In Defense of “The Fast and Furious” Franchise
And why letting go is hard to do
Let’s be honest, when we think about the movies that are considered superior due to the impressive acting chops of the cast and the storylines that stick, even years later, the roster of films from The Fast and Furious franchise don’t necessarily appear on our radar
That being said, we also can’t discount the cultural impact of the franchise that happens to be an endearing testament to its longevity.
Former pro wrestler turned actor Dave Bautista made headlines some weeks ago when he abruptly shut down an eager fan on Twitter, who thought it would be awesome for his idol to join the ranks of his counterparts, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena, by appearing as a prized disrupter in another ambitious spinoff.
The swift response sparked shock and amazement due to the crudeness of the deliverer, who didn’t bother to hold back his disdain for a box office juggernaut, by basically confirmed the unlikelihood that he would be sparring against Hobbs & Shaw or even a one on one with the mighty Dom Toretto — anytime soon.
But to be fair, Bautista isn’t exactly a loner when it comes to the legions of naysayers, who are perplexed by the survivability of globally-revered brand that many believe should’ve been put to rest after the untimely death of Paul Walker, who embodied the role of “good cop/bank heister” — Brian O’ Connor.
When the original template was slated for the big screen treatment, only Paul Walker had signed on, and this was even before the script was complete. The blond, blue-eyed surfer from Southern California had just wrapped up the 1998 thriller, The Skulls, and the producers of that film saw dollar signs with the up and coming stunner, who managed to steal the show from main star — Joshua Jackson
Walker came up with the idea of the undercover cop in Los Angeles, who infiltrates a family of renegades with a penchant for illegal street racing. Once the project was green lit, the search was on for the rest of the core cast, and judging by the massive box office numbers when The Fast and the Furious made its theatrical debut in 2001, we can assume that there was something furiously magical about what was translated for moviegoers.
Aside from the supreme hotness of the primary cast members who were still carving out each of their trajectories, there was also the appetizing log line that centered around the gratifying familial bond amongst a band of misfits; headed by a low-level outlaw and the White dude with a badge, who can’t help falling in love with the group he’s been tasked to investigate and bring to justice.
But things became unexpectedly tense after the immense success of the first film, as rising action star, Vin Diesel was reluctant to sign on for the second installment, due to the desire to maintain the momentum from his earlier entry Pitch Black by following it up with the thriller XXX, which he had agreed to star in instead.
Fresh off of the critically-acclaimed Baby Boy, rising star Tyrese Gibson generously stepped in as Brian’s childhood friend from Barstow, CA, Roman Pierce. These two characters reunite to chase and race the bad guys on the streets of Miami for 2 Fast and 2 Furious under the capable direction of the late John Singleton.
But things never quite got back in gear until the recruitment of director Justin Lin, who stayed until the completion of the sixth film.
Tokyo Drift, which was Lin’s first film of the the then troubled franchise was the awkward detour that signaled the dire need to make an urgent reverse move back to the basics.
By now, Vin Diesel’s promising prospects in the action genre had cooled off, with back-to-back disappointments, and he was suddenly available for another opportunity to revive his career-making role as Dom Toretto with the additional responsibility as producer. This new assignment gave him the incentive to bunker down with Lin and screenwriter, Chris Morgan, in an effort to creatively revitalize a wasting goldmine.
The gamble paid off in more ways than one as demonstrated in the ceremonious reception of 2009’s nostalgic gem, Fast and Furious, that comfortingly brought original members back together again, with a dynamite ending that was prophetically exhilarating.
This was the noteworthy phase that officially relaunched the brand from the depths of uncertainty into the realm of franchise heaven, with the promise of debris-free roadways that would always live up to the attached mantra of “ride or die.”
2011’s Fast Five was the thrill of a lifetime, thanks to that immaculately staged heist in Rio, and the killer addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who more than earned his stripes as the key component who elevated the mandatory action sequences that made the “cat and mouse” themes that much more enjoyable — with the extra kick of addictiveness that propelled an spearheaded box office records — worldwide.
Everything was going according to plan for The Family until tragedy struck during the filming of the seventh installment, with new helmer James Wan, best known for The Conjuring and the recent hit Aquaman.
Beloved actor Paul Walker, who had formulated Brian O’Connor into the heartbeat of the franchise for over a decade was killed as a passenger in a single-vehicle collision over thanksgiving break in November 2013, and the heartrending loss halted production for several weeks, as the mourning period forced difficult questions about the appropriate way to honor a fallen star.
They say love conquers all, and this was proven through the tireless efforts of a re-dedicated cast and crew who joined forces with Walker’s younger brothers, Caleb and Cody, who were recruited as stand ins for their late brother to help finish the scenes that were pending, and it was all complimented with the incredible polish of CGI.
Furious 7 opened in the spring of 2015, and the mind-blowing victory was even more emotional as it served as the beautiful sendoff for one half of the formidable duo that never failed to lead The Family back to the fundamentals of loyalty and the ties that forever bind.
And that’s probably the best way to summarize the motives of longstanding fans both at home and abroad who were committed from the very beginning, back when “Brian Earl Spliner” reclaimed Brian O’ Connor, as the cop who gives it all up to live life in the fast lane.
Dave Bautista has every right to unapologetically dismiss The Fast and Furious movies as expensive items of generic fare, that are a lot more trouble than they are worth. And while his transition into the acting world hasn’t yielded the accolades that would verify his desire to only do “good movies,” there are many within the industry who delightfully look down on these money-making machines because of the heavy concentration on inconceivable action scenes that are centered around laughable storylines.
But in defense of the franchise, there’s something to be said for the level of consistency that builds over a time period that ordinarily wouldn’t be able to sustain the interests of fans, who have now evolved into throngs of unpredictable, fickle moviegoers because of the plethora of less-expensive and equally satisfying options at their disposal.
The summer season for 2019 hasn’t exactly blasted off in the fashion that forecasters had anticipated, as anointed releases like Dark Phoenix, Men in Black: International and Shaft, all suffered major losses at the box office, which has become an ongoing trend that validates the bitter truth of “franchise fatigue” and how brands are rapidly losing the global viability the big studios have been banking on for profitable returns.
And that’s what makes the Fast and Furious concept a precious commodity and a literal anomaly, that has managed to brilliantly escape the potholes that have threatened the smooth ride of once-illustrious competitors.
There’s also the reality of how letting go is so very hard to do, especially when you’ve invested your best years as the cheerleading squad of iconic characters that have basically become more like family, even when the going gets tough.
As much as we give major props to the remaining members of the Fast family, who’ve weathered the tumultous phase of unbearable loss and never-ending grief, and still faithfully show up to honor their commitment to their legion of fans, and more importantly to each other — we can’t avoid the pained evidence of what has been sorely missing since the unplanned departure of Brian and Mia.
The Fate of the Furious (2017), may have shattered box office records, but the F. Gary Gray helmer was a sobering dissection of the fractured environment that contained unrecognizable pieces to a puzzle that has been mercilessly scattered by the greed of studio executives at the expense of the dying pulse of a lucrative enterprise.
It’s blatantly clear that without the vital presence of Dom’s sister and the man they both love, the cohesiveness of what’s left dissolves into key players who don’t reflect the strong ties that have gotten dramatically weaker since the seventh installment.
Couple that with the reported friction on set that was exacerbated by Dwayne Johnson’s public admission of his disagreement with fellow heavyweight, Vin Diesel while shooting Fate of the Furious that interestingly led to the spinoff, Hobbs & Shaw, that was undoubtedly the perfect solution to a potential PR nightmare that cleverly keeps the cash flow in the family.
But what about the bruised family members that Brian left behind?
The answer lies in the much-needed return of the mastermind who restored the glory of a project that was almost flatlining — again.
Justin Lin is back for Fast and Furious 9 because despite graciously bowing out to pursue other opportunities, his love for his comrades-in-need demands his expertise and this is proof of why this franchise is worth defending.
The fuel that gets the engine roaring never runs out, and because of the unrelenting support from loving fans that refuse to let go, even with the roadblocks, the Fast Family can’t ever quit — until the finish line greets the last film with the parade of champions.
It’s “ride or die” in these streets, and when history judges the movies that did a good job living up to to that blazing slogan, The Fast and the Furious will race to the top of the list.