I had hoped to have this series wrapped up this week, but I’ll be taking a little break before returning with parts 5 and 6 at the start of next week. In the meantime, I have some new release reviews (of the 12th Star Trek, and Mud) to post tomorrow.
With the easy familiarity of a family gathering — which as ever includes a few barely-hidden resentments — we get to rejoin the original cast members after the two intervening films, jettisoning only the definite articles in the title. The sole character from the third who returns is Han (Sung Kang), meaning this is technically a prequel, though set five years after the first film. Also returning is Dom’s beloved hotrod (as pictured on the poster) and some of the perfunctory plotting and ridiculous setups (driving drugs through tunnels between the US and Mexico, for example). However, by this point, it all just seems part of the mythology of what is effectively an alternate reality — one in which bad guys need fast drivers — and in the warm glow of the cast reunion I’m fine with that.
Not much has changed for Dom (Vin Diesel) as this film opens, except for the location, which is the Dominican Republic. He’s still got a gang of racers, including his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and he’s still pulling high speed heists. The difference is that they don’t try and leap through their prey’s front windows any more (maybe the filmmakers realised that was just particularly silly), and the targets are petrol tankers rather than long-haul trucks loaded with electronics. Needless to say, this means the opening sequence is rather more explosive than previously.
I should take a moment here to mention the 20-minute short film packaged on the Blu-ray, Los Bandoleros (directed and written by Diesel himself). It fills in Dom’s story between the first film and this one, and it’s just a really nice low-key piece, no explosions or car chases, and largely in Spanish. It’s filled with generosity and affection towards these characters. It also smuggles in a critique of big oil companies and the stranglehold that reliance on fossil fuels has over the world. This is ostensibly the reason that the gang are hijacking petrol tankers at the outset of the film proper: because fuel is too expensive.
Returning to Fast & Furious, we still also have Paul Walker’s cop Brian, though he’s now part of the FBI, tracking down a major drug smuggler, Arturo Braga. Brian and Dom’s paths cross in Los Angeles once again upon Letty’s murder, for which it turns out Braga’s gang was responsible. It’s just as well, too, that smuggling drugs requires high-speed precision street drivers, as it allows an opportunity for rapprochement between the two as they team up to make use of their specialist skillsets…
It’s disappointing that Rodriguez’s character disappears so early in the film, as it makes it once again largely a boys’ game. Moreover, though the relocation to LA means that Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) can be reintroduced, she is no longer seen behind the wheel, instead confined to a purely domestic setting, as girlfriend and provider. This leaves the film to focus on rekindling the simmering resentments (and budding bromance) between Dom and Brian, and the actors largely do a good job at this. Diesel in particular takes over the emotional core of the film, with his sadness over Letty’s demise often palpable (though never bogging the film down), taking the heat off Walker, who as a consequence is far less objectionable here.
What does impress are the race sequences, though they come ever closer to being facsimiles of video games. One through the LA streets (probably the best of the racing) even turns literally into a video game at several points, while a female voice counts down the time during the drugs run in an extensive labyrinth of tunnels. It’s hard at times to know whether these scenes were crafted to look good on film, or play well on a console.
Despite all this, the film retains a warmth to its characterisation. Part of this will be down to how much you enjoy Diesel as an actor and the qualities of the ensemble, but after three films, Fast & Furious is a ride I’ve started to warm up to.
Next up: After this slightly disappointing recalibration of the franchise, the best film yet approaches with Fast Five.
Director Justin Lin 林詣彬; Writer Chris Morgan; Cinematographer Amir Mokri امیر مکری; Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster; Length 107 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Wednesday 15 May 2013.