Blockbusters Round 1: Fast 5 Sets a New Benchmark
A Film Review of Fast Five
By: Lawrence Napoli
So we all knew going into the summer of 2011 that we were going to get a healthy dose of comic book heroes, giant robots, pirates and wizards that pull on our heart strings. Did any of us really expect a relative low brow concept of cars plus kick ass action to be able to compete? Justin Lin and the Fast and Furious franchise has officially put all other contenders for the Box Office King of 2011 on notice that your film better be flawlessly executed, respectably performed and totally prepared to back up whatever hype preceded it. Fast Five accomplished all of that and then some. Back when Lin took the franchise over in 2006 with Tokyo Drift, fans and critics scratched their heads over the stark departure from the stars and style of the original. Lin quickly silenced the speculation with his follow up 3 years later with the questionably titled Fast & Furious that saw the reunion of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel and a return to the subtle blend of cars, action and story that made the original stand out. Having been tapped by Universal for yet another sequel, Lin sat back and did what I hope Joss Whedon is going to do with The Avengers in 2012. Lin carefully reviewed the characters and established fiction from all the Fast and Furious installments and drew upon the best of each and every predecessor, made them his own and manifested the visual dynamo that is Fast Five.
Writing this kind of all inclusive and (seemingly) ultimate end to a franchise requires the kind of ambition that few Hollywood writers are up for, fewer directors are comfortable with and fewer still producers are savvy to finance. The budget was quoted by a Universal spokeswoman to be $125 million and although that seems like a lot, when one factors in exotic cars, death defying stunts with said cars and the names: Diesel, Walker, Brewster, Gibson, Ludacris, Schulze, Kang and The Rock (and others presently not named); one can already appreciate the numerous opportunities for the budget to be spread thin. Fortunately, executive producer Amanda Lewis and her production team did not get cheap with any aspect of this production, especially when it came to the writing. Screenwriter Chris Morgan (teamed with Justin Lin since Tokyo Drift) knew exactly the kind of “all in the family,” action packed, story driven kind of script that could possibly top the greatness of Fast & Furious. It’s a sad truth, but this is the kind of project where poor writing is expected because hey, it’s just another in a series of financially successful films. Who cares if the writer has a half a brain? Morgan was up to the task and begins one hell of a story with an adrenalin shot to the heart, but manages to increase the intensity with every passing minute while throwing a couple of decent plot curves that seriously raise into question how it is going to end. All of this was accomplished on top of including every character (and I mean ev-ry-bo-dy!) from the previous films so be aware of the Easter Eggs and wait for some of the credits to scroll before vacating the theatre. I will remind the reader that the events that unfold in Fast Five happen before Tokyo Drift in the timeline.
With a franchise that is based on action and stunt work, the only way sequels can truly distinguish themselves stylistically is through escalation and one-upmanship. Fast Five does not disappoint in this regard at all. Supervising stunt coordinator Mike Gunther and his team of drivers gave the special and visual effects departments enough quality footage that they could make a documentary series about stunt work with cars. But this is another area where I have to acknowledge the writing because the imagination behind the scope and motivation of the stunts are vital in moving the plot forward. Some of the action may be familiar to the viewer, but the final chase sequence will light up your eyes like a Christmas tree. In addition to this, the gunplay and hand to hand combat throughout is equally enthralling with an especially epic throw down between Diesel and Johnson highlighting this aspect of the action.
As much as the Fast and Furious franchise is all about cars, it is equally about characters and with a final runtime of just over two hours; one would expect much of the cast to be banished to fringe obscurity by the script. Sure, perhaps if this were an X-Men film. Every signature personality has multiple moments on the screen with short, but sweet subplots and all of which are relevant to each other because one of the film’s final themes is about the importance of family and the audience loves the fact that our collection of heroic rogues genuinely love each other. There is no question that Fast Five is a genuine love fest and despite the fact that the singular antagonist takes the form of Reyes (played by Joaquin de Almeida), the real big bad is the unidentifiable “man” or “system” that allows drug lords, corporate tycoons and corrupt leaders to live day by day like gods and sometimes the bold (and morally questionable) few rise up to take a piece for themselves. That kind of story resonates in one’s guts like a NOS’d up engine. No one performance stands out in the cast because everyone shines equally and the true spectacle is the synergy and chemistry that is free flowing amongst them all. If you liked any of the characters in any of the previous films, you’ll love them all by the end of Fast Five.
Fast Five being the first of the summer blockbusters sets the measuring stick incredibly high for those that follow it. This film does everything a solid action film is supposed to do while delivering an interesting and compelling story in the process. This film represents some very clean and professional work that can only result from having very defined goals for a production and attaining them in the most efficient manner. Just about every loose end of each story in this franchise is tied up (with plenty of wiggle room for more) and the saga culminates in a surprising and satisfying fashion. Regardless of any movie you may want to see, this is the film you have to see if you’re done with the tedium of heavy handed, winter dramas.