Fast Five is still, without a doubt, the magnum opus of the franchise. Simply put, this is the film that changed our entire perception of The Fast and the Furious movies. If we were to draw a line anywhere in the progression of this series, there was the Fast & Furious franchise before Fast Five and the Fast & Furious franchise after Fast Five. Here’s a small list of the things Fast Five accomplished:
- It was the first Fast & Furious movie to gross over $600 million worldwide. In fact, it almost doubled the gross of its previous installment.
- It was the first Fast & Furious movie to earn overwhelming critical praise with a 77% Fresh rating on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.
- It successfully turned the tide from a Point Break with cars knock off to an Avengers Assemble style action series, essentially out Expendable-ing The Expendables
- It made Dwayne Johnson a bona fide action star
- It joins the ranks of the greatest action movies released in the last twenty years
If the entire series up to this point was nothing more than a build up, then it was well worth the wait. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) are fugitives hiding out in Rio de Janeiro. Determined to run away and live free for the rest of their lives, they decide to pull one last job, a job so big it requires calling back their entire street racing crew: steal the entire life savings of Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), the drug lord who runs Brazil. Things, however, get more complicated when they realize they are being tracked down by a ruthless federagent named Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).
Fast Five starts with showing the rugged, unsustainable lifestyle the Torettos and O’Connor are doomed to while running from the law. You understand their need to run away for good and gain financial freedom, all while saving Rio from a ruthless dictator. And you probably didn’t expect to have so much fun. If The Fast and the Furious was Point Break with cars, Fast Five is essentially Ocean’s Eleven with street racing. The film makes a lot of effort to show the entire crew planning their course of action, rehearsing their getaway, and trying to stay one step ahead of Hobbs. We learn quickly that Reyes has his hands in everyone’s pockets – from the police to the politicians. Thus, Fast Five counterbalances this implausibility by poking fun at it. “This just went from Mission: Impossible to Mission In-freaking-sanity.” jokes Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). There are ten people in Toretto’s crew and the film manages to develop each character adequately. For one, everyone on the crew was brought in for a reason, which means each character has his or her moment to show off likable and identifiable character traits in order for this heist to work. The film even uses brief moments of silence to add depth to Hobbs’ partner, Elena (Elsa Pataky), like how witnessing the first shootout brings back memories of her husband. If there’s one thing Fast Five gets right, it’s character empathy.
As with the previous films, Fast Five is so enjoyable because of the chemistry between the actors. This time around, everybody gets to share the screen: Roman and Tej (Ludacris) from 2 Fast 2 Furious, Han (Sung Kang) from Tokyo Drift, Giselle (Gal Gadot), Leo (Tego Calderom) and Santos (Don Omar) from Fast & Furious all join Toretto, O’Connor, Mia, and Vince (Matt Schulze) from the first film. Not to mention Dwayne Johnson, who plays Hobbs as an absolute badass. Johnson steals each scene that he’s in simply by his charisma and menacingly huge build. Like Ocean’s Eleven, Fast Five is a melding of personalities. Each actor highlights what made their characters so cool in the first place. The actors add a lot of humour to their performances, which allow the audience not to take the situations too seriously. Everyone seems to be having fun here, and that sense is translated well to the viewers.
With Fast & Furious, I took issue with the way that installment handled implausible – or illogical – situations. Fast Five, however takes illogical to a whole new level. The very first scene shows O’Connor driving in front of a bus, breaking so the bus will rear end him; then the bus flips over the car, rolls down the highway, and everyone survives. Not to mention a climactic sequence that has two cars speeding down busy Rio streets hooked to a massive safe. You can’t go into this movie expecting realism. But that’s what it makes it so outlandishly enjoyable. Justin Lin, in his third time in the director’s chair, has not only gone completely next level with the stunts and action sequences, he gets even more clever with his angles and editing rhythms. There’s a steady balance between action and narrative. Every character shares a good amount of screen time. The script by Chris Morgan, his third Fast & Furious movie as well, is filled with silly, but good dialogue. Reyes gives an empowered speech about how he earns loyalty. Toretto has all kinds of things to say about the importance of family. And the growing romance between Han and Giselle is both sweet and executed with witty banter and clever acting.
Fast Five is nothing short of amazing. I enjoyed every second of it. Every scene created new excitement. Every joke made me laugh out loud. Every actor, specifically Johnson, makes their characters memorable and likable. The film marks the franchise taking a drastic turn from cars and undercover plots to a full on ensemble heist action flick. This change in direction fully pays off as it feels like new life has been injected into the franchise. Fast Five is not just the best film in the Fast & Furious franchise. It’s a great action film. Period. Easily the best action film of 2011.