Fast & Furious 6by Kavish Chetty / 24.05.2013
Furious 6 announces itself with a splurge of generic sluts, the throaty roar of sovereign engines. Media previews are, ordinarily, a rather sombre affair: the same five or six critics, with their handfuls of stale popcorn. Today, however, the magnetic draw of this film has gathered at least ten times that number, mostly Athlone’s finest casuals who have, somehow, managed to evade Nu Metro’s asshole security in pursuit of a free ride. Furious 6 is classical action cinema, contoured and arched with perfect idiotic sublimity over its two-hour duration. Like most of this species of action cinema, it is immediately globalised, ranging across Moscow and Macau, London and Bratheel. The arresting crisis for a franchise of this sort, is how to elaborate complex car chases around a plot that deals with global terrorism and geopolitical anxiety (my fondness for this phrase will dissipate in due course, I imagine). It requires an improbable series of narrative maneuvers to rush into each fabricated car chase; it requires, also, an anti-terrorist unit who think that Mustang fast-backs choreographing themselves in beautiful spurts of acceleration/deceleration are the desired method for taking down tanks and aeroplanes.
There are two meatheads at the helm here. The first is Vin Diesel, with his cut-glass voice and primate charisma; the other is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with shoulders of such unthinkable girth as to be purely absurd. Feminists may rejoice in the knowledge that female leads in this film are no longer surrendered to the “damsel-in-distress” role, but have rather gained ascension into the same sphere of moronic psychopathy with which male action heroes are usually represented (but, please, don’t get me wrong: there are enough tamed and victim-worthy wives and girlfriends lamming in our peripheral vision). Diesel and Johnson – this is not the name of new haute couture house of designer steroids – come together for two reasons. Johnson needs a team of experts to take on a new terrorist threat which, apparently, the combined might of American military intelligences and arsenals cannot. Diesel has the people for the job, the recurring cast of the Furious franchise: Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang and Gal Gadot. They are all wanted crims in exile from America, dodging extradition laws in far-flung places. Their stake in helping Johnson is simple. Michelle Rodriguez, series regular, has been presumed dead/missing, and Johnson has evidence she is in fact, alive – although curiously in the employ of the enemy. For this reason, Diesel summons the valorous principle of “family” – you never give up on family et cetera et cetera – and brings back his odd gang to rescue their former sister.
This is not an especially believable principle. None of these seven are de facto family, but rather friends, associates, partners-in-crime, possible lovers. They are also, lest we forget, anarchic thugs, criminals, the traditional bad-guys, and their commitment to this phantasmal notion of “family” is cutesy but ridiculous. To give us some form of empathic community with these bad-guys, the film-makers have had to engineer some strange ethical sleights-of-hand. Having maimed and destroyed their way through five earlier incarnations, they are all unexplainably anti-collateral damage. But the whole principle of illegal street-racing, their unifying interest, is entirely pro-harming innocent lives. In a set-piece race scene which curves through the lamp-lit arteries of London, Diesel and Rodriguez have to throw every passerby into imminent threat of collision with their contorted motions across the freeways. They are inserted into a lifestyle which takes collateral damage as a principle, so when Owen Shaw, this year’s antagonist, starts crunching over civilian drivers in a stolen tank, and Rodriguez starts to register such pangs of emotional regret, we need to wonder a little about this contradiction between explicit/implicit violence.
Batman, as an aside, is a victim of the same stupidities. He, almost childishly, refuses to kill as an ethical dictum, yet he condemns his assailants to the most tortured lives when he’s done crushing spines and rushing faces into concrete walls. He too, with his explosions and batmobile car-chases must destroy innocent lives in the spectacle of his justice-pursuits, yet his conscience is clean of the violence he performs peripherally, outside the purview of the main vision. This refusal to accept the violence imbricated in the work of vigilantism, and it’s the same logic at work in Furious 6, is among the most enduring ethical problems in action cinema: protagonists or heroes who are not allowed to face up to their implicated-ness in a violence that extends beyond the explicit act of pulling the trigger.
I have given a sketch of the plot above, but clearly the narrative framework here is designed as a method to control and flex the quantities of action – it is obvious in the way set-pieces organically evolve from simple beginnings into magnificent and saturnalian scenes of excess. The film is tame on actual blood and evisceration (clearly aiming to penetrate the widest and youngest audience possible; they have also excised the usual plenary of pendulous nude breasts, limiting objectification to the bikini-ed and g-stringed). But the choreography of its violence is almost balletic, fitted to this form in its exquisite brutality. It suggests the thing that Hollywood should really surrender itself to but almost never does: a glorious composite of surrealism and violence. Dispense with plot altogether and simply run protagonists through a gauntlet of bloody and increasingly intense trials. It is apparent to most that the plots in these films, as I’ve said, are functions to control blood-letting and thereby manipulate tension and drama – they are absurd and do not survive the most simple of inquisitions (why did Walker have himself incarcerated when he could have just sent Johnson over to America, for example?). Take the anarchic spirit of Jodorowsky and marry him to the impulses for carnage and tension and produce a whole palette of sensory mind-fucks.
Furious 6 is, finally, not a bad film as far as its species goes. Certainly, the dialogue is atrocious, its men are the product of the dictatorship of testosterone, savagely gargantuan and revolting, the plotting is ridiculous, the motives are dubious, and the logic is foolish. But at the same time, it summons such gloriously absurd set-pieces – just millions of dollars pumped into reproducing a comic-heroic world we are denied by the limits of reality. The fighting sequences feature truly satisfying flying kicks and the sound brings out a thunderous connection with each punch that simply cannot exist within the natural laws of acoustics. It’s the apotheosis of the Hollywood escapist fantasy: totally unthinking, physically impossible, stereotypical to the point of disaster, entertaining and with no pressure or injunction to learn anything. As the pre-credits coda assures us, too, there will be a sequel – and so the endless, autotelic succession of this simulacra continues ad infinitum.