Octo-Reviews: Fast Five (2011)
Note: For those who may have missed my previous Octo-Reviews, I recommend reading those first, available here and here. In them, I build my case for why I believe the Fast and the Furious series should be treated as its own unique art-form, entirely distinct from conventional cinema.
Christ Almighty, what tasteless hokum. Did my grandson make that? I haven’t heard from him in a while. You tell him, if you see him, that Gladys needs a ride to the lawyer next week. I’d take her myself, but she and I aren’t speaking. Also stop stealing my pills!
On to my review.
In any artistic endeavor, there is a tendency towards creative plateau once the initial burst of genius has exhausted itself. This is particularly evident in the case of film trilogies. The first film is like the guy arriving early with a six-pack and a bag of pretzels. Then the second film rolls in with a case and maybe a bottle of Fireball, shifting things into high-gear, one might say.
And then the third film stumbles in... And it's that same goddamn asshole who always shows up (late) with off-brand tequila and stale Diet Rite, and who has everyone wrenching into their seats by the end. (See X-Men 3, Spiderman 3, or my third grandson, if in doubt).
After the outstanding brilliance of Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious, the chances of just this sort of artistic blunder were considerable. Having revolutionized cinema and expanded the horizons of human consciousness, where could the FF Saga go next? What heights could it reach that it had not already exceeded? What themes could it explore that it had not thoroughly examined?
In hindsight, these seem feeble concerns. With 2011's Fast Five, the saga masterminds divined a solution so ingeniously simple, so deliciously elegant, it humbles this reviewer merely to contemplate. They took a series anchored upon a singular bald beefy man, and introduced a second… bald beefy man.
Enter Luke Hobbs, aka "The Rock”.
His addition is the equivalent of adding a second sun to the solar system. The delicate balance of orbiting cosmological forces - Brian ("Trust"), Han ("Fate"), Mia ("Fertility"), and so on - is thrown entirely out of whack. Not even the massive gravitational field of Dominic Toretto ("Family") is enough to stabilize the sudden entry of Hobbs and his separate planetary system. Some serious shit is about to go down - as any avid patron of the sciences could tell you.
Yet it would be a mistake to confuse Hobbs for a repeat of Fenix Calderon, the villain from the previous film. (Or more precisely, the previous finite expression of the infinite FF manifold.) No, no, that’s not what’s going on here at all. Hobbs isn’t the anathematic inverse of Dom’s transcendental being. He is instead a co-equal reciprocal of Dom’s transcendental being.
What does that mean in plain English? Well, in the case of Dom vs Fenix, if both forces were to collide, one must (according to the laws of the universe) totally annihilate the other. Whereas in the case of Dom vs Hobbs, any collision between the two would annihilate everything around them instead. Properly understood, Dom and Hobbs are not enemies, but cosmic rivals.
Thus Fast Five introduces fertile new ground for contrasts, demonstrated brilliantly by the physical presence of its two great stars. Vin Diesel has gained something like 30 pounds since we last saw him, yet he moves with the same natural grit and menace he’s always possessed. The Rock, on the other hand, is a try-hard. Despite his large frame and vast muscles, very little about him is intimidating. Something always seems to be missing behind his posturing and threats, leading the audience to wonder if his hulking sculpted physique is merely a mask for some profound and deeply-embedded insecurity.
If there are any lady readers, please be honest, what do you see when you run across the below. Does this scream confidence to you? Or is there something vaguely off-putting about it?
Now, contrast that ostentatious display with this mighty slab of testosterone:
You just know this guy is a REAL MAN. How often do you think he admires himself in the mirror? Somewhere between never and maybe once. He’s the type of guy who will make himself a sandwich right after sex, or shit with the door open when no-one’s around, or wipe his hands on the dog so he doesn’t have to get off the couch.
Sure, he’s got flaws up the yin-yang, but do you know where you definitely won’t find him on a Friday night? In a room full of other large sweaty men (and maybe also weight-lifting equipment). You can’t put a price on that.
Anyway, don’t take my word for it. All this can be demonstrated by a simple exercise in craniology. With the introduction of The Rock, the FF Saga has reached maximum baldness – a cinematic state in which character emotions and motivations can be expressed principally via skull structure. A side-by-side cranial comparison is illustrative of this fact.
As you can see, Vin Diesel’s dome is peak male – the quintessential example of the “regular joe” subtype. The Rock’s cocoanut, notably flatter and shinier, has more in common with the “gym rat” or “mega hardo” subtypes – two disturbing medical conditions whose causes researchers are currently investigating. You wouldn’t want to go bowling with those fellas, that’s all I’ll say.
At any rate, this novel aesthetic elevates Fast Five into the same rarefied air as its predecessors. It is a fascinating tableau of dualities and contrasts - although that is not to say the action takes too much of a backseat. Let's take a drive through the thrilling metaphysical quandaries of the plot to see what I mean.
Fast Five picks up right where Fast & Furious left off. Former FBI agent Brian O’Connor, absolute smokeshow Mia Toretto, and un-killable entity Han Lue stage a daring rescue of Dominic Toretto as he’s being transported to prison. Since we are dealing with an ATD-film, the rescue adopts the form of a high-speed car chase – a true Flugenwagenschnellgeschwindikeit, to borrow the German expression – and as always, nothing makes a lick of sense.
Naturally this is an intentional choice. The lowbrow will applaud the loud noises and jazzy editing, the midrange intellect will be puzzled and possibly annoyed by it all, while the truly sophisticated viewer relishes the playful detachment from the fetters of physical reality.
Their rescue a success, the foursome flee to Rio de Janeiro with the intention of lying low. However, they're soon drawn into the schemes of yet another local crime-lord, Hernan Reyes. Dom advises the crew split up – his favorite plan – but here, Mia unveils a shocker.
She informs Dom she is pregnant with Brian’s child. This masterful reveal punctuates the catharsis of the Brian-Mia-Dom triadic cycle. Dom’s trust in Brian has led to the increased fertility of his sister and the soon-to-be addition to the family. The arc begun in the first FF film is complete, setting the stage for tantalizing dramatic possibilities to come.
But for now, Dom realizes there is no hope of splitting up. He must stay, defeat Reyes somehow, and protect his family LIKE A MAN. He also plans to steal $100 million from a corrupt Brazilian bank. That too. In order to accomplish this once-in-a-lifetime heist, Dom must pull together his “team”.
In what will become a remarkably consistent lineup, the FF crew is joined by tactics/weapons expert Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) as well as comic relief/additional bald man, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). These five constitute what has been termed the “classic” FF crew, with Letty and Han rotating in and out as they are alternatively killed and resurrected, etc, etc.
But just as Dom and his crew are making their final preparations, who should arrive to spoil their plans? None other than draconian “world-cop” Luke Hobbs. He and his team of humorless rule-followers have been tasked by the “world-agency” (or whatever) to stop Dom at all hazards. The spectacular collision promised by our premise is imminent.
And yet, after several tense encounters, in which Dom and Hobbs come perilously close to physical combat, the universe is saved (in a roundabout way) by Reyes. When his assassins attack Dom, Hobbs, and their combined "Families", the two are forced into a temporary truce, thereby averting direct confrontation (and the cataclysmic destruction of the cosmos that would entail).
Having saved Hobbs and his lovely assistant, Evelyn (Elsa Pataky), the film's two stars settle into an uneasy equilibrium, stabilized partly by Dom's romance of the latter. Early on, Evelyn is shown wearing Letty’s old crucifix, a luminous (and wholly unexplained) signal that she is Dom’s new love interest, you see.
But what about Letty? The woman for whom Dom went on a bloodthirsty rampage only a week ago? Has Dom forgotten her? Has her life-force been transferred into Evelyn? The film boldly leaves these questions unanswered, challenging the viewer to supply their own interpretations.
Now then, onto the heist. What other way to swipe $100 million from a highly-guarded underground bank vault than to steal the bank vault itself? And what better way to do that than to use two 2011 Dodge Chargers - which doubtlessly pack the horsepower required and are also available at a stunningly low MSRP with no money down. No, this isn't an advertisement. What're you insinuating? This is a work of art, damn you!
If we might here cut to the chase, the following occurs:
Of course, in most jurisdictions, this would be heavily frowned-upon, but thankfully we are in Brazil, where innocent bystanders have no legal protections of any kind.
And so, the film coasts to its resolution. Hobbs, still lukewarm about allying himself to Dom, nonetheless allows his team to make their getaway. His only stipulation is that they must leave the vault behind. Little does he realize the vault has been swapped (with a completely identical underground vault) sometime during the confusion. Does this symbolize the fraud perpetrated on the audience when they purchased their tickets? Almost certainly.
In the end, the pilfered funds are split evenly between the FF crew. Brian and Mia retire to a tropical paradise, where they are joined by Dom and Evelyn, all four serenely convinced nothing could possibly lure them back into the high-stakes game of globe-trotting adventure. Until a mid-credits scene reveals a stunning twist... Letty is still alive...
Well, that's about all I got for this edition. I have to go now. Gladys is stomping her foot for me to get off the typewriter - she's got this silly book-club thing, you see, and - Alright, alright! I'm almost done! Keep your panties on, would ya? Jesus...
Anyway, stay tuned for the next installment where I will be covering the masterstroke that is Fast & Furious 6 (2013). And if you see my grandson, tell him I really need those pills. My back hurts and it gets so cold at night. So very cold. Until next time.