Con Air (1997): The Prequel to Furious 6 [Joey’s Review]
In a lot of ways, the three most recent FAST AND FURIOUS movies owe a lot to CON AIR. Aside from the fact that I love all four movies, it’s kind of crazy how similar Con Air is to the most recent Furious flicks — especially Furious 6. There are major similarities in two areas:
- The ensemble-style action cast.
- The film’s big action set piece.
Let’s take each one at a time.
While Nicolas Cage is top-billed in Con Air (portraying Cameron Poe), he’s not necessarily the star of the movie. We dive into this a bit on the podcast, but it’s worth fleshing out a little more fully here. The film sort of centers around a triumvirate of stars: Cage, John Cusack (U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin), and John Malkovich (Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom). Each of the three leads a different portion of the film:
- Cage, as a soon-to-be free man who only wants to return to his wife and meet his daughter, is the emotional center of the film.
- Cusack is the face of law and order, a bastion of goodness against the evil inherent in the criminals flying Con Air.
- Malkovich is the mad genius leader of the bunch and the face of the uprising.
The film tells each of their stories in a way that weaves back and forth, criss-crossing and intersecting many times. But there are many other characters, too, that all get more than their fair share of screen time:
- We meet Cage’s convict pal Baby-O and a few good-hearted guards, including Guard Sally Bishop.
- We meet more of Malkovich’s henchmen, like Billy Bedlam and Johnny 23 and Diamond Dog.
- We meet the ultimate incarnation of evil in Garland Greene.
- We meet some of Cusack’s fellow law enforcement pals, like Duncan Malloy, who serve to further muck things up and cause problems.
It’s honestly semi-staggering how massive this cast is, and how well we know each of these characters. Part of that comes down to the fact that many of these characters are cartoonish in reputation (as well as by the fact that we’re hit over the head with a little too much exposition about 15 minutes in), but a lot of it comes down to how fully each of these actors inhabits their role. We really and truly know know each of these characters, and every one feels lived in. We even know these characters before they open their mouths; seeing Cyrus and Diamond Dog locked up highlights how bad they are, Johnny 23’s rose tattoos symbolize each of his rape victims, and Garland Greene’s Hannibal Lecter-style restraints tell us he’s the worst of them all.
While we’ve heard plenty from Cage up to this point, the way that he embraces the fresh air of freedom in this shot tells us all we need to know about his intentions.
This is not even mentioning Pinball or Sally-Can’t Dance or Swamp Thing or Cindino or Tricia Poe or other characters. This movie is chocked full of personality. By my count, there are at least 16 (!!!) characters that are pretty well fleshed out by the end of Con Air’s 115-minute run time.
Now, let’s think about Furious 6. The franchise started out small — it was about Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) trying to bust the ring of thieves led by Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel). That first movie also introduces Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster), along with a handful of other characters who don’t survive the full franchise. 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS introduced Roman (Tyrese) and Tej (Ludacris). THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT gave us Han (Sung Kang), FAST & FURIOUS brought us Gisele (Gal Godot), and FAST FIVE added Hobbs (The Rock).
Furious 6 manages to take all of these characters and assemble them into a cohesive story, along with parts for Gina Carano, Jason Statham, and more that I’m probably forgetting. There’s a difference here, sure; the Furious movies had ~10 hours to introduce all these characters to us, while Con Air did it in less than 2. But there’s a definite similarity here in how both of these films feature a star-studded ensemble where no one is fighting for screen time and every character feels realistic. It’s like The Avengers Effect™, except done well.
The other major similarity is in the films’ major action pieces, which both center planes and cars. Neither is particularly realistic (Con Air’s realism probably comes out on top, in a weird way), but that’s what makes them both so great. But both feature “good guys” trying to take down a plane full of “bad guys” through any means necessary, including tying a car (or more!) to that plane IN BOTH MOVIES! Both scenes are 30+ minutes long and loaded with impossibilities, which mean they’re two of the best action sequences of all-time.
A related similarity is that neither film shies away from other action scenes to add to its pièce de résistance. Furious 6 has plenty of amazing car action, and Con Air caps off its runtime with a 10-minute chase scene. After the Con Air plane crashes into Vegas with 15 minutes to go in the film, I thought to myself, “Wait, isn’t this over? What’s left?” Lo and behold, I had forgotten that chase through the streets of Las Vegas, with Cage and Cusack on police motorcycles chasing a fire truck (!!) commandeered by Swamp Thing and Cyrus the Virus. After the Con Air plane crashes into Vegas. It’s a perfect bonkers coda on an over-the-top movie, and a way to give viewers one last awesome shot in the arm.
We’re halfway through action week in #CageClub, and it’s been an amazing ride so far. These movies are infinitely rewatchable and flat-out fun. Sit back and enjoy the ride — just don’t get off if we happen to stop at Carson City.
How can I watch it? Again, you’ll have to pay a couple bucks to watch Con Air, but once again, it’s worth it.
What’s up next? Mike and I are going to swap faces and dig into Face/Off.