05/24/2013 02:52 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2013

Zaki's Review: Fast & Furious 6

Amazingly enough, before this week I hadn't seen a single entry in Universal's now-voluminous catalogue of Fast & Furious movies. That didn't necessarily signal a lack of interest on my part, but simply a lack of energy. My fuzzy recollections of the first one, 2001's The Fast & The Furious (back before they dispensed with the need for pesky things like definitive articles) were of a "hip & cool" street-racing flick that cribbed liberally from 1991's Kathryn Bigelow-helmed Point Break while swapping Paul Walker for Keanu Reeves. I dunno, seemed like kind of a lateral move. And so, I scootched over to the slow lane and let it pass me by.

But then a funny thing happened. The Fast & The Furious didn't just spawn a sequel. Or even a franchise. It spawned a saga. And a passionate fan base right along with it that eagerly awaited each installment. That passion is something I didn't become fully aware of until I talked to my students, who greeted the arrival of 2009's movie four, Fast & Furious, reuniting Diesel & Walker after they sat out the second and third installments respectively, with all the pomp one would expect for a Beatles reunion. And then, with 2011's Fast Five, I saw the kind of anticipatory ardor I'd previously assumed was reserved for Star Wars and Twilight. Something was definitely happening here. But even then I didn't dive in.

That is, until early last week. Knowing I had a screening of Fast & Furious 6 coming up very soon, I decided that it was time. I made the fateful decision to set down and speed through all five Fasts. It was going to happen. In hindsight that may have been setting too high a bar, as I forgot to take into account the fact that when you have kids, you have to measure the time it takes to watch movies in galactic years. Thus, after several failed attempts to make it past the first twenty minutes of the first one, I revised my plans downward. I'd watch part six completely fresh, without the accrued warm glow of nostalgia to go with it. And so I did.

As scripted by Chris Morgan, for his third Fast, and directed by Justin Lin, helming his fourth, times are flush for Furious anti-hero Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) as we join him in Fast & Furious 6 (screen-titled Furious 6, leading me to think the next one will be called & 7). After the Rio-based heist shenanigans of the previous go-round, Toretto and his team of do-good hoods are making the most of their new millions. His pal Brian O'Connor (Walker) is settling into life as a new father with Toretto's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and the other members of the gang (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, etc.) have settled into lives of luxury in various non-extradition countries around the world.

All of that changes when they're tracked down by dogged federal agent Luke Hobbs (the ever-hulking Dwayne Johnson, looking even more massive here than he did in G.I. Joe: Retaliation two months ago), who famously tussled with Toretto last time in a battle of bald titans, convinces Dom to aid him in tracking down a criminal mastermind called Shaw (Luke Evens) by dangling the lure of finding his ladylove Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who supposedly died two entries ago. Before long, the gang is back together, this time in London, and the road is paved for more of the car-on-car action that typifies these things, and which director Justin Lin (making his Fast swan-song here) has turned into an art.

At the center of all of this is Diesel, someone whose appeal I never really understood until now. The union between actor and character is a powerful one, and he settles into his now-iconic role with comfortable precision. You can't help but like Dom, and the bro-mantic relationship with Walker feels like one that the audience has watched evolve and grow in real time (compare this with last week's Star Trek Into Darkness, which hinges its climactic scene on a Kirk-Spock friendship that hasn't been earned as of yet). While the gravel-voiced star famously bolted the franchise after the first one for greener pastures (remember xXx?), it's clear that Toretto has been just as good for Diesel's career as his presence has been for the series.

Like I said, I went into this one completely cold, but after seeing Fast & Furious 6, I get it. I totally do. To write it off as a mere "guy movie" is to do it a huge disservice. This is the action hero mythology of this current generation the same way Die Hard and Lethal Weapon were for mine. As the latest entry of a long-running series, it excels at deepening the characters while also tying together multiple threads from previous films in a way that feels fulfilling even to a newbie like me. As the action winds down on Fast 6, the narrative comes to a rest at a place that neatly wraps up threads from the two (!!) Fast trilogies while also setting up, via an intriguing mid-credits postscript, the direction things are likely to go for next time. I'm excited. B+