“Let’s go for a little ride,” says Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) at the beginning of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious 6. Reprising the line from the first film, we’re then launched into a nostalgic credits sequence, made of clips from the previous five films. It’s a drive down the franchise’s memory lane at 100km per hour. It’s been 12 years since the first Fast film, and thanks to the high-concept premise—cars go fast, Vin Diesel drives them—the franchise has managed to sustain itself. In the sixth instalment, it’s not showing any signs of pumping the breaks, but after this long there’s some build-up accumulating in the engine, causing it to sputter.
Picking up where Fast Five left off, Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) are living the high-life abroad. With no extradition, the pair can spend the rest of their days in paradise, though it doesn’t quite feel like home. But they’re making the best of it, as new dad Brian has proclaimed to have left his old life behind in favour of “backyards and barbecues.” (Family, as Dom has been reminding us since 2001, always comes first.) Life in the slow lane isn’t meant to be, as agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) tracks Dom down to demand his help after a criminal ring of highly skilled drivers attack a military convoy. A member of the group is Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s love interest, who has been presumed dead since the fourth film. The old crew thus reassembles to take down the baddies, get Letty back, and earn full pardons.
Having now helmed the past four Fast films, Lin can be credited for making the franchise what it is, turning a seemingly one-off car crime caper into a glossy and genuinely entertaining series. Lin has an eye for capturing speed, moving beyond the shaky cam and quick editing, and embracing large-scale sequences. Wisely not filmed in 3D, Fast 6‘s chases are sharply shot and increase exponentially in stakes and size, going from trucks, to tanks, to jumbo jets. Even when the plot revs down—and it does—Lin’s camera doesn’t, panning across rooms and in one sequence rotating around Dom and Letty during their moving reunion.
Fast 6′s overall success isn’t only thanks to the action, but stems from the fact that it refuses to take itself seriously. Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris ham up their lines, knowing they are best when driving, shooting, or quipping. Newcomer Gina Carano roundhouse kicks her way through two excellent fight sequences, playing an action body who doesn’t really need to act. Model Gal Gadot (who took over for Letty as the requisite female member of the gang, Gisele) owns the babe on a bike trope, playing to it rather than being trapped in it. Even the film’s laughably mirrored structure is called out when Roman (Gibson) notes the criminal group they’re chasing are made up of their “evil twins.”
For all this, Fast 6 is beginning to show signs of wear. The middle sags when Letty’s narrative must be resolved, sending Brian off on a solo mission to tie-up the plot’s loose ends. With five previous films, backstories and pesky character development are beginning to get in the way of what the franchise does best: drive. The teaser ending, however, suggests a tune-up is in store for the inevitable seventh film.