The action genre in film has been butchered lately; with quick editing making fight scenes as incomprehensible as a two-year old’s drawing of the Mona Lisa, and directors like Michael Bay who pack the screen full of soulless carnage that bombard our senses. To guess that an aging, almost forgettable franchise like The Fast and the Furious would make things right again for audiences craving pure unadulterated action; sounds irrational, especially for a fifth movie in a series.
But surprises are what audiences are always looking for during the soon-to-be crowded summer blockbuster lineup. Vin Diesel and company are back in fine form, stripping away the previous films clunky dramatic elements and car racing set pieces, to create a full-fledged heist film with action sequences that are sure to raise the testosterone level of anyone watching. Fast Five kicks off the season with a bang that audiences aren’t expecting from the series, and it’s already 2011′s most exciting picture.
The film takes place immediately after how its predecessor ended, with Dominic Toretto on a prison bus to the jail where he awaits a life sentence. Without any hesitation or set-up, he is sprung loose with the help of his sister Mia and former cop now turned vigilante, Brian O’Connor. The three become fugitives and retreat to Brazil where they lick their wounds and prepare for upcoming jobs for income. It’s in Rio where they meet Vince, Dom’s paranoid partner from the original film, who’s effective as an informant from the past who has carried over his concerns and quarrels concerning Brian and the way things turned out for the old gang of simple car thieves which they were part of.
Vince arranges a deal that goes bad and has Brian and Dom going head to head with Rio’s big drug kingpin, who wants them dead for botching a spectacular robbery aboard a speeding train in the desert. This leads to a thinly developed plot that reunites past favorites from the series to assist the heroes in a daring Ocean’s 11 style. The plan is to steal over 100 million dollars from the drug lord who has safely protected it in the corrupt police building where he has security cameras purely focused on the safe containing his fortune.
The Fast and the Furious series has been off the wall, and aside from two spin-offs, a jumbled mess that has been misdirected in direction and style. Fast Five manages to reboot the franchise, dropping anything related to its former models and starting from scratch. It’s a nimble action movie that focuses on making the audience happy and engaged as priority number one. The cast has developed into their own to, without any character depth expanding them beyond the simple sentences that they pronounce with ease.
Paul Walker has down-played his pretty boy image to create someone who does his unbelievable actions for the protection of his girlfriend, and Dom has turned into a XXX action star; taking down opponents with no apparent difficulty. They work with the script instead of making it about them, the same goes for the secondary cast. Ludacris and Tyrese return as comic relief, but give the middle half of the movie a much needed jolt of enthusiasm.
Each character has their individual moment among such a big roster of faces who could single handedly star in their own film. The may not be the most gifted actors but they bounce off one another effectively and work as a whole, making the aspect of a team even more prevalent. If your expecting Oscar worthy dialogue, you’ve come to the wrong place, but if you want cheesy one-liners that hit the mark like a bullseye, than sit back and enjoy the show.
Without a doubt though, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson rises to the occasion, playing a fed tracked to arrest the fugitive team. He seems old fashioned in method, using a squad of brawn and bullets to get the job down, even throwing paperwork to the ground when it gets in the way of the investigation. The difference is in his appearance, physically molded out of fire and brimstone, Johnson is more intimidating than Diesel and the fist fight they have during the middle act of the film is worth the hype. With clean shots, allowing the actors to pummel one another in sweaty blood-soaked detail, making the sequence more personal and in your face.
Justin Lin has directed the last two films in the series and he has finally understood how to direct action scenes with focus, using the storyboard instead of imaginative CGI festivals of mayhem thats only interest is delivering an overload on the audience’s senses. He finds a rythm with each set-piece; from the quick establishing opening sequence to the early on-foot chase in Rio’s favelas, Lin doesn’t run out of exhaust.
The well-shot action during the train heist is truly heart pounding, setting a tone for how frantic and engaging the film will be before the half-hour mark. Lin really outdoes himself and any other action picture in recent memory when he reaches the film’s climax, involving O’Connor and Torreto pulling a bank vault through the crowded streets of Rio, battling police cars and control of the road with the precision of jet pilots. It’s fascinating how entertained you’ll be while watching it all unfold, Fast Five manages to find new ways to excite you on every turn and it leads to an ending that leaves you yearning for more.
The best action films don’t take themselves too seriously, and rise to the level they thrive for. Justin Lin has no limit for silliness and fun, but finds a perfect balance for satisfaction, allowing the audience to let go of any investment and go along for the ride. Say what you want about the franchise to date, Fast Five sets a new standard for action films and the series itself. It has enough fuel and creative potential for countless new sequels, especially after the closing credits where another welcome face makes an appearance, suggesting more of the existing story to continue.
The screenwriting and stunt work team do an excellent job of combining efforts to aim for a thrilling experience, and nailing it perfectly. Fast Five is not brilliant, but it never strives for storytelling excellence. It relies on the characters interaction with one another and action scenes that push the envelope in terms of destruction and uncompromising technical craft. It’s the rare film that succeeds because everything it works for is achieved with such a high class of fun, where other films of its genre fail repeatedly. Bring on the sequels!