I’ma Go For It: Elevating (Vehicular) Bodies in Justin Lin’s ‘Fast and Furious’ Movies Pt. 2

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Fast Five is a whole different ballgame. The movie’s central narrative and aesthetic theme is about starting anew – rebuilding, regrouping, remaking, re-familiarizing. If you fuck up your life by becoming fugitives, rebuild it. If you and your crew part ways on the run, regroup (in Rio de Janeiro). If your family is broken, remake it bigger and better than before. From the ground up. Fast Five is a very ground-oriented movie. A great deal of importance is placed on the characters reconnecting to the land, the earth itself, with their own two feet instead of a set of wheels. The Toretto crew, which now includes many of the colorful characters from the first four movies, needs to get out of their cars and experience life in the open air, not just from behind a windshield. They’ll really drive – and fly high – again once they can all work together as a cohesive group.

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The emphasis on starting from the ground up is evident from the get-go: in the movie’s first big action set-piece, Dom, Mia and Brian are stealing cars off of a moving train. What could be more attached to the ground than a train? Furthermore, what could emphasize a beginning more than a cinematic locomotive, one where the Lumiere’s prototype reportedly scared its viewers so badly because of its speed and visual impact that they actually ran away from the projection? Not much else, but nowadays it takes a jeep gloriously crashing into a moving train to thrill and chill. But I digress. When things go haywire for the trio, Brian is forced to jump from the train to a vehicle positioned down below, which continues the auto aerials theme from the last movie. However, unlike Fast & Furious where Brian more or less jumps horizontally, Brian has to jump vertically from a high point to a low point in order to make contact with the vehicle. Shortly after, Dom and Brian fall even farther when they’re forced to drive a car over a cliff and into a river after being pushed off the road by the wreckage they created on the train. Brian and Dom are briefly stuck with no possibility of going fast. That’s like playing a water level in Super Mario.

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Fast Five also marks the arrival of a very important new character: Dwayne Johnson as Special Agent Luke Hobbs, a DSS Agent who is sent down to Rio to capture Mia, Dom and Brian. Hobbs is unlike every other person in the world of Fast and Furious because he’s not identified by or specifically connected to any form of transportation, let alone cars. He is a complete outsider to the gear-head type of life the Toretto clan has made for themselves, but, frankly, he doesn’t need it to be an essential part of this world because Johnson’s body is his vehicle. The other characters, as normally proportioned people, require cars in order to do superhuman stunts. Johnson, with his 6’4” hulked-out frame, doesn’t need a set of wheels to be considered all-powerful, which works to his advantage. In one of his first scenes, he’s supervising officers as they assemble and disassemble one of the cars the trio stole from the train. The officers don’t find anything out of place or missing because everything is seemingly there. However, Hobbs, as one who isn’t accustomed to looking at or working on a lot of cars, is able to spot the missing piece (a microchip that the Toretto clan is using to steal money from Rio’s evil kingpin) in no time at all because he’s not looking at the car, he’s looking at the problem. His mind works like a machine – deliberation and empathy are not his gifts. As he says in the movie, “All these guys are just names on a list. They come up, we take ’em down. Not a phone call more, not a bullet less.”

Dwayne Johnson later becomes an extended member of the Toretto family because they approach life and work the same way.

When Dom and Hobbs meet for the first time, however, they’re descending.

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Dropping down and down through Rio. Tumbling towards the ground.

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On an even playing field. No cars to be found. They both fall.

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Dom is able to get back up because of the love and support of his family.

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Hobbs later falls and witnesses his family, his police team, burning around him.

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Dom comes to the rescue and helps Hobbs off the ground.

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They might not see eye to eye, but they’re peers now. And Hobbs feels like he owes Dom one.

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What’s their first outing together? Aiding in a robbery. And not just any robbery, but a huge robbery. Fast Five is The Asphalt Jungle of car movies. Dom, Brian and the rest of the gang want to steal $100 million dollars from the biggest kingpin in Rio to be exact. First there are logistical issues to work out. The money is located in ten different cash houses spread out across Rio, which is then consolidated into one super vault inside, who would have guessed, a police station. Through careful maneuverings, the team ascertains the make and model of the vault, where it’s located, the timings and trajectories of the security cameras, etc. How they get this information in and of itself is an exercise in clever problem solving and cooperation, again toward a larger goal.

Dom assembled his family and team based on their particular skill sets and idiosyncrasies. Every person helps the team in their own unique way. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) talks his way into the police station. Giselle (Gal Godot) uses her feminine wiles to get the Kingpin’s handprint. Tej (Ludacris) figures out how to break into the vault. On and on. After each person aids in figuring out just what they’ll need to do to break into the police station to steal the vault, they setup a dummy race course, which emulates the security and environment of the police station. Each member of the group takes turns with various cars in an attempt to increase their efficiency and eliminate their visibility to the security cameras. They literally hit a wall – no car is fast enough, no driver good enough to accomplish this deed. As a team, they reevaluate:

Han: The only way we’re going to beat the cameras is with invisible cars.

Dom: I know just where to get ’em.

Then they steal a bunch of police cars. It’s an ingenious solution to a complicated problem. The resolution for which seems to be conjured by their mutual respect for each other’s gifts and differences. This theme is why Justin Lin’s Fast and Furious movies are so wonderful. The Toretto clan is an evolving, adopted family that actually loves and accepts each other as they are.

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These familial qualities are all on display during Fast Five’s epic final set-piece. In a sequence that can only be described as fluid, precise and fun the whole team breaks into the police station to steal the vault, which just happens to involve driving across the entire city of Rio. Dom and Brian, each with their own 2010 Dodge Challenger, hitch the vault up to the back of their cars so that they’re tethered to it. The police chase them across town while the vault, which is significantly larger and heavier than the cars, rolls and is dragged behind (and sometimes in front of) them like a giant wrecking ball. The setup is something akin to a very high-stakes three-legged race. The vault crashes into trees, poles, buildings (including a bank!) and the many police cars chasing them, all of which seem like they were deliberately done and controlled by Brian and Dom. It’s not every day – or in every movie – where you get to see this kind of clever or brazen action ingenuity, let alone in the fifth part of a movie franchise. Lin frequently, though not frenetically, alternates from a Birdseye view of Dom, Brian and the vault being chased by the police to Dom and Brian’s first-person POV inside their vehicles to behind them so we can see exactly what the vault is doing and how it’s moving through Rio. This entire sequence is cut and pieced together with a calming fluidity and ease that makes it joyous to watch. It’s never nerve-wracking like you might think or imagine it should be. It’s just fun.

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Brian and Dom are able to do this amazing feat because, for one thing, they know each other and how one another drives really well. They don’t hesitate about who’s going to do what or how they’ll move because they instinctively know. For another, they are in constant communication with each other and the rest of the team, especially Mia. I haven’t mentioned Mia much in this essay because, frankly, she’s not one of the more interesting characters in this universe. However, she is vitally important to both Dom and Brian (she’s Dom’s sister and Brian’s girlfriend) and it’s significant that she’s the one overseeing the events happening on the digital police monitor and giving them and the rest of the team orders. She’s their lifeline, the person they both trust and love most. This heist wouldn’t work without her or the rest of the team and how well they’re able to work together as a whole, cohesive unit. They’re of one hive-like mind. When it comes down to it, each person on the Toretto team is a misfit when they’re not together. They live a lonely life outside the law, probably far away from their own flesh and blood families. As Han says in Tokyo Drift, “Who you choose to be around you lets you know who you are.” These people have chosen to be around each other because it makes them stronger as individuals and as a family and team. The police officers who are part of an actual organization aren’t able to keep up with them at all during the heist because they aren’t as unified as the Toretto’s.

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At the end of this sequence in Fast Five, Dom cuts Brian lose and somehow manages to swing/bounce the vault around in the air like a mace. He builds up enough momentum and redistributes the weight well enough that his car eventually becomes a flying object that swings around like the vault. Dom times and plans it so that when the vault swings a certain way, it pulls the car in the direction of the Kingpin and crushes him and his main henchman inside their own vehicle, almost like an arrow hitting a target. Though everyone on the Toretto team is an important member, this scene reestablishes that Dom is clearly the leader of their merry band of criminal misfits. He spent the whole movie re-familiarizing himself, both with his adopted car family and the earth itself through trains, vaults and foot chases, and now he can get back to being his own kind of superhero and superhuman again in Fast and Furious 6.

Lin’s last contribution to the Fast and Furious franchise is a bit of an odd duck because it’s the only movie in Lin’s vehicular universe where the characters aren’t on the make when the film begins. After pulling off the vault heist, the Toretto team members are all comfortable, wealthy and more or less retired in their separate corners of the world. However, Hobbs brings the gang back together and a large portion of the movie is spent just watching them interact with one another. This proves to be both entertaining and frustrating because, while the Toretto team is made up of a bunch of unique and talented people, Fast and Furious 6 doesn’t do much to develop their personalities. They rely on the same shtick and stereotypes that they have through the whole series, except they have a lot more screen time and down time in this movie. The only exception to this point, at least in Fast and Furious 6, might be Letty.

Though everyone thought Letty was dead during Fast & Furious and Fast Five, Hobbs has discovered that – surprise! – she’s still alive. However, she has amnesia, is working with another group of criminals and has no memory of what her life was like before her nearly fatal experience in Fast & Furious, including who Dom, the love of her life, is. Or was.

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There’s a lot of good stuff in Fast and Furious 6, but its two best action set-pieces occur as a direct result of Dom’s love for the women in his life, Letty and Mia.

What’s happening in the story during the first set-piece doesn’t really matter, but, suffice to say, Letty and her new team are en route to steal another all-important microchip from a convoy and the Toretto team are following closely behind them. They’re all on the freeway where normal cars and normal people are driving. Letty’s team steals a tank from the convoy and starts crushing every car in sight, wreaking as much havoc and mayhem as possible. Similar to the vault heist in Fast Five, but with additional firing and crushing power. The Toretto team is split up on both sides of the freeway and are constantly negotiating the space between them and the other side of the freeway and how best to help and be involved in taking down the tank. How would Brian, Dom and the rest of them have stopped themselves if they were the police in Rio chasing two crazy guys dragging a vault through the city? The Toretto team has no choice – they have to drive and go up if they want to survive, get Letty back and steal the microchip from the opposing team. The auto aerials have returned.

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The first is impressive, especially considering it involves notorious scaredy cat, Roman (Tyrese Gibson). After nearly being blown up by the tank, Roman backs his car up to the front of the tank so both he and his car are under the gun and can’t be fired upon. However, this also puts him in a rather precarious position because now the tank is crushing the back of his car. After hitching his car up to the gun so the tank has to drag it around like an anchor (another ode to the vault in Fast Five), Roman almost literally flies forward out of his car at the last second. He flies forward from the back of the frame to the front onto Brian’s car, who has just done a bit of vehicular flying of his own. Brian and Roman are old friends and this moment does a lot to cement their relationship within the series. They’re there for each other when it truly counts.

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The most impressive instance of Lin’s auto aerials occurs moments later. In what is truly a jaw-dropping scene, one that is reminiscent of the opening auto aerial in Fast & Furious, Letty is standing on top of the moving tank and is skyrocketed into the air by both the car-anchor Roman and Brian attached to it and Letty’s boss’s assholery. This chase is happening on a two freeway overpass that, at this point in the movie, is hovering over a deep ravine next to the ocean. Dom sees Letty fly into the air, knowing that she’s going to fall to her death. He crashes his car on the opposite side of the freeway, flies into the air himself and catches her in the middle of the two freeways. They safely land on a nearby car. When Letty jumped by herself in Fast & Furious, she knew who she was, who she loved and trusted Dom enough to make the jump in the first place. In Fast and Furious 6, she doesn’t know any of these things because of her amnesia. This grand gesture on Dom’s part might not help her remember, but it shows how much he loves her. It’s a staggering, lovely moment – not only because it reveals how much Dom is willing to risk for Letty, but also because it represents the beauty of Lin’s Fast and Furious movies as a whole. Dom and the rest of the team use cars to make them superhuman, yes, but they don’t have mechanical souls. They’re incredibly empathetic, kind and humane people.

After Letty is saved, the team takes down a jumbo jet with a bunch of cars. There’s really nothing they can’t do with the right vehicles. Human or not, as Roman says at the end of the movie, “Thank God for fast cars.”

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