I have a confession to make: I love this series of movies.
This is one of those things that caught me by surprise, because I was the last person to think that I would have. But on a rainy Saturday about 5 years ago, I watched the first movie in the series, and a little over half way through the movie, I realized that something unexpected had happened; I cared what happened to the characters. It isn’t often when I’m surprised by Hollywood anymore, but in a film that I believe the studio even thought was going to be a “throwaway” movie, they had created a story with action, excitement, intrigue, and that also told a story about family, honor, and loyalty.
It still might have been a hard sell, but the casting overcame this. I won’t say that the next two films were a disappointment, but by not having the core character of this story (Dom Toretto, played by Vin Diesel) these movies were less than they could have been. I wouldn’t say “The Phantom Menace”, more like “Attack of the Clones”…the story advanced, and you meet characters who will matter more later…along with the gradual disillusionment of the other main character in the franchise, Brian O’Connor, played by Paul Walker, who comes to realize the adage repeated in another of my favorite movies, Mother Night, be careful what you pretend to be, because you might just find that IS who you are.
When Fast and Furious, the fourth installment in the franchise was released, Toretto and O’Connor were reunited on a mission of revenge and the sad truth of his employer’s faithlessness was brought home to him in a way that was very personal, and the end found he and Toretto’s sister, Mia, played by Jordanna Brewster, starting a breakout of her brother.
Fast Five opens with the completion of that breakout, and the three of them living as federal fugitives. This run brings Brian and Mia to Rio de Janeiro, and to the doorstep of Vince, the last surviving member of Dom’s original crew. While it is clear that Vince still harbors a grudge against Brian, he offers to bring he and Mia in a new job that will be “easy money”.
When the job goes south, Mia, Brian, and Dom are once again on the run, and when Vince doesn’t like the questions Brian is asking, he finds himself exiled, just as both a Federal team lead by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and a pissed-off villain with an inexhaustible source of gun thugs both start tearing the city apart looking for them.
Dom, in his signature fashion, decides to take the fight back to the villan’s front door, with a plan that will allow everyone in on the plan, including characters from previous movies, like Roman, Han, Tej, Tego, and Rico, to fade away and never have to worry about footsteps behind them again for the rest of their lives.
Everything about this movie is brash, loud, and fast paced. The stunts are bigger, the plans bolder, and the driving outrageous, but instead of feeling insulted, I enjoyed the ride tremendously. It incorporated the elements that made the 1st and 4th movies so much fun, and added a bit of redemption, and a twist at the end, which of course, opens the door to a sixth installment.
You won’t feel smarter for having watched Fast Five. There is nothing profound in it. There are no erudite statements about the life we all share, but the writers didn’t give us two-dimensional characters, either. At its heart, this is still a story about loyalty, honor, family, love, and also redemption. And that’s what makes it a better action story than most of the ones put out by Hollywood today.