A typical PG-13. You know, scantily dressed girls and lots of violence are socially acceptable. The message of all of these scathing criticisms of the MPAA is that I just ask for consistency. Someone full on drops an f-bomb. I know. You get one or two, but shouldn't that be in isolation. There's a lot of mildly suggestive stuff in here, so it gets the PG-13. I'm not even that upset. I just like consistency.
DIRECTOR: Justin Lin
Amnesia? Oh geez...
These movies really tend to blend together. A few years ago, I decided to catch up on the Rocky franchise. Everyone has seen those movies and I felt like I was missing out on a cultural talking point. So, in the period of a week, I watched all of the Rocky movies. I didn't love them. I didn't hate them. That's kind of the attitude I have about the Fast and Furious franchise. I don't love them. I don't hate them. I don't really like them either, but that's a different story. But the thing about Rocky is that I could tell you exactly what happened in each movie. Despite the fact that they are all about boxing and they mostly follow the same structure, they don't really blend together. I can't say that about The Fast and the Furious franchise. There's a "previously on" sequence as the opening credit sequence and I mostly spent time trying to figure out what happened when. Luckily, the mythology of this franchise is pretty fast and loose (pun intended). But I don't really want to rewatch these movies because they are all pretty forgettable.
We were wondering how they would become super spies. That's frankly what I have been waiting for. I don't really think that the street racing element was sustainable and I guess I was right. But James Bond has a lot of movies just based on being a spy, so I guess that we can surgically graft the spy genre onto a street racing series of movies. But how can a story justify that change? The easy answer is that it really can't. Like many of these movies, the audience is asked to shut their brains off and just accept the premise. There is no natural transition into this world of spies. When the movie starts off with the Rock talking about the political situation in Russia, you know that the movie wants to take a hard left without alienating audiences too much. There is no doubt at any point that you are watching a Fast and Furious movie. The tone is exactly the same as the other movies, especially the later Justin Lin directed films. But there is a bunch of really superficial spy jargon being thrown around. Getting this group of car thieves into this world is absolutely stupid, but the movie never treats it like it is stupid. I guess, good for them because I don't know how to nuance that relationship any better. Like the franchise itself, it careens high speed into a spy thriller and no one really questions what they are doing there. There are one or two moments where the movie becomes self-aware about that issue, but it treats it in a really dramatic way. Shaw, played by Beauty and the Beast's Luke Evans, comments that Dom has come a long way from stealing DVD players. (Let's establish. Those were VHS players. Stop trying to retcon my favorite part of the series.) As a spy movie, it works closer to the depths of Johnny English than it does Bourne Identity. It follows the old plot of "Bad guy steals technology to ransom big city; we have to get it back." Really, the story is just a shell for bigger stunts that would be allowed in the previous film. It never really feels like a threat to the world, so much as the characters are allowed to blow up a lot more things and be morally justified to do so. As part of that, the characters' morality has gotten slightly better. They still needlessly endanger innocent civilians, but they do seem concerned when the bad guys endanger innocent civilians. That's where the morality line gets weird. They still consider themselves criminals, but they are doing the right thing. But they are constantly endangering lives. I don't know why I can't get over this, but I keep seeing pancaked cars and I know that people are inside those cars. Heck, the opening recap of the movie shows the bus flip and I instantly remembered, "Oh yeah, these guys are bad guys."
Since Fast FIve, the movies have become more fun. As stupid as this is, the whole spy thing is probably a refreshing add on to the series. The movie just becomes about action and that, fortunately or not, works. There is a line in the sand though that I really don't like. It happened in Charlie's Angels and it really happens here. Death is completely arbitrary in these movies. The protagonists are unkillable until they aren't unkillable. There are things that are instant deaths for some characters while other characters don't even take a scratch on them. As the lightest spoiler in the world, at least one character dies. The same problems happen to Dom over and over and he doesn't even slow down. Something bad happens to another character, and it clearly is death. As part of that, where is the investment for the audience? Characters die because they need to die to give the movie weight. But that weight doesn't work because the deaths are the most convenient deaths to begin with. SPOILER FOR THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT: because we know that Han dies in Part III and that the movies are out of order, there are so many threads that need to be cleaned up in this one. Part of that involves retconning characters so they make a lick of sense. It's odd how a character can become a fan favorite, so their entire history has to be changed. But this means that all of Han's relationships that he never mentions have to be gone. That makes a cheap death. (Okay, I'm inadvertently spoiling Furious 6, but I don't care at this point. It's stupid.) But there are moments where the characters have played it so fast and loose with physics that major moments in other movies are a walk in the park. Characters jump onto moving vehicles so often that it doesn't even become a stressful moment. No one looks nervous to jump because it is just commonplace now. That shouldn't be a thing.
This leads to my least favorite thing in Furious 6: The Dom Jump. There's a moment in Die Another Day that tarnished Bond for me. It probably ruined Bond for a lot of people. In Die Another Day, James Bond is on a glacier being chased by a space laser. (Why do I love that franchise? I'm a hypocrite.) The laser cuts off a piece of the glacier and Bond has to ski down the side of the glacier. The problem with that is that there is no one actually doing the student. It is uncanny valley via space laser. I know that it is impossible that any one person could possibly do the things that James Bond does. But before this moment, someone actually did a close proximity to the stunts that Bond performs. Sure, it was done with safety rigging and wires, but it was still done. My suspension of disbelief is right at that line. If someone really does the stunt, then I could believe that the characters could do the stunt. The Dom Jump in Furious 6 is an example of the completely digital stunt. It is supposed to be so bombastic that no human being could possibly do that. I am so pulled out of this movie at this moment. It's not like I was deeply invested. At no point did I scream, "Go, Dom! Go!" But I watched nothing get launched into the air and catch another nothing only for nothing to hit the windshield. I never feel tension in those moments because these things aren't real. I know I'm waxing poetic about the philosophy of the action movie, but I need something to feel real and that scene feels so artificial that I can't get behind it. I know that The Fast and the Furious isn't Shakespeare. I know that the series lacks real basics when it comes to being something that might even be interpreted as deep, but I want the bare bones of the movie to feel exciting. I want to be able to lie to myself, but the movie doesn't even allow me to do that. The weakest parts of the Fast and Furious movies is that they over-rely on CG. Every time there is a CG part, it is the weakest part of the movie. I'd rather see smaller action sequences done well rather than cool action sequences done artificially. But that's not what these movies are about. They are about going as big as possible and that often hurts.
I do like the newer movies better than the older movies, but they still lack any real value to them. I don't mind popcorn cinema, but I still lack any investment with these characters, with the possible exception of Dom and the Rock. We're two movies away from being caught up and I actually can't wait to have the entire franchise under my belt. Overall, I can't recommend these films. Your preconceived notion of what these films are is probably pretty darned accurate, so I'm not going to change any minds. Regardless, they are getting kind of better despite how far they still have to go.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.