Why is this fifth instalment the best in the Fast & Furious series? It has a lot to do with director Justin Lin (the man behind Fast 3-6) being on the top of his game, freed from the confines of the street racing subgenre to deliver a heist movie featuring some truly audacious and jaw-dropping action sequences. Then there’s the addition of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, a baby-oiled behemoth blessed with the charisma lacking amongst most of the main cast, and the only actor you’d believe capable of wrestling Vin Diesel through a wall. It’s here that the franchise finally finds a sense of humour, and learns to wallow in its own excess.
It takes a certain chutzpah to roll out a film under the "fast" banner that comes in at a 130 minute runtime, but then this fifth instalment in the franchise isn’t quite like the films that came before. The street racing angle has been jettisoned in favour of a heist movie setup and the film’s all the better for it. The lean, mean budgeting of the original has long since gone by the board, resulting in some of the most gloriously implausible action sequences - an opening gambit involving a train and a bridge is only topped by a ludicrous finale in which a bank vault is strapped to two cars and flung through the streets of Rio. While both sequences are patently preposterous they’re also meticulously choreographed and stunningly shot by director (and franchise saviour) Justin Lin. Who needs plausibility or even a loose grasp of the laws of physics when the result is something this jaw-droppingly fun? It’s a case of money very well spent, and fortunately there still appears to have been a sizable chunk of the budget left over to be lavished on the reservoir of baby oil required to burnish Vin Diesel and The Rock's prodigious biceps to a lustrous sheen.
Of course, these are characters who work best when they verge on self-parody, and to its credit Fast & Furious 5 often seems to know exactly how silly they are and the film is. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson deserves a truckload of praise for providing a more credible anti-antagonist to our anti-heroes than the straight up villains (generic Hispanic flavour) can manage. Naturally he ends up engaged in a homoerotic wrestle/fight with Vin Diesel which sends them literally crashing through walls in yet another over-the-top moment that could only work in this very particular context. As usual the dialogue is daft, the characters are far too portentous for their own good, and at 130 minutes the runtime does count as somewhat of a black mark against the film. There’s no doubt that it would have benefitted from a ruthless editor trimming away some of the excess, but then again, for a film that trades almost exclusively in excess, perhaps it’s only appropriate that they didn’t.
In a nutshell: By some margin the best film in the Fast & Furious franchise. As a pure action spectacle it has few peers.