When the official announcement of a Fast and Furious spinoff starring the hottest movie star in the world — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the dashing English bloke who also kicks ass — Jason Statham — hit the web — there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief.
The beloved franchise that has evolved into a worldwide phenom within the last decade — thanks to the directorial prowess and artistry of Justin Lin who is rumored to be returning for the two remaining installments — has been struggling to re-identify the endearing theme of “family” ever since the massive loss of Paul Walker — who embodied the star-making role of ex-cop Brian O’Conner.
Walker, who was tragically killed in a car crash in on November 30, 2013 in Valencia, California, was in the middle of shooting Furious 7, and the ambitious schedule demanded the cast to return to set the Monday after Thanksgiving, in order to fulfill the expectation of a summer 2014 blockbuster.
Sadly, the stress of being able to accommodate multiple location shoots in a schedule that included jaunts to Abu Dhabi — ended up being the least of the cast and crew’s concern — once the most loved member of the family vanished forever.
Suddenly, it was all about the unexpected turn of events that make the script an award-winning contender — except this wasn’t fiction.
The well-oiled machine that showed no signs of exhaustion, came to a screeching halt, and there was the real possibility that the engines would never be revved up again or at least anytime soon.
But, embattled director James Wan and producers Neil Moritz and Vin Diesel — who also plays the iconic Dom Toretto, decided to turn the seventh installment into a poignant memorial for Walker — with the blessing of the late actor’s family. And Walker’s two younger brothers, who bear an uncanny resemblance to their movie star sibling, were recruited to help finish outstanding scenes.
Furious 7 opened in the spring of 2015, and the reception was affectionate, and notably profitable, as bereft fans from all over the globe showed up in droves to pay homage to their departed family member. There was also the curiosity factor that fueled ticket sales — thanks to the flawless tricks of CGI that were expensively implemented in key scenes.
After the celebration for Walker’s life and immense contribution to the Fast franchise helped to provide much needed healing and retrospective — the next item on the agenda was recovery.
The first disruption was the immediate exit of James Wan, which wasn’t at all shocking when you consider the overwhelming burden that comes with not only trying to abruptly switch gears in the middle of shooting of what has essentially become the solid goldmine of a major Hollywood studio — but also contending with the emotional turmoil of losing one of your major leads.
There were also rumblings of behind-the-scenes strife between Wan and Diesel, that apparently escalated an already highly sensitive and potentially disastrous situation.
After months of juggling names of directors that were being considered for the staggeringly intimidating task of leading the charge for the next film in a franchise that was still fragile after weathering the unimaginable — Straight Outta Compton helmer — F. Gary Gray, who also directed Diesel in 2003’s A Man Apart — signed on for The Fate of the Furious.
The highly-anticipated actioner hit theaters in the spring of 2017, and expectedly shattered both domestic and global box office records, and ended up bequeathing Gray with the honor of being the first African-American director to amass $1 billion in worldwide ticket receipts.
Critics raved about the miraculous endurance of the franchise, that seemed to recover seamlessly from the irreplaceable loss of Walker, whose character Brian O’Conner was supposedly enjoying a mellow existence with longtime love Mia (Dom’s sister) and their two young kids.
I almost believed the hype until I treated myself to the eighth installment when it finally debuted on HBO, and it didn’t take me long to begin the mourning process for what used to be and may never be again.
It became viscerally clear that the Family was no longer the effective unit that made the best film in the franchise — Fast Five — the rewarding rollercoaster of fun that was rooted in the heartbeat of a collection of characters, that based their code on the ride or die mantra.
Fate of the Furious may have kept the money train on track, but if there was ever a time that the saying “money isn’t everything” poetically applies — this would be it.
Back when TRL was the hottest show on TV — The Fast and the Furious was introduced to movie goers who were down for Dom Torreto’s vibrant gang of misfits — who collided with the blond, surfer-built, undercover cop — who was torn between his duty to bust illegal activities, and the affection he developed for the “bad guys” who were really the “good guys.”
Almost a decade after the original film — the franchise was revived by Justin Lin — who worked closely with Diesel’s vision of a saga that was supposed to include a total of ten films. But, there was mild concern that the reunion of main cast members wouldn’t yield the returns necessary to validate the longterm goal.
But, luckily, Fast & Furious made a huge enough splash in spring 2009, and it just got better from there, with Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 upping the ante — and securing the box office dominion of Universal Studio’s most valuable asset.
All this happened under Lin’s superb vision and stylized filmmaking, and his self-imposed departure was timed at the end of the first half of the saga, with the hopes that his successor would have the freedom and security to continue the journey for the next slate of films.
Fast forward to the present and the glue that held our favorite globetrotters together has melted into an unrecognizable puddle.
I strongly disagree with the opinion of critics that insinuate that Walker’s absence hasn’t had a major impact on the franchise. Both Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster) presented a powerful bond that elevated the longevity and authenticity of familial relations, so, at this point, it’s hard to imagine them sitting out the monumental shit that went down in Fate of the Furious.
This missing link has terribly hampered the dynamic of the team, and reduced them to mismatched puzzle pieces that can’t seem to summon the winning chemistry, that made these films hard to resist — generic storylines and all.
The only saving grace of Fate was immersed in the blossoming relationship of an unlikely duo.
Hobbs and Shaw were forced to join forces for the sake of saving the lifeblood of a Family that desperately needs an intervention.
Dwayne Johnson single-handedly energized the franchise with his entry into Fast Five as the formidable Diplomatic Security Service agent, Luke Hobbs, who was on a mission to capture the outlaws who were secretly hatching a risky heist in Rio de Janeiro.
Hobbs ends up siding with Torreto and O’Conner after they save his life when his convoy drives into an ambush. The newfound respect and trust guarantees the appearance of Hobbs in future installments, which was a no brainer — considering the huge appeal of Johnson.
Deckard Shaw entered the saga in Furious 7 — with the mission to avenge his comatose brother Owen Shaw — who orchestrated vehicular attack on the crew in Fast 6. Jason Statham didn’t have to dig deep for this one — and the epic fight scene with Diesel’s Torreto helped seal his imminent return.
And now that Fast & Furious 9 is expected to debut in the spring of 2020 — to make way for the Hobbs and Shaw spinoff that’s slated to open in 2019 — it’s clear that studio execs as well as producer Neil Mortiz, were motivated by the seamless connection between the two heavyweights in Fate of the Furious.
It was the best thing about the otherwise disjointed film, and the fact that both characters will get the opportunity to capitalize on their burgeoning partnership with the witty clap backs to boot is quite exciting.
Unfortunately, actor and singer Tyrese Gibson who portrays Family jester — Roman Pearce took to Instagram to express his disgust with Johnson for “betraying” the Family with his lucrative movie deal — and even threatened to exit the franchise in protest.
Regardless of Gibson’s public gripe, the spinoff will proceed as planned, and that’s a reality he and the rest of the squad have dutifully accepted, especially with the latest roster of superstars that have been added to the mix.
British leading man, Idris Elba has been confirmed to play the “bad guy,” while Vanessa Kirby, who won rave reviews for bringing the late Princess Margaret back to life in Netflix’s hit series, The Crown, will play an M15 agent, who’s part of the Shaw clan.
It totally makes sense for things to head this direction, and maybe the extended break and possible return of Justin Lin will give the Fast family the grace and composure required to face their biggest fears.
It’s time to dispense with weirdly staged sentiments that are meant to evoke the spirit of the fallen, and garner the courage to bring a finality to Brian’s fate, in order to lift the cloud, and allow the pieces to fit back into the cohesiveness that birthed this thriving legacy.
In the meantime, we have Hobbs and Shaw to look forward to, and as the cast list expands under the direction of Deadpool 2’s David Leitch — there’s the hope that we can be treated to a version of the franchise that won’t be distracted by a restless ghost.
Johnson and Diesel reportedly butted heads on the set of Fate of the Furious — to the point that they were barely able to share scenes. That daunting experience has given The Rock a giant piece of a pie that was basically his the moment he was offered a slice and came back for seconds.
He now has the co-star he can stand both on and off camera — and now all we have to do is hope they keep it fast and furious because nothing else will do.