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I’ve never been much of a fan of the Fast and the Furious film series, but was at least entertained until I got to the fourth film – Fast and Furious. Fast and Furious was a joyless, boring exercise, notable only for reuniting the leads of the original film. I was surprised when a fifth film was announced based on the generally negative response to Fast and Furious (I shouldn’t have been, as the film made more money than any other film in the series), and even more surprised when said fifth film was met with critical acclaim, and massive box office receipts. Fast Five (dumb name) starts where Fast and Furious left off, with undercover cop turned not so undercover criminal Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and his significant other Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) breaking his frenemy (and her brother) Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of prison by assaulting the bus transferring him (along with a couple dozen other prisoners) with muscle cars (somehow nobody dies and only Dom escapes, but that’s not important right now). The trio meets up in Rio de Janeiro, where their friend Vince (Matt Schulze, as seen in the first film) sets them up with a high-risk train heist. Unfortunately Vince didn’t do his homework, and the job is hotter than anticipated. Following a messy getaway, Dom, Brian and Mia discover they have crime lord Hernan Reyes’ (Joaquim de Almeida) car, complete with a computer chip overflowing with information on his criminal empire. With a Mack truck of a DSS agent named Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) on their tail, the friends gather a team of their best friends, and plan a massive heist of Reyes’ cash assets.

Fast Five: Extended Edition
Fast Five cuts to the quick, reminds us what happened when we last left the series, and gets down to the business of reminding the audience what they like about this series – namely its characters and a bounty of vehicular mayhem. The storyline isn’t exactly unique – it’s basically Oceans 11 with car chases – but it’s an effective refinement of genre clichés, and simple without ever turning dumb. Instead of re-inventing the wheel the filmmakers are cleaning off the dirt, and rounding off the edges. This is a simple action heist script that doesn’t feature any surprises, but doesn’t offend with its simplicity, and covers its tracks with charming characters and character interactions. Plenty of bits don’t make sense, but the pacing doesn’t give anyone a chance to think too hard about the logical stuff in between the cool stuff. The ‘getting the gang together’ heist plot structure allows for the filmmakers to bring back popular characters from the previous films, and sort of ties the Diesel-less second film, and the Walker-less (and almost Diesel-less) third film more firmly into the series. Fast Five’s successes don’t make those films any better, but make me more willing to watch them again some day. The film seems to prove the equation that states four mediocre films equal one good one, as opposed to the more common equation that states most film series (action film series in particular) decrease in quality after two entrees. Perhaps most importantly nobody forgets to include a healthy dose of levity in this film, as Fast and Furious (the fourth one, not the first one) was a mess of gritty melodrama. This film isn’t afraid to be funny, and isn’t afraid to be a little sappy, within the realms of reason, of course.

I complained in my reviews of Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious that Justin Lin’s action has lacked any logical physics, even in the usual broad action movie sense, and rarely had any bite. Neither film featured any real sense of danger, outside an early foot chase in Fast and Furious. I originally assumed that Lin simply wasn’t a very good action director, and that he should stick to characters and comedy ( Better Luck Tomorrow and a trilogy of Community episodes standing as proof of these skills). I was wrong. Perhaps we should just consider those film multimillion dollar practice reels, because Lin has upped his game for Fast Five, and even though it’s difficult to really worry about the well being of any major character, the vehicular mayhem is brutal in a relatively believable manner. There isn’t a lot of novelty in the action set-pieces, I’ve seen similar scenes in everything from Mad Max to The Incredible Hulk, but Lin and his stunt crews refine the unoriginal stuff, and build up quite well to the massive destruction of the climatic chase, which offers up plenty of unique angles on familiar chase tropes, and is possibly the best mass destruction mash-up since Terminator 3. The ‘vault chase’ even has a thematic purpose, as it literally sees Dom and Brian working in tandem to preserve their family unit. Lin uses the popular shaky cam, high frequency editing practices, but does so sparingly enough to create an effective sense of movement between shots, and avoids arbitrary cutting and speed ramping. The action here is modern, but sticks to the original film’s intentions of paying homage to ‘60s and ‘70s car chase classics.

Fast Five: Extended Edition
I find myself wondering how we could’ve possibly gone this many years without pairing Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in a movie. They’re such an obvious tough guy protagonist/antagonist team that their presence here almost reason alone to give the film a chance. Their eventual fist-to-fist showdown can’t possibly live up to the expectations set by their combined presence, but it’s still a great cinematic smash-up, in the tradition of Roddy Piper/Keith David slugfest in Carpenter’s They Live. Walker and Diesel already have oodles of chemistry (some of it a bit homoerotic, in the grand action movie tradition), but now they’re definitively on the same side (mostly), so it’s important that the filmmakers give them another ‘good guy’ rival to balance the pot. Essentially, Johnson is standing in for Walker as seen in the first two films, he’s just a bigger, better version of the same character, with an entirely different brand of charisma. Walker works well in his new capacity too, and gets back to the more mischievous character he played in the second film. He’s full of smiles, and it’s hard not to smile back. Between these three guys there’s enough testosterone buzzing around to fill three hockey arenas. Stallone should be taking notes for the next Expendables flick, as with a fraction of the big name action stars Fast Five proves quality always stands head and shoulders above quantity. Really, though, there isn’t a weak performance in this ensemble, even Jordana Brewster, who I’ve never been impressed with even within the simple expectations of this series.

Fast Five: Extended Edition

Video


Fast Five follows Justin Lin’s Fast and Furious palette and lighting choices, which is to say it’s dirty, and pretty high contrast, but still plenty clear and sharp. According to the specs Lin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon choose to shoot the film on Super 35 film stock, which means plenty of detail (the film enjoyed a non-3D IMAX run), and a fair amount of fine film grain. Details are a little mushy and flat during the night sequences, but daylight scenes are rich in minute textures, complex wardrobe pieces, and busy background elements. The foot chase over Brazilian rooftops, for example, features a special level of sharpness and clean colour separations, and close-up details. The amber and yellow palette is a little old hat at this point, but makes pretty obvious sense given the Brazilian local (amber and yellow are apparently the official colours of the region, according to modern movies), and the blue-green alternate palette juxtaposes nicely, and subtly marks the antagonists as separate from our heroes. The overall black levels are solid, but rarely as dark as I’d prefer, and often infiltrated by a slight blue tint. The lightest highlights are rarely pure white either, and instead are often marked with a slight yellow tint.

Audio


The Fast and the Furious series has always done right by surround sound mixes, and this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track continues the long tradition. Nary a second ticks by without all five channels shaking to life either through vocal performances, ambient noise, character movement, action cues, or bombastic music. The only bit of silence is the lead up to a blast of water and fecal matter when our heroes blow-up a sewage system, and an extremely effective shell shock from Dwayne Johnson’s point of view, where all the sound is sucked out of the fire fight, and a massive explosion is represented only by a throbbing base note. The car chases and crashes are the obvious starting points for viewers hoping to give their systems the most excessive workouts, including the thundering consistency of the first act train heist, and the dynamic motion and heavy impact of the climatic safe-pulling chase sequence.

Fast Five: Extended Edition

Extras


The extras start on the extended version of the film with a feature commentary from director Justin Lin. Lin is perfectly pleasant, informative, and doesn’t allow for much blank space on the track. One of the track’s most consistent themes is ‘preparation’. Lin doesn’t just discuss the trails and tribulations of producing such a massive production on a relatively modest budget (it’s a little sad that $125 million counts as a modest budget these days), he’s sure to credit the team work that went into the film (he almost always refers to ‘us’ and ‘we’, rather than ‘I’ or ‘me’ when discussing the film’s achievements), and makes mention of the lessons he personally learned on Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious. His steadfast loyalty to his cast and crew can make for a slightly exhausting and repetitive experience, but his enthusiasm is somewhat infectious, and I did learn something from the track. There’s also a lot of talk of practical stunts and effects, which is another positive in the film’s arsenal. The fourth film had some very obvious issues with digital augmentation.

I’d like to say that the commentary was augmented with a U-Control picture and picture mode, but the U-Control is only available on the theatrical version of the film. The U-Control includes 17 PiP featurette/interview sequences, and one ‘scene explorer’ multi-angle exploration, which itself includes pre-viz, raw dailies, behind-the scenes, and final film video feeds for the train heist sequence. There is also a second screen option to watch extras on your laptop or portable device, but I couldn’t get it to work (possibly because the disc isn’t officially available yet). I assume it mostly consists of the same stuff available on the U-Control.

Fast Five: Extended Edition
Next up are two brief deleted scenes (1:40, HD), which fill out a few minor character interactions, and a blooper reel (4:20, HD). The featurettes begin with ‘The Big Train Heist’ (7:40, HD), a look behind the scenes of the first act action sequence, including interviews with key members of the cast and crew, pre-viz, and behind the scenes footage of the stunts and building of the rigs. ‘Reuniting the Team’ (5:00, HD) takes a fluffy look at the process of gathering characters together from the previous films. ‘A New Set of Wheels’ (10:10, HD) covers the specifics of the more functional and technical aspects of the cars in the film. From here the featurettes grow more character specific. ‘Dom’s Journey’ (5:00, HD) traverses Diesel’s character’s arc throughout the franchise, and covers some of the actor’s work behind the scenes on Fast Five. ‘Brian O’Conner: From Fed to Con’ (6:00, HD) covers Paul Walker’s character’s growth from working as an undercover cop to living as an undercover criminal. ‘Enter Federal Agent Hobbs’ (5:50, HD) covers the inclusion of Dwayne Johnson’s character, while ‘Dom vs. Hobbs’ (7:30, HD) covers the filming of his big fight with Diesel. ‘On Set with Director Justin Lin’ (8:40, HD) goes all fly-on-the-wall behind the scenes on the filming of the montage sequence that sees the team practicing turning different vehicles quickly around a curve. ‘Inside the Vault Chase’ (9:20, HD) finishes the featurettes off with a look at the production of the film’s bone crushing climax. Things finish with ‘Tyrese TV’ (6:40, HD), an energetic and silly EPK excerpt with actor Tyrese.

WEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeee

Overall


Fast Five brings the mediocre Fast and the Furious franchise out into the fringes of great action filmmaking. It’s not as great as I’d been led to believe, but it gets my vote as the best in the series, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of Dwayne Johnson into the ensemble cast, and to director Justin Lin’s newly refined action direction chops. Between this and X-Men: First Class five times seems to be the charm for faltering film series (I hear Final Destination 5 was a return to form as well, but haven’t seen it yet). This Blu-ray features a sharp, colourful transfer, an aggressive 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and a decent assortment of extras, though I wasn’t able to access the ‘second screen’ inclusions for the sake of this review.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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