What a difference The Rock makes. It is a cynical view but a somewhat valid one that The Rock’s inclusion in the seemingly unstoppable franchise meant a few things for The Fast and Furious. First: That it was now looking to expand and needed some star power. Two: It was trying to be an all out action movie. Three: The studio didn’t trust that Vin Diesel and Paul Walker were enough.
To some extent this may be true but is slightly unfair as Diesel and Walker do majority of the heavy lifting. They are the central pair of the franchise after-all and this movie doesn’t change that. What it does change is the focus of the franchise entirely.
Fast & Furious was a movie about using cars to run drugs and catch a criminal. This time, the heroes are the criminals and this movie is a heist film – one with cars though (naturally). Although hints at street racing are involved, particularly one race involving stolen police cars, long gone are the original movie’s fixation with races, beautiful woman and hip-hip soundtracks. This is not The Fast and the Furious but cleverly, it doesn’t forget it’s roots.
In what was a risky move, a character from every film leading up to this point is included. Some make sense, like tech-head Tej, played by Ludacris or logic-driven Han played by Sung Kang, while others baffle but add novelty, notably Tyrese’s Roman and Gal Gadot’s Gisele. There is a distinct team and it ties all the films, including the lesser Tokyo Drift and the derided 2 Fast 2 Furious together. They all make sense and add to the journey which is a clever and almost cocky move for a franchise seemingly trying to shed it’s past and previous failings.
Luckily, if the racing is gone, the ridiculous stunts have not. Fast Five is now all about the action sequences and ridiculous moments. The opening train robbery is a breathe-taking one and manages to gave Vin Diesel’s Dominic Torretto a cool entrance. You could argue that this would have made a suitable finale for the car-smashing franchise’s fifth entry but instead we get a sequence where a safe is dragged through a city in a reckless but ever-so-cool set-piece that beats anything that has occurred in the four films before it.
What it doesn’t change is the lack of any credible villain. The Fast and Furious franchise has always fallen at this hurdle and Fast Five is no different. That is because Joaquim de Almeida is not really the movie’s villain, The Rock is. Dwayne Johnson is the cop chasing the team and is at the height of his bold, verbally gold and muscular best. Here he adds some credible threat and you are waiting anxiously for the moment him and Diesel square off against each other (a moment that thankfully delivers).
Unfortunately, The Rock is under-used. As great as the set-pieces are and as spark-filled as the chemistry between the returning cast has become, the film is never-better than when Johnson is on the screen. He adds to the movie and gives it some much-needed gas, propelling it away from the pedestrian franchise it has become. It is a shame he makes up less than thirty minutes of the screen time.
Overall, most movies reach Five and are on their way out but somehow The Fast and the Furious has manages to not only keep the movies running but actually improve on what has gone before. Ironically, this involves looking back at the mediocre franchise and mining it for characters and history. You can’t escape that the best part of the movie is the new addition though – an under-used Dwayne Johnson.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)