The sixth film in a franchise built ostensibly on tough guys driving fast cars has no right to be this exhilarating. A winning combination of audacious set pieces, outrageous stunts, brawny banter and plot twists, Fast & Furious 6 unleashes more than just an incongruous ampersand, blowing its predecessors out of the water on every count.
Those who sat through the end credits of Fast Five will already know the setup – Michelle Rodriguez's character Letty is alive and scowling despite her apparent demise in the fourth movie. This propels Dwayne Johnson's wisecracking Security Service agent Luke Hobbs to entice former adversaries Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and his crew to head to London in order to tackle a nefarious gang of criminals spearheaded by Luke Evans's dastardly villain Owen Shaw, who Letty now works for.
We are consequently treated to scenes of Vin Diesel emoting a great deal. Plenty of forlorn gazing out of windows ensues as Dom ruminates over the resurrection of his former squeeze Letty and the implications on his current ladyfriend. More importantly, loads of automobile destruction and thrilling chase sequences also follow.
Although the screen is peppered with action heroes waddling around with tensed muscles and clenched jaws, the star of Fast & Furious 6 is undoubtedly director Justin Lin. His helming of the set pieces is exquisite, executing every money shot to perfection such as a stunning moment in which a tank unexpectedly bursts out from inside a large truck. It's the vehicular equivalent of the John Hurt chestburster scene in Alien, albeit with twisted metal spewing forth instead of innards.
The London locations form a good contrast to the sun-drenched surroundings of the previous movie, with the nighttime chase sequences around the capital making excellent use of the environment. They do miss a trick by not having Vin Diesel hop onto a 'Boris bike' at some stage. Just imagine that shiny bonce frantically peddling round Trafalgar Square at 15mph in pursuit of the bad guys. Cinematic magic that sadly wasn't to be.
Luke Evans's criminal mastermind Owen Shaw is a surprisingly refreshing foe – and not only because it demonstrates that Hollywood is capable of looking beyond North Korea for its antagonists at the moment. Shaw is more than a generic cackling baddie, displaying much guile, stealth and a healthy dose of respect for his opponents. Plus he's in possession of a 'Flip Car', which is best described as a Batmobile constructed from Meccano. It can flip cars over like burgers, using a ramp at the front, and is a visceral joy to behold.
Female leads Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano fortunately don't drown in a sea of testosterone, with both matching their male counterparts for sheer guts and never succumbing to the eye candy fodder that's so rife in the genre. One particular fight sequence between the pair, involving Carano's government agent attempting to capture Letty on the London Underground, is extremely fierce and brutal. It's quite rare to see such rage on public transport that's not induced by the endless procession of delays, strikes and signal failures.
A few mishaps occur along the way, including an awkward attempted comic interlude with a stereotyped posh English auctioneer and too many stale and formulaic snippets of dialogue - like the mandatory "you've got to be kidding me"-style reactions. Yet the camaraderie between the cast, especially the metaphorical c**k-jousting between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel, still retains its fun appeal.
As an exponent of escapism, Fast & Furious 6 does a terrific job of transporting your mind into a thrilling world of high speed chases and 'cat and mouse' gameplaying shenanigans between two opposing forces. It's easy to lambast such movies from the genre for cardboard characters or predictable plotting, but Justin Lin's movie is such a wildly enjoyable ride and so slickly assembled that it manages to clinically swipe aside its limitations like Dwayne Johnson slapping down a bad guy. Just don't scarper once the end credits roll, as there's a shock reveal that establishes a new adversary for the next instalment.