It would seem that the summer blockbuster film season starts earlier and earlier with each passing year. It used to be that the film which premiered during the Memorial Day weekend was the one which began the season, but now films which come out first weekend of May get to have that honor. Then 2011 decides to change things up and herald the summer blockbuster season not in May but the last weekend of April. The film which gets to do the honor this year looks to be Justin Lin’s fun and very action-packed fourth sequel to the undying street-racing franchise which began with 2001’s The Fast and The Furious. This fifth entry in the franchise was simply titled, Fast Five.
The series had always been about the world of illegal street-racing whether it was set in Los Angeles, Miami or Tokyo. There was always that aspect of the story which tied all four previous films together. It would have skilled, beautiful women who followed the scene and, of course, the fast cars themselves. Things began to change a bit with the fourth film, Fast and Furious, as the street racing became not the main focal point of the story but just an aspect of it. The franchise began to take on an action-thriller role. While it was good to see changes to the franchise that began to get stale that fourth film didn’t pull off the necessary changes as well as it should’ve. It would seem that Justin Lin was just testing the waters and finally got what he wanted with Fast Five.
This latest film in the franchise barely has any street-racing in the film. There’s a short sequence 2/3’s of the way in and Lin also inserts a couple of obligatory slo-mo scenes of street-racers gathering to show-off their rides and women, but Fast Five is more of a caper film than a street-racing one. It actually owes a lot more to the Ocean’s 11 films than anything else. We have returning character in Vin Diesel’s Dominic Torreto and his sister Mia (played by the radiant Jordana Brewster). Paul Walker as his erstwhile ally Brian O’Conner returns as well. It’s these three who anchor the heist team which would include returning characters from the previous four films. There’s the hothead Vince (Matt Schulze) from the first film. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) come in from the second film. Sung Kang’s character Han from the third film appears so does Gisele, Tego and Rico from the fourth film. These returning character make-up what I would only call as Torreto’s Ten.
Fast Five begins just as the previous film ended as O’Conner and Mia break Dom out of the prison bus taking him to prison. From there the film moves to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where these three fugitives take on a job to earn themselves some money only to realize that they’ve inadvertently gone to work for Reyes, Rio’s most powerful crimelord (Joaquim de Almeida), who now has his sights on Dom’s crew. Not to make Dom’s life any easier is a Federal Task Force sent in to take him back to the U.S. in the form of Hobbs (played by Dwayne Johnson) and his elite team of agents. Dom and his crew will now have to escape not just Reyes and his thugs but Hobbs and his men. It’s the plan to do just both that make up most of the film’s story.
Justin Lin does a great job in not just explaining the details of the heist beforehand, but he does so without getting the film into too much of an expository exercise. He shows just as much as tell the job Torreto’s Ten must pull off if they’re to ever win their freedom. It’s the set-up to the heist and the execution of it which tie-in all the many, well-staged action sequences the film has. While street-racing has been relegated to just obligatory short scenes this film doesn’t lack for exciting carmeggedon and mayhem. From the prison bus escape to begin the film to the daring train robbery which follows it right down to the bank vault heist which takes up the last 10-15 minutes of the film. That sequence alone makes this film worth seeing as we see a 10-ton bank vault being hauled at high-speed through the streets of downtown Rio. Buildings get totaled and cars get tossed and smashed like tinker toys. Yet, as the PG-13 rating would point out we don’t know or see if anyone actually dies.
It’s that rating which keeps this film from ever joining the exploitation and grindhouse pedigree of such car mayhem films as Vanishing Point, Two-Lane Blacktop and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. But despite the limitations a PG-13 rating puts on Justin Lin’s Fast Five the film ends up becoming a very fun and exhilirating action-heist film that gives some new life to a franchise that was down to fumes. It helped that we get some good performances from most of the leads (Paul Walker still can’t do anything outside of performing as a surfer from California). It was also the addition of Dwayne Johnson as Federal Super-Agent Luke Hobbs which gives the film some of it’s fun. Johnson was able to match Diesel’s Dominic Torreto for the title of most badass in the film. In fact, the fight between the two was one of the highlights of the film (even though I still think Johnson probably would kick Diesel’s ass 100 out of 100 times).
Fast Five doesn’t disappoint and more than earns the honor of starting up 2011’s summer blockbuster season. Justin Lin has delivered a film in this franchise which stands out from the rest and more than likely reboots the series from a street-racing one and into just a plain old action series. His work in this film and how he handled the action also adds some credence and justification in him being given the next film in the Terminator franchise. He may just be the one to bring back some life into that dying franchise. So, strap on the seat belt and grab onto to something because Fast Five may just be one of the few films this summer that delivered on everything it promises in terms of action and fun.