Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the fifth film in the Fast and Furious franchise when the series cracked the code and found its own distinct voice. That voice just happened to be Vin Diesel’s increasingly slow, gruff droning about the importance of family. Fast Five had an infectious way of making the central “family” bond feel truly important, despite the disconnected quality of the first three films that made the same characters feel entirely unrelated. Fast Five solidified that Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) and his ragtag gang can actually function as a cohesive unit. That gang’s-all-here vibe, paired with a ballooning budget, made the film one of the highlights of the franchise so far, right up there with the driving-sideways oddity Tokyo Drift.
Fast & Furious 6 plays right into this increasingly intense concern for tying the series together by kicking things off with a plot-summarizing montage (complete with a Wiz Khalifa rap) over its opening credits. If the gang started properly functioning as a unit in the last film, this is where they individually become eccentric cartoon versions of themselves. The Rock has essentially transformed into a flesh-tone version of The Hulk (putting that pro-wrestling background to good use early & often), Sung Kang’s Han is pretty much an anime character, Ludacris rigs an ATM to literally “make it rain”, etc. The series starts to get wrapped up in its own mythology the way the individual characters are wrapped up in theirs. Han’s threat that they might actually tie the storyline into Tokyo Drift continues for the third film running now with the exchange “We always talk about Tokyo.” “Tokyo it is.” (a promise they finally make good on in a ridiculous post-credits stinger). Paul Walker wistfully remarks upon how much the gang loves cookouts and Corona in the line “We got everything, down to the beer & the barbeque.” Most absurdly, the series continues its blend of policing & criminality by recruiting Vin Diesel as an honorary cop, which is a hilarious development at this point in the series. Now that the “family” has come together as a tight unit, they’ve finally found a way to go truly over the top.
The ridiculous caricatures and ever-expanding budget for the action sequences (which include crumbling buildings and a return to extensive street racing here) are what make Fast & Furious 6 feel like a far cry from where the series began, but it’s not what makes the film important. The heart really is in those “family”-obsessed Vin Diesel pep talks. If you’re on board with the series at this point it’s strangely satisfying to see the film’s major triumph be the gang coming together for a climactic backyard cookout, Coronas proudly lifted in the air. The film’s central conflict is with a rival gang who, as Tyrese Gibson describes in an especially hilarious monologue, poses as the gang’s doppelgangers, because they do not believe in family and treat their gang like a business. There are some returns to the hallmarks of the early films in the franchise: new toys that hack into power-steering systems to cause crashes, brutal fistfights (between women this time), new vehicles like a Batmobile knockoff and a goddamn tank, etc. The film also finds more room for street racing & driving-related set pieces, something that had faded to the background in the last couple pictures. What’s most impressive here, however, is that in addition to these trashy surface pleasures Fast & Furious 6 makes the audience feel like part of the “family”, like we’re all in for the silly ride together. Everyone involved has seemingly gotten comfortable with how ridiculous the series is and found their own ways to make it work as its own unique action franchise, with Vin Diesel standing tall as the most comfortable of them all. It’s adorable.