IronWatcher’s review published on Letterboxd:
Watched on Blu-Ray
Which franchise reaches its peak in the fifth part? The "Fast and Furious" series shows how exactly this is done. After the successful beginning of Rob Cohen it seemed to be dead after part 2 and 3 creatively and nobody was in mourning mood. Vin Diesel, the big star of the series - and "Fast Five" makes this clear- was far too busy ramming his three potential franchises into the ground (Riddick, F&F, xXx). With Paul Walker alone, the series could just as well have disappeared into Direct to DVD land. Then there was "Tokyo Drift", which, apart from a cameo, did without the stars of its predecessors. "Toyko Drift", directed by an indie director named Justin Lin, reduced the series to its greatest show value (the cars) and showed the disloyal stars a clearly visible middle finger with the subsequent box-office receipts. Even without any attractive or even charismatic leading actors, the film saved its Studio Universal from ending up in the red. Drifting cars at exotic locations was the motto and it worked out so successfully that the two lost sons Paul Walker and Vin Diesel returned for the fourth part of "Fast & Furious".
That's why "Fast Five" is actually the legitimate third part in a franchise that has lost its supposed center in the meantime. On the other hand, you could say that "Fast Five" is the third part of a series that only really picked up speed during "Tokyo Drift" and under the direction of Justin Lin. I like the latter interpretation best, fans of the characters will probably see it differently. Anyway, the actual fifth appearance of the car fetish show is the ultimate "Fast & Furious" movie, which reunites all possible participants of the previous contributions in front of the camera again, as well as outshines everything seen before by its incredible climax.
But first to the formalities: Dominic (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) land in Rio de Janeiro, where they want to free the inhabitants of the local favelas from a totally nasty businessman and make a pile of money in the process. But the special something Hobbs (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) has something against it and wants to book Dom. In between: plans that would make Ocean's Eleven all honorable, cool sayings from The Rock and cars, cars, cars.
In terms of object love in action cinema, the whole series walks on the paths of the B-movie of the 70s, in terms of physicality, the 80s blow through the corrugated iron huts. Muscle-packed heroes, wherever you look and for whom Vin Diesel's biceps have always been too small, this time you get to see Dwayne Johnson in a muscle shirt with his also inflated colleagues from the American police force. Four-wheeled gorgeous carts and an old-fashioned hypermasculinity are the motto of Fast Five, who like a pimply teenager enjoys the fact that an important handprint of the target person can be found on a bikini slip. How on earth did it get there?
The Multi-Culti-Ocean's Fourteen is a single rejection of everything that seems serious in mainstream cinema and only somehow suspicious of subtext. The spectacle is the sexy bodies and the cars, not a broken soul, nowhere.
Justin Lin is the right man to captivate the audience with the meager ingredients. With a less competent director behind the camera, maybe one who wanted to get even more out of the story (who cares?) than necessary, Fast Five would probably have become an overloaded bore. Instead, Justin Lin knows exactly what's important. He already knew during "Tokyo Drift": Set pieces held together by helicopter shots of big cities and amusing, but just not rich dialogue.
The stars, the whole meta-explosion alone in the idea of Vin Diesel competing against The Rock, are pretty side dishes that make the breaks between the action scenes bearable to entertaining. Acting has never been the issue here. But the main attraction remains the piles of junk. And what kind of junk Justin Lin piles up during the course of the film! From the first action sequence on, the constant subtitle of "Fast Five" is: Yeah, we're really doing this! There's always a wink in the face of technical grandiosity when a few cars are stolen from a speeding train or the financial district of Rio de Janeiro is turned into mountains of rubble for a heist. The wink is justified.
Even if the first paragraphs of this review make it appear otherwise: Justin Lin did not take the franchise. At least in his studio films, he doesn't give the appearance of style. Some of his visual motifs could just as well have come from CSI: Miami. More than what can be seen in the frame at the moment, one searches in vain. But these very frames, reduced to the simplest content - people talking; cars driving - are combined with a filmmaking expertise that is rare in modern Hollywood action films. Twenty years ago he might have been one of many craftsmen. In times of CGI and shaky cams, the tangible approach of Lin and his Studio Universal seems a refreshing change. "Fast Five", as generic as its structure is, has breathtaking set pieces to offer, which for a change are not presented in close-ups. Not only in this matter it does leave its direct predecessors far behind.