Fast Five (2011) Retro Review

After freeing Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) from a prison bus (in one of the most unrepentantly physics-defying maneuvers in cinema history), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordanna Brewster) flee to South America. It doesn’t take long for these outlaws to get involved in a Brazilian car heist that goes horribly wrong. They inadvertently steal a car belonging to Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), the man who essentially runs Rio. The gang discovers that the car contains information on all of Reyes’ secret money laundering operations. Dom and Brian hatch a plan to steal Reyes’ ill-gotten gains in one final criminal act, but they can’t do it alone. They assemble a crew from all the franchise’s previous entries. However, they’re also being tracked by DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), and he’s a really big guy with a really big gun.

Fast Five surprised the hell out of everybody with how bombastic, anarchic, wild and just plain big it was willing to be. It was commercially and even critically lauded and went on to become the seventh-highest grossing film of 2011. This entry stands alongside The Fast and the Furious as the series’ best, though in terms of overall action, excitement and wildness it is far and away the better picture.

What Fast Five achieved that very, very few sequels do is a perfect balance between respect for what came before and a transcendence of everything that entails. What also helps is superb action sequences directed by Justin Lin and a script that probably started as some other project entirely. It is believed (though I haven’t been able to find a solid citation) that what became Fast Five began its life as the script for The Brazilian Job, the aborted sequel to The Italian Job. Just as Die Hard started its life as a Commando sequel, the adaptation of an existing work gave this film a solid foundation that it could then tailor to its own strengths. The result is extremely refreshing.

I wrote my Furious 6 review during the summer of last year, before I’d had a chance to rewatch the full series. At the time I considered it superior to Five, though my opinion has changed after rewatching it in context. The truth is, by the time we hit 6, the motivations for our characters have become muddled, the cast is so big that their characterizations are threadbare and, though the action is still great, the whole operation is top-heavy. There are some truly ludicrous lines in that one, pun not entirely intended.

Fast Five, by contrast, is infused with gusto, as if the movie itself is turning to you with each new development and saying, “Can-you-believe-we’re-getting-away-with-this?”

And for each of its vices, there is a vindication:

No, The Rock is not a great actor, but in Fast Five his entire role is to be a giant, lumbering, baby-oiled machine that tracks with the tenacity of a tiger and attacks with the rage of a bull. By the time he and Toretto get into a full on fist-fight, you can practically hear the production crew going, “IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?”

No, I’m pretty sure that the final chase scene involving the safe is not physically possible in our universe – and I’m also certain that the casualty count approaches one hundred – but it is exhilarating to watch.

No, it doesn’t seem quite right that Gal Gadot and Sung Kang’s characters would fall for each other, but damn it I don’t care. I like Han (everybody likes Han!), and Giselle is the closest thing this series’ has to a strong, independent heroine.

Also, Matt Schulze returns to the series as Vince, still sporting the scar he got in the first movie and still a douchebag. But, to his credit, he is now a more mature douchebag.

I could make more critical jabs at this movie, but I won’t. As a fan of the series the only thing I find really disappointing is the diminished relationship between Rome (Tyrese Gibson) and O’Connor. In both 5 and 6, the bro-tagonists are unquestionably Brian and Dom, so Roman is marginalized and used only for comic relief. It’s not as much an issue in this film as it is in the next, though in that one it’s actually a little insulting.

But overall, Fast Five is funky, freewheeling fun.

“This just went from mission impossible to mission in-freakin’-sanity.”

Fast Five (2011)
PG-13
Directed by Justin Lin
Universal Pictures
130 Minutes

Fast and Furious Reviews
Part 1 – The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Part 2 – 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Part 3 – Fast & Furious (2009)
Part 5 – Furious 6 (2013)
Part 6 – The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

For more film reviews, check out Pierce Nahigyan’s Article Archive

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