Fast and Furious 6: Faster, Crazycars! Thrill Thrill!

The huge racing machines we love to watch — and their cars — are back for more crashes, clashes and crushes in the early summer's biggest adrenaline rush

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Universal Pictures

Vin Diesel could be his own oversize action toy — slablike, solid and smooth, stripped of all cranial, facial or underarm hair — or the mammoth statue of a god erected by primitive tribes. Dwayne Johnson is that deity but even more imposing, and a marvel when he springs into liquid motion. Called the Samoan Thor, he is the irresistible force to Diesel’s immovable object; and when they fight a gang of enemies, or each other, the heavens seem ready to explode with their practiced wrath.

Johnson hitched a ride on the Fast & Furious franchise two years ago, in Fast Five, as DEA Officer Luke Hobbs, determined to bring to justice Diesel’s multiracial, girls-allowed gang of carnappers. This time he has promised them all full pardons if they bring down a cyberterrorist named Shaw (Luke Evans), who has acquired a microchip that will shut down all U.S. military computers for 24 hours. Big deal, you say — the software that should pay veterans’ benefits has been inoperable for years. Still, Dominic Toretto (Diesel) agrees to the deal. His mates aren’t so sure. “So,” says Han Seoul-oh (Sung Kang), “now we work for the Hulk?” No, the Rock.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Fast Five)

Are Toretto and Hobbs human? Not really, by the standards of traditional movies, which demand behavioral nuance and emotional compromise and men fretting. Are the guys superhuman? Sure; the F&F films are big-screen comic books without the Marvel mythology. But above all, Dom and Hobs are posthuman. Fast Five heralded the New Hollywood’s exaltation of sensational action over subtle character. Fast and Furious 6 revs everything up, purifies and improves it. The fourth F&F movie to be directed by Justin Lin and written by Chris Morgan, Furious 6 is even cooler and more aerodynamically delirious than its predecessor, if such a thing is even theoretically possible.

Five movies after The Fast and the Furious, the 2001 original (which was a loose remake of a 1955 film produced by Roger Corman), what’s left to do with cars? Well, this, from Fast Five: Dom drove a ’66 Corvette Grand Sport sideways out of a speeding freight car to race the train toward an imminent cliff. Then Dom’s blond buddy Brian (Paul Walker) leaped off the train and into the car milliseconds before it plummeted off the cliff and into a river far below. The bonding of the two autoholics was impressive, but not nearly so much as the teamwork of the Fast Five stunt team. In a movie era when dramatic ingenuity is close to evaporating, the complex, split-second choreography of men and cars is an expression of medium-to-high film art.

(READ: Why Fast Five was on TIME’s 2011 list of Best Movies)

Dom’s own team, which now numbers an appropriate six, comprises Brian, Hobbs, Han, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Gisele Harabo (Gal Gadot). Rich and retired after the Rio heist in Fast Five, they either are living it up — Roman remote-activates an ATM that spews bills for the poorer locals to gather up — or have settled down. Brian lives with Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom with Hobbs’ Rio colleague Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky). Fatherhood has mellowed the outlaws. “Our old life is done,” Dom tells Brian, two seconds before a photo that Hobbs sends Dom propels all of them back into the only part of their lives the audience cares about. The photo is of Dom’s long-lost love, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), presumed dead in a car crash in the fourth F&F. Brian should know: “I buried her,” he says. But no. Letty is alive and working for Shaw.

After the Fast Five train: planes and automobiles for Furious 6. And a tank that busts out of a truck. And some trains: the London underground, where Letty and Shaw’s badass girl Riley (mixed martial arts champ Gina Carano) engage in the punishing balletry of hand-to-fist and foot-to-groin combat. But still plenty of cars. The opening scene captures, from fender-level view or in graceful helicopter shots, a sports car navigating the corniches on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. In Moscow, a police car in pursuit of bad guys somehow lands upside down in the third-floor window of an office building. And when Shaw rouses his own crew of Team Dom lookalikes (“It’s like we’re huntin’ our evil twins,” Tej observes), plus Lettty, the movie’s centerpiece — a car chase through a city — gets apocalyptic.

(READ: Corliss’s review of the car-crazy Gone in 60 Seconds)

Not content to monitor the NASCAR-worthy collisions from a helicopter, the camera heads into the traffic, swerving between onrushing cars like some speed-demon oldster who’s confused Palm Beach with Daytona Beach. Pursuing Aristotle’s dictum that action is character, this great sequence narrows the focus to Dom’s attempt to disable Letty’s car without hurting her. His feelings are still devotional, hers apparently homicidal, since the crack on her head in that crash two movies back left her with a case of amnesia. The punch line: when the two cars screech to a stop, Letty pulls a gun and shoots Dom in the shoulder — which, given his massive beefcake, is like aiming a pea shooter at a Spanish fighting bull.

Yet he still wants to protect her. “You don’t turn your back on family,” he says, “even when they do.” Though he’s committed to Elena, at least for a couple of films, Dom must be drawn back to Letty, in part because Diesel and Rodriguez are a perfect iconographic match: similar skin tone, handsome-brute features and professional swagger. (For him, saving her is almost an act of narcissism.) They bond the only way they know: in an outlaw race around London that turns the busy West End into Le Mans. As the contest commences, Dom looks at her and utters the magic mantra “Ride or die” — and Letty snaps out of her amnesia. Suddenly, she remembers. Or maybe she just saw the music video.

(READ: Summer Movie Preview 2013)

Family being such a clangorous motif here, you’d think that Dom and Brian might be concerned for the women and children they’ve left back home. Mia and Elena will show up for the climax along a Tenerife highway where Shaw has unveiled his 70-ton tank and another cool toy: a “flip car,” named for the carnage it inflicts on vehicles in its way. Among the amazements in this sequence: a tripwire that sends the tank into a somersault, and Dom and Letty’s Cirque du Soleil double flying act across the highway that has them land safely on a passing car hood as if it’s an air cushion — because that wouldn’t kill them; only a 200-lb. deer dies like that.

“So what’s our next adventure?” somebody asks. You were thinking this must be the end; nothing can top it. Instead, everyone drives maniacally down an airport runway to hitch a ride on a gigantic military transport. (“That’s not a plane, it’s a planet.”) In the cargo hold, each of the good guys — Dom, Brian, Hobbs, Letty and the rest — picks a fight with his or her evil twin, in a battle that fuses into some abstract, postnarrative rugby scrum. The plane, the cars, the people have all become machines, whose only function is to keep the movie speeding and the audience supremely entertained.

(READ:  Top 15 Greatest Car Chases of All Time)

As with Fast Five, the new movie ends with a preview of its next episode’s villain. I’ll just hint that it’s a bald guy, with a Limey accent, phoning Dom to say, “You don’t know me, but you’re about to.” Boom!

If you’re like me, you’ll be wanting F&F 7 (which will be directed by Saw auteur James Wan) to premiere not on July 11, 2014, but right now, this second. This adrenaline-stoking series is addictive, for its chases, crashes, crushes — and for its poetic limning of the closest camaraderie many men can ever know: with their cars. Owning one, somebody says, is like a marriage. “Yeah,” one of the guys replies, “but when you break up they don’t take half your shit.”