Despite the return of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in 2009, the Fast & Furious franchise seemed dead in the driveway until the nitro injection of 2011’s Fast 5 retooled the concept as a heist thriller and dropped The Rock on proceedings. The result was an absurd glory, meaning that Furious 6, to all intents and purposes, has to be Fast 5: Pt. 2. Expectations are high, and since we know you like your dessert first, it’s a joy to confirm that it boasts all the jaw-dropping vehicular lunacy you might require, plus a couple of seriously bruising fist fights (an all-female wrestle-off in the London Underground, and six characters having three separate punch-ups in an enclosed space on a plane). Michelle Rodriguez is back, and Gina Carano has arrived.
But there are plenty of goddamn veggies. Gone is Fast 5’s element of surprise, much of which was down to The Rock’s lawman Luke Hobbs. Part of the problem this time is that he isn’t an antagonist. With Hobbs and Diesel’s Toretto fighting side-by-side, that previous frisson of forbidden bromance is diluted. It may only be a temporary détente, but for now the spark is missing.
That leaves a gaping absence of antagonism. Last time our heroes were up against Johnson and Joaquim de Almeida. With Rodriguez’s not-dead-after-all Letty rendered more victim than villain by dint of amnesia (yes, really), it’s down to Luke Evans to get his bastard on as Owen Shaw, but he’s never able to make much of an impression. Our gang of good guys is now so massive, having collected characters from every sequel, that there’s no room for developing the villains. A character at one point observes that Shaw’s guys are the evil twins of Team Toretto, but we’re given barely any sense of this whatsoever.
Which is unfortunate, given the revelation that Shaw has apparently been a shadowy Blofeld for some time. Reflecting the convoluted and unwieldy nature of this franchise, Furious 6 is actually a direct sequel to Fast & Furious (4), rendering Fast 5 a kind of interim holiday in the sun. The plot is perfunctory but busy: Shaw needs to collect thingummys so that he can do stuff; Toretto and Hobbs need to stop him getting the one-more-McGuffin he needs for his evil LEGO set; Walker gets a side-quest where he goes to jail in the States for a day so he can talk to Part 4’s Arturo Braga (John Ortiz, now revealed to have been a Shaw henchman), and Agent Stasiak (Shea Whigham); the rest of the action takes the opposing forces to London and Spain.
London, crushingly, is another disappointment. It’s cool to see familiar locations torn up, but the streets feel too cramped to support F&F action, and Furious 6 makes neither Ronin-like use of the cramped space nor Welcome To The Punch-style capital from London’s gleaming new bits. An organised street-racing scene feels tacked on for the sake of acknowledging the franchise’s roots, and it’s always dark. It’s a relief when the film shifts up to a spacious, sunny Spanish freeway that can support the destructive tank, truck and muscle car madness. The astonishing-but-unremarked collateral death toll is a small price to pay. It arrives late, but the carmageddon still delivers.