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SYFY WIRE Fast & Furious

Why Fast Five Remains One of the Greatest Films in the Fast Saga

Remembering those Fast Saga fugitive days when Dom Toretto and the fam were still hungry.

By Benjamin Bullard

Fast X and its big baddie Dante (Jason Momoa) are melting metal at the box office, reviving a hidden demon from Dom Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) past with a killer revenge story that tips its Fast & Furious hat to the events of 2011’s Fast Five. There’s a reason Fast X director Louis Leterrier and writers Dan Mazeau, Zach Dean, and Justin Lin looked to Fast Five in particular as the place to mine the long and labyrinthine Fast Saga for fresh lore: After 10 numbered movies spanning 22 years, it remains one of the best films in the franchise.

Directed by Lin with a screenplay by longtime Fast & Furious scribe Chris Morgan, Fast Five finds Dom and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) still in their fugitive days, well before the fam’s eventual Fast Saga role as off-the-books government allies in an ever-escalating international espionage war. Dom and Brian scheme up one last heist that’s supposed to be the score to end all scores: If they can manage to steal every last dime of Brazilian drug lord Hernan Reyes’ money, they can quit the game for good, living out the rest of their days extradition-free… in some overseas tropical paradise, of course.

RELATED: Why Paul Walker Signed On to the Fast Saga Without a Screenplay

That’s the elusive $100 million prize that hangs over (almost) every move the family makes in Fast Five, though naturally, there are a couple of wrinkles. Dom’s ride-or-die soul mate Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still missing following the events of 2009’s Fast & Furious. Brian’s flame Mia (Jordana Brewster) — who just so happens to be Dom’s sister — is secretly pregnant. And the violent turf wars in Rio de Janeiro suggest, even to the family’s hard-charging U.S. headhunters, that there are worse bad guys out there than Dom and his loyal gang.

Aside from perhaps the first Fast Saga film, Walker and Diesel were never better together onscreen than in Fast Five, with each still hungry to escape their sketchy pasts and surrounded by friends more at home in the streets — or maybe even penitentiaries — than in penthouses. But there’re more reasons to celebrate Fast Five as a high point in the Fast & Furious franchise, even as its plot ripples continue to reverberate through the current Fast X story arc.

What Makes Fast Five Such a Great Fast Saga Film

It Got the Action Right

By now it’s a running joke, and one that endears these movies to fans, but reality-defying action has long been a Fast Saga hallmark. Crazy stuff that no human should walk away from already had been part of the series at least since 2 Fast 2 Furious (remember when Brian jumped his car onto a moving yacht?), but Fast Five managed to master the mayhem with just the right mix of “yeah, that could happen” and “dude, no way!”

Legendary director Howard Hawks is famed for saying that a good movie needs three great scenes and no bad ones. Welp, if that’s any measure to go by, then Fast Five is a beast of a movie based just on its action alone. From the early rolling car heist that yanks Dom (and a passel of high-end sports cars) sideways off a moving train to the heart-pounding foot chase atop the dilapidated roofs of Rio’s hillside favelas, Fast Five’s spectacular location shooting and well-edited combat still leaves viewers breathless ...all while never disorienting with drawn-out sequences and choppy edits.

RELATED: Vin Diesel explains why 'Fast' X' returns to events of 'Fast Five': 'There is so much un-mined territory'

And then there's that over-the-top ending, which more or less managed to change the fate of the entire franchise. To this day, the bonkers vault heist set piece that serves as the movie’s finale, with Dom and Brian towing a massive bank safe through the streets of Rio, rates as one of the best action scenes not just in any Fast & Furious movie, but in any movie, period.

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel sitting in a car in Fast Five

The family was never tighter

Dom and Brian already had buried the hatchet and become family allies by the time Fast Five arrived, but this is the movie that cemented their ties for all time. Mia picks precisely the right moment to let them both know she’s carrying Brian’s child, leading Dom to ditch the whole fugitive mentality, slow things down a bit, and call on some familiar friends to help steal some ill-gotten funds that can find better use as the nest egg to set the fam on a permanently stable path.

And what friends they were. One by one, as Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang), and Gisele (Gal Gadot) roll into Rio, we see icons of the Fast Saga right in the sweet spot between their earlier street lives and the set-for-life franchise high rollers they’d someday become. The genesis of Tej’s later role as a magically masterful hacker can be found here: He’s Dom’s Fast Five pick to control the computer boards for his prior expertise in pulling off larceny.

Not everyone lives to the end, of course. Fast Five kills off longtime family black sheep Vince (Matt Schulze), even as Letty’s fate remains a lingering off-screen mystery. But in the Fast Saga days when character deaths still seemed at least semi-permanent, the stakes were high, and the family losses in Fast Five felt real.

It's Got The Rock

Yeah, we’ve gone and saved one of the best parts for last. Fast Five marked the beginning of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s multi-movie turn as DSS agent Luke Hobbs, a sure signal that the Fast Saga was hell bent on transcending its humble street racing story origins in favor of a more blockbuster-y brand of action. Johnson made the most of his new role as Dom’s good-guy nemesis too, springing every scene he’s in with a delicious tension that threatens to snap the delicate thread between pent-up aggression and tightly-wound comedy.

RELATED: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Returning to Fast & Furious for New Fast X Standalone Sequel

Pairing Hobbs with low-level Rio cop Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) was an inspired story move too, letting Johnson share Hobbs’ well-concealed softer side in a way that doesn’t betray even a sliver of weakness in either character. Neves knows something about loss — a trait that comes to haunt Hobbs in later films as well — and Pataky provided an ideal establishing foil for all of Johnson’s scene-chewing bluster. What’s more, the movie makes it clear that both of these cops are exceptionally good at their jobs, a vital component in setting the stakes of what Brian and Dom are really up against, at least if they get caught.

Thankfully, Johnson’s back in the Fast Saga fold after sitting out F9 (and nearly all of Fast X), burying whatever behind-the-scenes feud had kept Diesel and himself from sharing the screen space that fans have long been begging for. That’s no longer an issue as the franchise wends its way toward a multi-movie finish line. Johnson’s set to star in his own Fast X spinoff, while seemingly destined to play a larger role in the events of the actual sequel to Fast X itself.

In the meantime, catch Johnson’s head-turning Fast X post-credits scene in theaters, where the latest franchise installment continues to kick up a rolling thunderstorm of box office dust. Get tickets now!

Need a Fast Saga refresher? The first five Fast & Furious movies, including Fast Five, all are streaming now on Peacock ...along with the more recent (and far-out) action of F9.