film that has reached its sixth instalment?

And yet Fast Six is arguably the most cohesive entry in the series to date, with a plot that manages to tie up all the loose ends of several character threads – even if all the fluff is really a distraction to pad out the relentless pace between the action sequences.  

Fast & Furious 6 picks up immediately after the events of Fast Five, with the crew of crooks laying low in various corners of the globe living it large after gaining their fortunes from the Rio heist. Of course, this doesn’t last and they’re soon reunited to take on another job, this time to thwart the plans of criminal Owen Shaw, a former spec ops soldier wanted by Dwayne Johnson’s hunky FBI agent Hobbs. With the promise of freedom, Hobbs recruits the team to utilise their skills behind the wheel to take down Shaw.

This leads to the revelation that Dom’s former flame Letty actually didn’t perish in Fast & Furious, and is in fact working as Shaw’s leading lady. The problem, though, is there are too many characters to follow at this stage.

Fast Six repeatedly tries to enforce the idea that the team is a close-knit family, but the characters are all so two dimensional it’s difficult to really care about them, and attempts to inject emotion between Dom and Letty and comic relief banter between the team largely fall flat. I appreciate that the writers are at least trying to add some depth to the characters, and Fast Six does a serviceable job of knitting together all previous instalments of the franchise into the overblown saga it’s become, but it feels a tad too forced and pretentious – it may now be a six part saga (with yet more on the way), but this isn’t Star Wars.

Of course, the real reason why we all enjoy these films is that they are simple popcorn guilty pleasures, and the dumb dialogue that perpetuates the filler scenes will have you craving for the next action sequence to hurry along. Fortunately, Fast Six doesn’t disappoint in this regard.  

Fast Six opens Quantum of Solace-style, with a short but sweet friendly duel between Dom and Brian down a mountain pass. As ever, the cars casted for the pair perfectly represent their alter egos – Brian sticks with a Skyline, in this case its modern-day GTR equivalent, whereas Dom’s penchant for US muscle dictates that he once again drives a Dodge, with the Challenger SRT-8 seen at the end of Fast Five replacing his traditional 1970 Charger.  

This opening scene was merely a warm up lap, however, and before long we’re treated to a montage containing snippets from every instalment (with the exception of Tokyo Drift) of the franchise telling the story so far.

Whereas Fast Five crammed the majority of its destruction (and presumably its budget) into the extended final sequence in which two Chargers caused untold damage to the city of Rio de Janeiro, Fast Six applies this level of ambition and destructive magnitude to each of its automotive action set-pieces throughout the film.

This is most evident in the film’s first extended action sequence set in London (or at least that’s what they would have you believe – it was actually filmed in Glasgow), which serves as an introduction to Shaw’s ferocious Flip Car.

The custom-built machine was principally designed for one purpose: causing carnage. Indeed, the clue is in its name as its angled nose effortlessly sends cars that dare to cross its path flipping into the air, making for some spectacular stunts.

It has immense racing pedigree, too, modelled after a formula one car with a similarly savage, whining engine when it whizzes past. Shaw is said to be a former motorsport champion, and his craftsmanship is a reflection of that.

In essence, the Flip Car is a souped up version of the Slicer seen in Gone in 60 Seconds 2, which was sadly never released due to Halicki’s untimely fatality. It’s a shame this fact will probably go unnoticed by the majority of people that watch Fast Six, but at least we can safely say that Halicki did it first. Dig out the DVD release of the unfinished Gone in 60 Seconds 2 if you need proof.

The Flip Car was made into a real working car on set, too, sporting a 500bhp engine and rear wheel steering, allowing the stunt team to carry out the stunts using the Flip Car as a moving ramp just as you see in the film.

Following a botched police stakeout, the gang chase after Shaw’s Flip Car and his female accomplice who flees in a Range Rover. This being set in England, the police are rather unevenly matched in their Astra Bobbys, which get trashed as soon as they attempt to apprehend Shaw. Multiple cars get sent soaring through the air as soon as they come into contact with the Flip Car, resulting in some spectacular high speed rollovers and police pile-ups. It’s wonderful to watch, but the action is sadly cut too quickly to fully appreciate the delicious devastation.    

With the police now taken care of, it becomes clear that Dom and co underestimated the threat they are up against, which becomes apparent as Shaw takes them out one by one by sabotaging their car computer mechanics using attaching chips.

Sadly, this means a bevy of beautiful BMW M5s meet their makers. Sixteen BMs were reportedly used during shooting - the majority were totalled.

One ends up demolishing a row of parked cars Crank-style, another is sent tumbling through a conveniently disused car showroom and the remaining BM is sent flipping onto its roof during a final showdown with the Flip Car in a tunnel. Thankfully, at least one is spared as Dom becomes distracted by the appearance of Letty, who subsequently shoots him on sight. I’m ashamed to openly admit that I let out a cheer during this scene as the indestructible Diesel was left whimpering from his gunshot wound.

All-in-all, a slickly-executed chase showing that Lin hasn’t lost his appetite for destruction. It could have easily been the climactic action scene of another film, and yet it appears less than a third of the way through Fast Six.  

Of course, being a Fast and Furious film there had to be an obligatory racing scene somewhere.  And sure enough, Fast Six retains the tradition with a night time street race set in the heart of London, complete with a curious cameo from Rika Ora. It marks the first time Dom’s newly-acquired Dodge Charger Daytona gets a workout against Letty in the Jensen Interceptor seen in the previous chase.

It’s an all-too-brief sequence, though, that doesn’t reach the same heights as the memorable races seen in previous Fast & Furious films, instead serving as a plot device to allow Dom to interrogate, and ultimately win back, Letty.

There’s still a few instances of daring driving on display, however, as the two cars weave through traffic, drift around corners and perform gratuitous reverse 180s, but it ends before it really begun. In a nice nod to Fast Five, we also see another shot of the chase from a child’s perspective on a bus – this was in fact Justin Lin’s son in Fast Five, so we can only presume the tyke was given another cameo in Fast Six.  

It also feels like an elaborate tour of London’s landmarks, with numerous panning shots highlighting the nation’s capital – a notable rarity given that Fast Six is one out of just three films that were permitted to film in Piccadilly Circus. Indeed, I’ve always felt that car chases set in the UK are all-too rare, but they suddenly seem to be on the increase. Last year’s film adaptation of The Sweneey was set in London and featured a chase filmed in collaboration with Top Gear, and Red 2 due out this Summer looks to feature some Britain-based car action.

From here, the film picks up the pace and it’s not long before we’re treated to the standout sequence when Shaw steals a tank and proceeds to go on a rampage on a Spanish highway.

Here we get to see the gang’s star cars in action together for the first time. Dom reuses his Charger Daytona (actually a custom-made replica – a real Daytona would have been too expensive, not to mention unsuitable for stuntwork), alongside Brian’s legendary rally-spec Ford Escort RS1600 MKII (five UK models were bought and rebuilt for the film) and Roman’s Ford Mustang Boss 500.

CGI was considered for the scene in which the tank crushes civilian cars, but Lin wisely overruled in order to make the stunts seem as authentic as possible. Over 100 cars were reportedly used, and the scene is brutal when you stop to think how many civilian casualties would have been left in its wake. Granted, we’ve seen civilian crashes in the series numerous times before, but there’s no doubting there would have been fatalities. In order to not appear too morbid, we do at least get to see some civilians abandon their cars just before they get crushed, though.

To try and stop the ensuing carnage, Roman darts in front to protect others, only to become stuck to the front of the tank. Cue the heroic Brian Connor who performs a preposterous jump across the highway to come to his aid. This stunt didn’t go too well first time round, as the flying Ford landed on its nose and cartwheeled down the highway, writing it off instantly. The second take was more successful and was used in the final shot, but the hard landing severely bent the chassis. Meanwhile, the poor Mustang inevitably gets pancaked by the tank just as Roman makes a death-defying leap onto the moving Escort. All in the order of the day.  

And if you thought that was OTT, nothing compares to the finale in what can only be described as Fast & Furious meets Superman. With the Mustang now being towed by the tank and acting as an anchor wedged between the bridge, the tank suddenly flips over, catapulting a hapless Letty who was trying to detach the Mustang. Meanwhile, Superman Dom ejects himself out of the Daytona, catching Letty just in the nick of time before landing on a conveniently parked car without a scratch. All that was missing was a superhero cape.  

But just as I had taken my palm away from my face in disbelief, we reach the final extended action scene which takes place on the world’s longest runway. With the villains making a quick getaway on a cargo plane, the team assembles an ambush in a fleet of contemporary Dodge Chargers before boarding the plane to engage in fisticuffs.

Indeed, the majority of the scene focuses on the ensuing punch-ups aboard the plane, although a few crashes occur in the midst of the brawling including a rolling Range Rover and the return of the Flip Car which sends an Alfa Giulietta skyward. Defying the laws of physics, each car becomes attached to the plane via impossibly strong grappling hooks in order to tether it down, before sending it crash landing and erupting into a massive fireball as it tries to take-off. Yeah, you have to suspend your disbelief just a tad, in case you were wondering.

But wait, Dom was still on board! Surely he won’t be able to make it? Oh wait, there he is casually ploughing through the engine just as it explodes, sending the car into a glorious high speed rollover. But this is the Man of Steele remember, so of course he survives completely unscathed.  

   

As spectacular and entertaining as the non-stop action is, moments like these are too far-fetched. Indeed, you get the feeling that Lin was perhaps trying too hard to outdo himself when directing the action sequences following the unprecedented success of Fast Five. Fast Five pushed the envelope of plausibility pretty far, but Fast Six completely shatters it. As a result, the spectacle of the stunts overshadow any possible substance gained from pure driving skill – a balance that Lin arguably achieved better in scenes such as the racing sequences found in Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious.

Lin therefore made the right decision to call it quits and end on a high when Fast 7 was inevitably announced. Saw director James Wan will take over, paving a potentially darker new road for the franchise to take.

A surprise post credit sets the scene for the sequel, revealing the new villain played by none other than Jason Statham. It also becomes abundantly clear why Tokyo Drift was omitted from the aforementioned film highlights reel.

We finally get confirmation that Tokyo Drift is set directly after the events of the last three films in the saga, which makes sense given that Han died in Tokyo Drift after being hit by a Mercedes. As the scene reveals, the fatal crash was no accident however – the Mercedes that smacks into Han was driven by Jason Statham’s character who turns out to be Shaw’s brother. Fast Seven will therefore revolve around him seeking revenge on Dom following the events of Fast Six, which hopefully indicates that Fast Seven will adopt a grittier, darker tone.  

So, to sum up Fast Six: audacious, spectacular and so, so silly. A sure-fire contender for this year’s best chase, then. But you knew that already, right? Whether Fast Six’s crash count tops A Good Day to Die Hard is another matter, however…

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