“Anything that reaches a sixth version,” declares actor Luke Evans on the set of the new Fast & Furious instalment, “has to be doing something right.” Hmm. Really? Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country? Decent, but hardly bold new Trekkie territory. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare? Only for fans mourning Elm Street’s depreciation. Police Academy, Halloween, Saw… 6, 6, 6 – truly the number of the beast.
Any exceptions? Harry Potter, sure, albeit underpinned by the books’ phenomenal fanbase. Perhaps even the freak occurrence of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. But, almost inevitably, series that rack up multiple episodes without a face-saving/changing reboot (Bond, Bourne, every other superhero), in their desperation to squeeze the last cents from the shrivelled udders of a knackered cash cow, end up artistically and commercially bankrupt.
Which makes the Fast & Furious films’ escalating success all the more astonishing, their appeal growing exponentially, well, faster and more furious. Fast Five, running on the continuing misadventures of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker’s street racing car thieves (with the turbo injection of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s muscle), grossed over $250m more than the fourth instalment – itself the series’ previous biggest hit.
Fast Five also received by far the best critical reception of the entire series. And no less than 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Wesley Morris declared the series, with its refreshingly multi-ethnic cast, as “the most progressive force in American cinema,” giving ‘race car’ movies a whole new meaning.
So despite Evans’ attempted compliment, if anything he’s underselling the franchise. OK, it won’t be cruising to the Oscars any time soon. But what exactly has driven these films to find an extra gear at a stage when so many rivals are the movie equivalent of scrap metal?
When star/producer Vin Diesel joins IGN at the end of a long day’s shoot outside London, he tellingly suggests, “you think of Fast & Furious as two trilogies so far.” Breaking the story down like this, he feels, shows the attention to detail that’s kept the franchise’s engine ticking over.
“When I did Fast 4, the idea was it would play out like that,” he rumbles. “Fast 5 would deal with the residual of taking Dom out of the prison bus; and Fast 6 would deal with the fact that no one ever saw Letty die in Fast 4. So it was somewhat designed even that many films back and it was a matter of the studio feeling confident that it would be a successful franchise long after it should have been dead and gone.”
Speaking of dead and gone, the return of co-star Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty, not least due to fan demand (and prominent social media campaigns), highlights the family vibe that runs through the series. Actors regularly pop in and out like returning soap characters – even when they’re assumed to have passed on to the great drag strip in the sky.
“Come on, man, we were introduced together into this business pretty hardcore with the first [movie] and we’ve watched our careers grow,” drawls the feisty Rodriguez. “Now everybody’s got family and we’re all grown up and it’s like, wow, man, we’re still around. And we still love each other and respect each other.”
Before we get suffocated in the group hug, let’s remember this isn’t Hope Springs; this is about speed demons and monster trucks, cool guys stealing hot stuff, trading quips and smackdowns. This time out Evans’s ex-SAS/Special Forces bad guy Owen Shaw runs a ruthless crew pursued by Dwayne Johnson’s lawman Hobbs. To nail Shaw, Hobbs needs Dom’s gang to help – dangling a Letty reunion as bait.
Fast 6’s new signature ride is Shaw’s “flip car” – a Formula One-inspired creation that resembles a skeletal version of The Dark Knight’s tumbler, complete with front-mounted ramp that sends Shaw’s opponents’ cars into orbit. “There are no traffic jams for this man,” Evans deadpans.
Away from his vehicle, Shaw also goes toe-to-toe with our heroes, something, given Johnson and Diesel’s imposing physiques, which gave Evans pause. “I didn’t want to look like a fool trying to fight someone who was twice my size,” he admits.
Shaw’s martial arts background, very different from his opponents’ street fighting moves, helps balance things out. Hopefully. “I start my fight with Vin this afternoon,” he winces, “so wheelchairs and painkillers at the ready!”
Our sneak peek doesn’t include Diesel and Evans going at it; what we do witness, though, is arguably much more attractive – a full-on scrap in a moving, heavily vibrating cargo plane hold between Rodriguez and new cast member, ex-MMA star Gina Carano, last seen knocking the stuffing out of Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Ewan McGregor in her movie debut Haywire. Up this close, the headlocks and elbows to the gut make you wince.
“I think it’ll be a very cool fight scene between two women,” says Carano, who plays Hobbs’s right-hand woman. Rodriguez is no mean screen fighter but going head-to-head with a real warrior means Carano has to pull some of her punches. “But every once in a while you have to give it a little something – and it helps out with the acting too,” Carano laughs. “Gina’s deadly,” growls Diesel barely concealing his delight.
In fact, the air of confidence throughout the whole set is palpable. Viewing footage of a rampaging tank chase and cars taking down and exploding through an aeroplane, you can see why. Little wonder film number seven is already being prepped.
‘New model. Original parts’ ran the tagline for Fast4, reuniting the first film’s principal cast. Cynics might suggest it merely revealed the naked admission of a machine-tooled, assembly line franchise strategy. But as numerous other stalling sequels have proved, without that human touch, the camaraderie this crew exudes, demolition derbies alone just crash and burn. Diesel and co are weaving through such wreckage, watching it all recede in their rearview mirrors, accelerating into the future.
Fast & Furious 6 – Vin Diesel & Michelle Rodriguez On Set Interview
The published article can be read on IGN – Fast & Furious: The Joy of Six