Thursday, March 12, 2015

In Asphalt, Nitrous, and Rubber: Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

“You want to catch wolves, you need wolves. Let’s go hunting.”

This is what happens when your movie gets carte blanche, when you realize you can get away with a hell of a lot, and people will still follow, when a movie gleefully goes for broke, says “Screw it,” and accelerates into the jump. You get this insanely awesome. But, importantly, it’s coherent, legible, and clear in its awesomeness, both simple and complex at once. There is a discernable chain of events, we know and understand how everyone got to their position, it’s not just a clusterfuck of overwhelming sensory shit.
            Fast & Furious 6 sees the series go seriously comic-y. How comic-y? While the fun of the trope was briefly played with in Fenix, Roman notes here the crew is tasked with hunting their evil twins: a handsome black dude, a white Hobbs, an Asian guy, “an African in a beanie,” and a pretty blonde—not as pretty as Brian, but, you know, still. And as befits the dark Euro mirror of our drag racing heroes, they are into F1. Pretty good auto joke.
            Unlike a comic, however, F&F6 does not devote itself to the illusion of change—the Stan Lee supposition that his company succeeded by presenting stories that looked like they changed things while not changing anything. This must have been pretty easy back in the day, but modern audiences are pretty savvy, so comic movies in particular employ some trickery by making characters appear dynamic. As anyone who took English in high school knows, characters can be static or dynamic. Dynamics change, statics don’t, thus a dynamic character creates more drama. And the trick a lot of comic movies employ is to make characters look dynamic by having them learn an often contrived or simplistic lesson about heroism. Which is decent enough as far as stories go, but the lesson is somewhat spoiled by the fact that we’re watching a comic movie, and watching Captain Freedom discover the true spirit of sacrifice is somewhat given away by the ticket I bought for Captain Freedom: Winter Discontent, so it feels like a very phony sort of dynamic. In the worst case scenario, I’m really annoyed and distracted because every scene with Captain Freedom soul-searching is one he doesn’t do the things I want to see him doing. In F&F6, obviously there are some pretty huge changes that come at the end, but for most of the movie, everyone is static. Refreshingly static, because the crew pretty much knows everything they need to know about themselves, and are the people the need to be, more or less. The code they adhere to is Family, and they have already made peace with what may be sacrificed (which is good, because someone will be asked to make that sacrifice before the end). And for us, the upshot is everything PC Danny Butterman wants: gun fights, car chases, proper action and shit. Wait, what’s that Luda? They have a tank?
            Fucken A.
            Now, for all the previous diversity talk, this isn’t a series that has been especially good to women—it’s like an action franchise that way. Still, F&F6 shows marked improvement on itself and the larger media environment in many ways. For one, it undoes the quasi-fridging of Letty since it’s revealed she isn’t dead, but also in a brief exchange with Brian where she asserts that she wasn’t a passive victim, but that her choices were all her own. A bit less noteworthy since even in TFATF Letty was something of a badass, but still worth noting, she and Riley fight twice, both probably the most brutal and visceral in the movie.
            As a brief aside, the Jah subway fight really should end with “FLAWLESS VICTORY!”
            And while women aren’t treated especially well at large, wives or wife-esque roles usually come off worse. They’re perpetually emotionally shattered, fretting wet blankets who demand their men are home in time for dinner, especially when a baby is in the picture (I read a great article the other day entitled “And The Oscar for Crying on the Phone Goes To…” which cuts right to the point). So it’s particularly awesome, even funny, that Mia, baby Jack cradled in her arms, is more than supportive of Brian going off to be awesome—she basically orders he and Dom to go. Also, while she’s caught by the baddies, that mostly seems like an excuse to bring her into the big climax. Likewise, Elena doesn’t guilt Dom when Letty is revealed to be alive, she doesn’t even wait for him to say anything before she tells him that she, as someone also in mourning, understands.  
            But also there’s Gisele. In FF, she uses a bikini to save the day, but she was brought in, Dom narrates, because she’s the one capable of supporting any position required, she’s a weapons master, and “someone who isn’t afraid to throw down.” Even in a gang of criminals, she’s highlighted as the dangerous one. I’ll leave it to others more versed to discuss the tangle of that bikini (I come down on it being probably in poor taste, but also pretty damn funny), but I do think it’s cool that she gets to be the unequivocal killer in the crew. And she’s even cooler in F&F6, where she gets the time honored series tradition of dangling from a speeding vehicle, and she’s still dangling there when she’s holding a gun to the driver’s head, ice cold. She comforts a dying goon with oaths of vengeance against Shaw. And in the end she makes a heroic sacrifice, abandoning any hope of safe purchase to save Han. Then she’s just gone. There is no drawn out death speech or anything, just finality. As soon as the two hooked up, it was obvious Gisele was marked—Han, after all, has to end up empty of all but a ghostly cool and an unnamed burden before he meets a fiery end not far from Shibuya—but it’s still haunting and shocking, the way she vanishes, swallowed by the darkness never to be seen again. I was sad to see Gisele go, but few characters are so lucky to go so artfully or impactfully.

I Laughed: When Hobbs calls Tej:

Car This Not-Quite Car Guy Would Take: All it does is drive into a scene and then leave, but I’d take Shaw’s Aston Martin DB9, mostly do I could say “This is my Aston Martin.” It’s not the Bond car, but it’s still pretty cool.

The Stinger: Oh man. Oh man! OH MAN! Tokyo. Shibuya crossing. Drifting a million miles an hour to an untimely fate. But what's this? Han’s tragic accident wasn’t an accident at all! He was being hunted! But by who!? By who!?


“Dominic Toretto. You don’t know me.” (BOOM!) “But you’re about to.”
This is maximum hype.

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