When re-watching all of the Fast and the Furious movies again, I now understand why this entry is universally the most liked in the franchise. I will always have a soft spot for the first film for starting the franchise and for nostalgic reasons, but all the films leading up to this have been dull and boring despite having exciting car chases and action sequences. With Fast Five, the franchise decided to change course from a movie about a gang of drag racers in Los Angeles to fun heist film. It no longer feels like a film that is taking itself seriously. It now feels like a film that knows what it is and has fun with it.
Now I know a ton of critics like me will say the phrase, "it doesn't take itself too seriously." However, when I ask people what they mean by that statement, many of them will just shrug their shoulders and simply repeat the statement. So while I will use the statement for this movie, let me explain my reasoning. The first film in the series obviously wasn't made with the intent that it would go onto become a billion dollar action spectacle franchise. It was simply a movie about an undercover cop that befriends the man he is investigating. Basically, it was Point Break with drag racing in it. Add in a ton of dated early 2000's pop culture and you have yourself the first Fast and Furious film. The following two movies followed this formula to a certain extent. Lots of characters speaking in slang only relevant to the early 2000s with lots of fast cars. The problem is that these two aspects of the movie came at expense of a gripping story. The early films in the franchise don't hold up as well today because of it.
When it came time for the fourth movie, it got messy. They brought back Brian and Dom and Mia for another "adventure," but in reality, their stories were never really interesting enough to warrant another movie. Still hoping to rekindle the "magic" of the first film, the filmmakers went for a more dramatic approach with its characters which felt very hollow.
When it finally came time for the fifth movie, which I think they thought was going to be their last one, they decided to do something the other films didn't just go crazy with it. Let's bring in Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the villain of the film. Let's bring back every single secondary character there ever was in any of these movies to make a super team. That way, we can have a bunch of different personalities clash which could make for some good humor. And while we need a story, let's not make it a moan and groan fest like the last film. Instead, let's fill it with over the top stunts and action and just have fun with it.
RedLetterMedia described a movie as a cake, the three layers being: Story, Characters, and Emotion. The icing on the cake is humor and action. The first couple of films lacked in all of these areas. Sure, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker have this very weird sort of charisma about them and they all have some cool car chases, that still leaves you with a pretty small piece of cake. With Fast Five, you have a story that still isn't that interesting, a bunch of characters that are funny (some extra icing) which in turn makes us care about them. So already you have a better piece of cake, but then, of course, you have the action. Now that is one sugar-filled delicious piece of cake.
Sure, do I want my movies to have strong characters and story that leaves me with an emotional impact? Of course, I do. But sometimes you are allowed to have a cheat day. And if you have a big screen TV with surround sound, it's a great cheat day.
So in all honesty, if you want a taste of this franchise to see what all the fuss is about, I would honestly recommend reading a quick synopsis of the previous films and jump straight into this one. With the humor, action and witty group of characters, Fast Five is a tasty slice of cake.