Like the characters in the franchise, director Justin Lin reassembles his trustworthy team of writers Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson to pen another episode of the adrenaline-pumping, big-action smashing and testosterone-dripping Fast & Furious mayhem that throws reality and caution to the wind in Version 6. Rio’s favelas played host last time in 2011 and got royally destroyed.
This time it’s London’s city skyline and tourist spots’ turn in 2013, completely farcical for supposed high-speed car chases, considering the usual gridlock on the capital’s roads, whatever the hour and especially around Piccadilly Circus, but utterly enthralling once you’ve suspended total disbelief. Maybe it’s the arresting sight of the ever-increasing muscle mass of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who reappears as beefcake lawman Luke Hobbs, or Vin Diesel’s ever-loyal, brooding and likeable Dominic Toretto’s vow to find out the truth behind lover Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) death that helps dispel what is in fact ‘nonsense’ if contemplated about too much. It’s definitely all of the above, plus a heady combination of sexuality, violence and petrol fumes, as well as the promise of more jaw-dropping, tight scrapes the cars/drivers take – oh, and a passing tank.
Now retired on their multi-million-dollar loot from the Rio heist, Toretto and Brian O’Conner (an older, wearier-looking Paul Walker) decide family is too important to continue in their risky line of speedy business, especially as there is a new edition to the extended Toretto rabble. Something big would have to entice the exiled criminals out of their Spanish bolthole. Hobbs pays Toretto a visit, showing him a photo of a ghost who has been resurrected, his ex, Letty, supposedly working for another motor-racing criminal gang headed by ex-military man Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Hobbs asks Toretto for help in bringing down Shaw’s crew before they get hold of a multi-billion-dollar military asset. The prize is the promise of full pardons and rescuing Letty, hence reuniting the car-crazed family.
Bigger, bolder and more gravity defying than ever, Lin pushes the speedometer round further in this, with some astounding set pieces, including Spider-Man-style action leaps that hold no boundaries in thrill value. Daft as the script may sound in places – though it does perfectly compliment the walking, dunderhead bulk of Hobbs and Toretto in some of their deadpan exchanges with highly amusing results, Version 6 also offers up some exhilarating London shots and concrete-exploding decimation, plus memorable girl-on-girl action that would make any Tube commuter dive for the nearest tunnel/platform exit.
Diesel, Johnson and Walker aside – the latter of whom seems to blend into paler significance against the other two this time, and can only just rely on his baby blues to stand out among a charismatic bunch of characters, including the entertaining childish bickering from Tyrese Gibson as Roman and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as Tej (“can you smell baby oil?”), it’s really the girls that finally pack the biggest punch. Kickboxing Gina Carano who made her impressive mark in 2011’s Haywire is copper Riley who thumps, kicks and pounds Rodriguez ‘s snarling Letty into touch, like some female re-run of the old Toretto-O’Conner rivalry. If their supple physiques are not enough to whet the appetite, the bevy of Gal Gadot as Gisele, Jordana Brewster as Mia, Elsa Pataky as Elena and Clara Paget as bad girl Vegh should satisfy no end as the girls take no prisoners on their own steam, while handling a steering wheel better than their male counterparts at times. Girl power oozes from every pore and is as infectious as Diesel and Johnson finishing off each man-mountain obstacle placed in their path. There’s even a hot-pant appearance from songstress Rita Ora below the arches of Admiralty Arch to enjoy.
Evans as Shaw makes for a far more believable and level headed despot in this too, away from the usual larger-than-life rogue, where high-tech technology and mind games certainly rule. This easily digestible Brit-born baddie nicely sets up the next for the forthcoming sequel, with help from Sung Kang as Han recklessly blazing around Tokyo, in a post-credit thrill not to be missed that possibly got the biggest applaud on the night.
That said fans of the franchise have a whole number of vehicles at their disposal to cheer at throughout, including ‘batmobile’ styled kit cars, a thundering tank and a climatic finale involving a large cargo plane and what seems like the world’s longest runway, as adversaries square up to each other in the hold. There is never a dull moment, even though Lin, similarly to that of The Transformer’s Michael Bay, may be guilty of employing too much colourful, whirling balls of CGI metal at times to recreate high-speed carnage. Also, there is the tedious dialogue of English gentrification that even defies the stereotype that the writers seem to believe is funny, including a supposed gag involving a runt of a toffee-nosed car salesman, Hobbs and Tej that could be a lot funnier but falls flat.
Fast & Furious 6 turns the franchise up another notch, injects more nitrate and lets rip, but lovingly, never ventures far from its familiar bonds that hold its assortment of mongrel characters together. As action films go, it races to the top of its league as events get more and more ridiculous and outrageous, but altogether, more satisfying. As newly installed director James Wan takes over the helm for Fast & Furious 7, he certainly his work cut out to top what Lin has accomplished with this one.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie