Following up on Monday’s post about the Fast and Furious films, I resume here with Furious 6 (2013). After pulling off the heist of Fast Five, the team has settled comfortably into wealthy retirement. Dom (Vin Diesel) has settled down with Elena (Elsa Pataky) while Mia and Brian (Jordana Brewster, Paul Walker) are raising their baby. Then Hobbs shows up with proof Letty is alive. Worse, she’s using her punching and driving skills for evil, working with international mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who’s stealing components of a Doomsday McGuffin to sell to the highest bidder. Needless to say, Hobbs had Dom at “Letty’s not dead.”
At this point the protagonists are about one step away from becoming a 1980s cartoon franchise — “Dominic and His Rebel Riders! Hunted by the law in every nation, they travel the highways of the world, helping those who cannot help themselves!” (Camestros Felapton tongue-in-cheek suggests they’re now mythological heroes). Or maybe a comic-book team: we have a former team member returning from the dead with amnesia, continuity touches (the crime boss from Fast and Furious works for Shaw) and an opposing team that’s their mirror image, the Crime Syndicate to their Justice League. The difference between the two sides is that Shaw sees his team as a machine — if one part proves defective, he replaces it without a qualm — where Dom’s team are family. Three guesses which approach works better.
Although Dom’s crew wins, Gisele (Gal Godot) dies in the course of taking down Shaw. Broken-hearted Han (Sung Kang) returns to Tokyo which allows the series to finally catch up with Tokyo Drift (as I mentioned in the previous post, the fourth, fifth and sixth moves have been retcons). The ending of Furious 6 reveals that Han’s fatal crash wasn’t an accident: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) smashed Han’s car as the first act of revenge for his brother: Dom destroyed Deckard’s family so he’s going to break Dom’s in return. Look out, Rebel Riders!
Deckard’s vow of vengeance seems over the top as the opening of Furious Seven (2015) shows Owen’s not dead, just badly knocked up and in hospital (Fate of the Furious has him back up and fighting so his injuries couldn’t have been as bad as they look). After Deckard checks on Owen, he tells the terrified hospital staff to take good care of his bro, then walks out. The camera shows us that to reach his brother, Shaw tore through the security detail guarding him, half-demolishing the hospital in the process. It’s effective for demonstrating he’s dangerous, but it also makes him an idiot. If he wants the hospital to keep his brother in good health, isn’t smashing up the building counter-productive?
Regardless, Shaw then targets Hobbs, proving tough enough to put him in the hospital too. Hobbs, however, is played by Duane Johnson, so he’s not down for long (when he’s needed for the climax, Hobbs buss his arm out of its cast just by flexing his muscles). Shaw then blows up Brian and Mia’s house, though they and the baby make it out okay. Still, it’s obvious that for the first time, Dom’s found family are in over their heads. Enter U.S. spook “Mr. Nobody” (Kurt Russell), who offers to help them nail Shaw if they lend him a hand.
It seems outlaw Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) has hacked in Godseye, a U.S. satellite that can access any security camera anywhere. Only Dom’s outlaw family has the skills to get control of Godseye back in federal hands where it will only be used for good (or so we’re supposed to assume). This leads to all-out action as the racers traverse the globe, drive out of skyscrapers, dodge Predator missiles on the streets of LA — oh, and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) goes mano-a-mano with Ronda Rousey as one of the bad guys.
Walker died during the shoot (though not from anything to do with the movie) and they make a big deal of bidding his character farewell (Brian and Mia are in retirement for the next film). Overall, though, this one is disappointing. Statham’s one-man army is nowhere near as formidable as his more cunning sibling. Yes, he’s good at hitting people and blowing shit up, but it doesn’t feel like the good guys should have needed Mr. Nobody’s help to stop him.
The Fate of the Furious (2017) is better, but not by much. Cipher (Charlize Theron), the world’s most dangerous hacker (retconned as the woman behind the curtain for the previous two films), forces Dom to work for her by capturing Elena — she stepped out of his life when Letty came back — and the infant son Dominic didn’t know he had. During the latest mission for Nobody, recovering an EMP generator, Dom goes rogue and steals the device. It’s Step One of Cipher’s plan to steal a Russian nuclear sub, launch a missile and thereby show the superpowers that someone outside the halls of government can hold them accountable.
To what end? Cipher doesn’t explain, and doesn’t seem at all the idealist type, even by the R’as al Ghul kill-half-the-world-to-save-it standard. Perhaps the hint of noble motive was to keep Dom from looking too bad for doing her dirty work? In any case, the rest of the clan realize that with Dom on Cipher’s side they’re overmatched (“Now we know what it feels like to be any cop who’s ever gone up against us.”) so Nobody and Hobbs recruit the Shaw brothers to help. Dom, despite Cipher having taken over Godseye, contrives to hide from surveillance and strike a deal with Ma Shaw, played by a scene-stealing Helen Mirren (“You have until I finish this cuppa — and I’m very thirsty.”).
The implication Dom’s crew routinely help out Mr. Nobody marks another shift in the series. Rather than outlaw antiheroes, they’re a black ops team who might as well be the Impossible Mission Force with cooler cars. Redeeming the Shaw brothers is a shift too, and not a convincing one. I could buy a forced alliance, even after the Shaws got two of Dom’s people killed, but reinventing them as lovable rogues is a stretch (I suppose it was necessary to spin off Hobbs and Shaw).
Cipher’s a decent villain in the computers-are-magic vein but too prone to the kind of pretentious philosophizing so many comic-book villains are into these days. The efforts to top the previous films are beginning to wear thin — street racers against a nuclear sub? — so perhaps it’s good there are only three more planned. Not that the mythos is dying: along with Hobbs and Shaw there’s another spinoff film in development and Netflix has a cartoon spinoff, Fast and Furious: Spy Racers. Like I said, this is an amazingly successful franchise, even if I’m not completely sold on it.