Fast 6 and the Evolution of the Summer Blockbuster

An amazing thing happened with the recent release of Fast and Furious 6 – critics got it. This may not seem like a big deal but for an action film like Fast 6 to gain mass critical approval, it usually requires the Marvel Universe stamp of approval or an act of god (which, alone, still may not be enough).

As far as anyone can tell, Fast 6 has neither. It is a straight forward, shut-your-brain-off, balls to the wall action movie that revels in how ridiculous it is and how much it defies gravity, logic and physics. Even more so, however, it works. Audiences have been showing up in droves (easily crushing the $100 million mark in its first 4 days and, effectively, ending ‘The Hangover’ film franchise) and post-screening audience ratings are off the charts.

It’s not hard to see why: the cast is in on the joke and having a blast, the action is (realistic or not) very well done and, most of all, the movie is just tons of fun. Usually that isn’t enough for critics. The standard practice is to savagely attack a movie like Fast 6 for its wooden acting, non-existent character development, implausible storyline…all the stuff that audiences that actually go to see these kinds of movie couldn’t care less about.

This time though, things are different. Critics of all stripes are giving Fast 6 good reviews and most of them say the same thing – the movie is fun, the action is bad ass and the jokes are funny. All that other important critical stuff doesn’t really matter because Fast 6 accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It is supremely entertaining and that’s all it cares about. And critics, for once, totally got it.

The real question is, why?

Fast 6 delivers what it’s supposed to but it is still a run of the mill action movie. And, while it is legitimately quite good, it is not particularly better than dozens of others over the years that were lambasted by critics (Fast 5 among them).

It is also a quintessential summer blockbuster – you know, the kind they used to make. It has over the top heroes overcoming insurmountable challenges with smiles on their faces. It has one liners and lots of action but little brutality. It has all of the things that summer action blockbusters were built around (think Independence Day, think Star Wars, think Indiana Jones, think True Lies etc.)

What Fast 6 didn’t have is long, mournful scenes of tragedy. It didn’t have protagonists questioning themselves and what it means to be a hero. It didn’t have never-ending darkness. It didn’t have a lot of what summer blockbusters have become. Just look at Iron Man 3 (a very serious sequel in a series that started with a very fun, lighthearted movie) or Star Trek Into Darkness (vastly entertaining yet unnecessarily grim) for recent examples.

Over the years, summer blockbusters have gradually evolved from what they were originally meant to be (lighthearted, fun escapism) to “serious” movies masquerading as action blockbusters. Call it the ‘Dark Knight Effect’, even though it started before Christopher Nolan’s epic was released.

People still want to escape at the movies during summertime. They still want to shut off their brains for a few hours and watch a fantasy world where plausibility is thrown out the window. They still want to cheer on heroes that wink at the audience and smile every once in a while. It may be in fashion for supremely talented filmmakers to make serious-minded summer action fare but the essence that originally created the “summer blockbuster” still lives on.

Fast 6 is proof of that. And, of course, one hell of a great time at the movies.


Written by Phillip Chain

Sports fan. Film buff. Writer. Musician. All around decent fellow.

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