Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Case for Fantastic 6

It has proven a durable franchise, the Fast and the Furious films.  But then, perhaps that is not surprising: take ridiculously macho guys and trophy women, throw in some insanely pimped out cars, drive them very quickly and dangerously, add in quite a few guns and lots of bad boy behaviour (they are bad, but with a sense of duty and honour that puts them above the law), and you have the perfect macho nonsense film.

The franchise has also got better with the addition of the Rock, Dwayne Johnson, more pumped and pimped up than any of the cars on display, but allowing himself to be gently mocked, though only in a way that enhances his esteem as a large, well oiled bad a$$.  

I went to the sixth instalment after enjoying (for completely brainless reasons) the last flick, and this time I experienced in its natural home: in an Upper Hutt theatre surrounded by boy racers and an audience who found the “we’ll show you who is cool”, one upmanship attempts at humour rather amusing, though, if you think about them, they are actually rather racist (if you can consider making all Englishman stupid snobs worthy of taking down a peg or two a cultural stereotype).

The film itself is… well, nonsense.  It’s main aim is to show the authorities (in the man mountain form of a spectacularly ripped Rock, perpetually pumped and going for maximum macho) how wrong they were and that the band of car enthusiasts from the last film are a force for good, bound together by a love of family and loyalty to each other and, as already mentioned, their own strict code.

Except when it comes to women.  Sure, there are a few tough females in there, but the reappearance of Michelle Rodriguez as Vin Diesel’s old flame (her absence explained by amnesia) shows how token the females really are.  There is a girl fight scene or two, a tough girl seduction or two as well, and then they are disposed of one way or another.

Meanwhile, the guys are all stereotypes too.  Vin Diesel is tough and manly, his own impressive physique nowhere near as huge as the Rock’s, but then, he isn’t “trying” to be cool – he just is (or so the story says).  Paul Walker’s character (do the names matter?) is almost superfluous to this story, so he gets to go to prison for a bit to confront some rather boring demons and then come back to drive a car.  There are a couple of black characters, an Asian one as well, and their characters could be seen as insultingly stereotypical too, if they weren’t portrayed as “cool”.  

The baddies actually come off a lot better, seeming competent, professional and well-disciplined, even if they are doomed to fail/die.  Their nefarious plan is to steal components to a weapon that can do untold damage to computers.  They are driving experts so of course to protect these components everything is shipped by… road.  Air and sea would probably be too hard, I suppose.  They are always one step ahead of the goodies, but only just, and they have connections to Russian military planes and the longest runway in the world (running at least as long as Italy) to assist them in their evil plot.

The car action pieces are spectacular, it has to be said.  It’s nice when there is no (or very little) CGI to get in the way of a good car chase and explosion or seven.  Pedestrians (well, innocent ones) never get in the way of the vehicles as they tear around the inner city streets, though other cars are not always so fortunate. 

The storyline and dialogue are nowhere near as well choreographed, but then, all they really do is set up the car chase sequences, get the Rock to physically impose himself over the local authorities, and show what a strong moral code the gang of crooks lives by.  And there are the odd weak/cheap jokes thrown in as well, and while Walker and Johnson are mocked for their looks (model and baby oiled “Samoan Thor” respectively), theirs are back handed compliment types of jests that obviously met with their approval before the final script (such as it is) was completed. 

All in all then, the film is utter bollocks, but it never made any pretentions that it would be otherwise.  I was a little surprised by how poorly treated the female characters were (accepting whatever crumbs their macho male counterparts sprinkled their way with a subservient smile on their toned and tanned bodies), but perhaps that was more an assumption on my part than a promise broken by the film itself.  And then the film ended with a teaser for the next film in the franchise.  And you know what?  I may have to go to that one too.
Verdict: Fast and Furious 6 is big, dumb action, and it loves itself for it.  I think critics would label this kind of fun “pure escapism” and it is, if you are of the petrol head or action junkie persuasion.  The film doesn’t stand close scrutiny, but if you intend to scrutinise a film like this, you wouldn’t go in the first place.  Enjoy the action sequences for what they are, and try and grimace your way through the “linking”/”acting” scenes as best you can.  6 Mr Furiouses out of 10.

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