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The Fast & the Furious, what can you say about it at this point? Spanning 8 films and an expanding roster of heroes it’s one of the biggest film franchises in the world right now that’s isn’t based on a pre-existing property. It’s the last bastion of old school action movie aesthetics in the blockbuster scene with not a hint of robots, ray guns, wizards, capes or any of the high concept genre fare that’s become the bread and butter of the tent pole season.
A star vehicle series to keep both the Rock and Vin Diesel relevant no matter how many mediocre fantasy films or action comedies they do in their spare time, as well as boasting the most diverse roster of actors in any major Hollywood production. Now, the team rejoins for their 8th installment (!!!) and first made in the wake of Paul Walker’s untimely passing, a dark and compelling adventure that pits them against their greatest enemy yet.
So that was an impressive twist- Vin Diesel will be the villain of Fate of the Furious alongside Charlize Theron as the bigger bad gal named Cipher. If it seems bizarre that I’m actually excited about this film I do get that, even if the world as a whole has more or less elected to just embrace the Fast and Furious series at this point. I’m not sure how much there is to get into in the way of plot for this film as, at this stage in the franchise, most of the big twists and reveals have already been more or less played out.
Presumably, there will be a central twist about why Vin Diesel is helping out Theron and betraying his family, probably something from his past before the first film when he was in jail. I’d also expect Jason Statham to bite it before the end of the movie given he’s a little too high profile an actor to need the make work paycheck these films offer to regular cast members.
Speaking of whom, it’s good to see Kurt Russell stick around as the man in black character after his near death in the last film. A big franchise like this let older actors like him basically retire on the receipts, and if anybody’s earned the right to just do what they like at this point, it’s him.
What’s most striking about this plot is actually how it ties into some nasty rumors that have been floating around since the film went into production. See, it was confirmed that the Rock was feuding with someone on the set of Fate of the Furious, with major speculation suggesting it was Vin Diesel.
Though nothing was ever confirmed, it does seem a little suspect that the plot of the movie is contorted so that Vin basically doesn’t have to work with any of the other cast members. That combined with Paul Walker’s death diminishing the Fast & Furious franchise and the way Diesel’s been courting other franchises I have to wonder if he actually likes doing these movies.
Let me take you back for a second. The first Fast & Furious film was a bizarre hodgepodge of elements driven predominately by its director Rob Cohen undergoing a bit of a midlife crisis. This was in that brief moment when the X-games got huge and Cohen, eager to prove his youthful vitality, created a trilogy of extreme movies, the first of which was Fast & Furious. Despite that ambition the first film is mostly just characters meandering about spewing meathead platitudes about family and honor and so forth. But, Vin Diesel’s presence gave it a unique edge.
This was also right in the era when the danger of ’90s hip-hop, the era when Snoop Dogg was put on trial for murder, was giving way to the shallow opulence of the Bush years. With that sanding down of the hard edges and the iPod just around the corner ready to launch the mp3 generation, white middle/lower-upper class suburban punks were hungry for consumable black culture, in particular with the rise of Eminem.
Into this cultural malaise comes Vin Diesel as Dominic Torretto, a hero steeped in hip-hop opulence and criminal machismo who was just white enough to become the idealized self-projected image of this particular clique. That’s not a judgment on Vin Diesel to be clear, just an unfortunate fact of this specific audience, much the same way a big part of Elvis’ popularity was that he was a white guy who could convincingly perform black music.
The thing is, it’s painfully clear Diesel didn’t like being that particular selling point or this style of the film as he jumped ship from the franchise immediately, much the same way he left the xXx franchise after the first entry as well. All the projects Diesel actually pushes for are much nerdier like Chronicles of Riddick or Last Witch Hunter. He only returned to the franchise for the fourth installment after a slew of failed projects like The Pacifier and Babylon A.D.
All of that’s still true now and I have to wonder if the constant failure of Vin’s external projects is starting to wear him down. I do note that his return to the Fast franchise happened to coincide with when the series got traction with people outside its audience, specifically around the 5th film. If you’re not up on your Fast & Furious continuity well, firstly congratulations on making better life choices than I did, but Fast 5 was the first film in the series to be made within the new blockbuster decade that was post-2008 (the 4th film was released was only released in ’09 so it couldn’t really reflect the new reality.)
In the wake of the geek takeover of ’08 Fast and Furious basically reinvented itself, though I’m sure the fact their original fan base had either outgrown the fantasy or jumped ship with Diesel was an incentive.
With the fifth film, the name of the game became inter-film continuity and world building, using the shifting nature of the cast over the first 4 films as a way to create an expansive Fast and Furious universe to draw together, while also adding the Rock as a serious draw. Basically, this is where the franchise adopted the mechanics of a nerd universe combined with the trappings of a macho action series, making it the flipside of the Transformers film series.
The basic idea of needing to recruit super car drivers to save the world just because they’re the main characters is perfectly in line with the notion you need a billionaire dressed as a bat to help out the Justice League. The franchise basically morphed into a proto-version of what Marvel does, both the good and the bad.
“The bad” in this case being that Diesel has become more or less trapped by the success of his character, much the same way Chris Hemsworth is relatively trapped by his success as Thor. This is one of those paradigm shifts modern Hollywood has yet to navigate through, the way we’re now more concerned with the blend of actor and character than the traditional idea of movie stars.
For Vin, it’s clearly become increasingly frustrating that no one wants to see him as anyone other than Dominic Torreto, especially given the Rock’s success branching out beyond the safety of Fast & Furious. Hence why, in this latest film, he’s basically not Dominic Torreto even if that just means playing an evil version of the character.
I’m not sure I have a point to make with any of this other than wanting to dig into the history of one of Hollywood’s most bizarre and dynamic franchises. If there is a conclusion to be found here it’s that I wouldn’t be surprised if Diesel just decides to take his Furious money and leave for a bit after this movie.
I get him staying on to shepherd the franchise through losing Paul Walker but at the same time he’s getting up there in years too and I can’t see him wanting to be playing Dominic Torreto all the way through Fast & Furious 15: In Space, or whatever.
I’m not sure what the series will do if they lose their lead star, but given how much the series has shifted its selling point from “hip-hop without the blackness” to “nerdiness without the genre elements,” I wouldn’t be surprised if they managed to survive without Dom going forward.
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