Directed by Justin Lin
One would think that after four movies, there’s not a lot you can do within the realm of street racers turned criminals so the wisest move may have to been to take the action down to South America, specifically Rio de Janeiro, as that offers a lot of opportunities for returning director Justin Lin to show off that city’s beautiful landscape. Even so, the franchise is no longer strictly about street racing as the action diversifies itself with a number of shootouts and some physical combat as well, but it’s all done in a way that’s enhanced by the setting, whether it’s a shootout in the favelas or races through the streets of Rio.
While it might not seem like brain surgery to put together enough of a story to keep the long-time fans of the series on board, the fifth installment offers more of everything, and it’s really quite a coup for Lin, who has improved greatly as a filmmaker since the previous installment. Some may even start calling him the “Asian Michael Bay” (in a good way) in the way he takes every action scene that one step further than needed, kicking things off right away with Dom’s escape from a prison bus, an impressive set piece that is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come.
In the previous installment, it felt like Vin Diesel and Paul Walker had returned just for paydays, and their acting just wasn’t up to snuff. Even in this installment, it’s hard to take Diesel too seriously as an actor because every line he says is uttered as if they’re the most important ones uttered by man. When Dwayne Johnson shows up, essentially in the Tommy Lee Jones role, that’s when things start to get fun, because the scenes between him and Diesel are so full of testosterone you’re likely to leave the movie with razor stubble, even if you’re a woman. Johnson’s character is just one aspect of trying to make the villains a bit less cartoony than previous installments and enhancing the grey area between good guy and bad guy. Joaquim de Almeida’s corrupt businessman still veers into the cliché of previous bad guys in the franchise, but he’s a vast improvement over the horribly overacted bad guys from the fourth movie.
That said, there isn’t a ton of originality at work at least in the first half – someone at Universal must have realized they already did a chase across the favela rooftops in “The Incredible Hulk” and isn’t that drug raid with women in their underwear stolen from Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster”? About an hour into the movie, it literally turns into “Ocean’s 11” and while that also doesn’t show too much innovation, it’s really where the movie thrives by bringing in more characters, most of them from past installments. They’re not just there to make the three leads look better as much as to help liven things up, and it works. The chemistry between Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges established in John Singleton’s disappointing second installment is reinvigorated to bring the type of humor expected from a popcorn movie. Back for a third time, Sung Kang also has some fun moments with Gal Gadot’s Gisele. It’s just a terrifically diverse cast of characters that makes the film’s last hour so much more interesting than the first half, while establishing the type of group dynamics that offers a lot more fun for future installments.
Unfortunately, it also makes Paul Walker seem even more useless (and less cool) when he’s the whitest guy in the group. At times, it feels like the women are being marginalized even more than normal. Even with the introduction of two new weapon-wielding women to replace Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster is nearly sidelined by her announcement of being pregnant.
As one would imagine, you can’t think too deeply about the insane and nearly impossible masterplan Dom and his crew put together to rob Reyes of all his money–and frankly, it’s hard to think any of them are smart enough to come up with it–but it pays off with one last big setpiece of Dom and Brian driving a giant vault through the streets of Rio creating maximum destruction. Who knows how much all of that destruction cost them, but the movie looks fantastic, and the Rio setting and a lot of the bigger set pieces really thrive in the IMAX setting. (And you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the “Fast and Furious skanks” in IMAX!)
The Bottom Line:
(Make sure to stick around through the end credits for a “secret” scene that will just get you that much more excited for another installment.)