Wednesday, October 27

Vroom or Bust: Is Fast & Furious the Definitive Franchise of Our Time? | Fast and Furious

One can only imagine how the story meetings go for the Fast & Furious movies. Probably something like this:

“OK. We have made cars flying down roads, cliffs, trucks, getting in and out of trains, planes, ships, helicopters, skyscrapers, submarines. What can we do this time?

[Long silence]

“Got it: magnets!”


“Yeah. They have a huge magnet car that pushes other cars through the air and through buildings and stuff.”

“And then you turn it over to the other side and it throws them again!”

“Physics doesn’t work like that.”

“It makes absolutely no sense.”

“It is perfect.”

Like a 1969 Yenko Camaro soaring from a Florida dock onto an Argentine drug lord’s luxurious yacht, the Fast & Furious franchise can be seen as a lengthy exercise in defying gravity. His rise has been hard to believe but impossible to deny. It is the seventh most lucrative franchise in movie history. Now, with theaters finally reopening, the long-delayed Fast & Furious 9 seems to be the movie people are most excited to see on the big screen. What began 20 years ago as a humble street racing thriller has possibly morphed into the action movie franchise of our time (we’ll discuss that later). How did this happen?

No one would consider a Fast & Furious movie great art, even if the latest installment is screened at the Cannes film festival. The dialogue is ridiculously awkward, the acting is often functional at best, the plot development is soap opera-level (“She’s not really dead!”, “He’s not really dead, either!” ). And somehow, the more ridiculous the action sequences get, the more fans seem to enjoy it all. Ridiculous action is now the focus of the Fast & Furious movies. Where rivals like James Bond or Mission: Impossible pretend they are tackling serious and deadly geopolitical conflicts, Fast & Furious has Dwayne Johnson redirect a torpedo with his bare hands.

One of the loveliest aspects of the franchise’s rise is how eventful it has been. Like the street racing cars it was built on, everything has the feel of a standard vehicle that has been improved beyond all reason. Even the first film, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, was assembled from parts: the title borrowed from an old Roger Corman B-movie; the topic taken from a 1998 Vibe magazine article; the plot was borrowed from Point Break and applied to a gang that uses high-performance cars to steal… DVD players. They were purely thinking about making a quick buck, but they made a lot of money – $ 207 million (£ 146 million) on a budget of $ 38 million (£ 27 million). Enough to cause a sequel.

Except 2 Fast 2 Furious didn’t even feature the show’s supposed star, Vin Diesel – an actor so born to do this, he even changed his name to sound more like a car. Instead, former Diesel co-star Paul Walker teamed up with a new partner, Tyrese Gibson. Then the third part, Tokyo Drift, did not feature Diesel neither Walker, aside from a Diesel cameo added at the end. The Tokyo Drift story also had no real connection to parts one and two. Instead, it introduced a whole set of new characters, including the charismatic snack-eating Han, played by Korean actor Sung Kang. Han first appeared in director Justin Lin’s 2001 film Better Luck Tomorrow, which had nothing to do with the Fast franchise.

It was only in the fourth part, Fast & Furious, that the franchise really reached its current pace. Diesel’s plans to move on to bigger and better things, like his xXx and Riddick franchises, had failed, so he returned as the star and producer of Fast, with a high degree of creative control. Walker and the original team also returned, now joined by Kang, and the story picked up where the first part left off. (In the saga’s confusing timeline, Tokyo Drift now fits between parts five and six.) If you were planning a movie franchise to take over the world, you would never do it that way, but clutter turned out to be a bonus. As critic Scott Mendelson observed: “The ‘failure’ to make a proper sequel during the first eight years created the kind of expanded universe Hollywood now craves.” Inadvertently, Fast & Furious had the Avengers Assemble feel of a gang whose backstories we now all knew had finally come together.

Complaints about going faster ... John Cena and Charlize Theron face off in Fast & Furious 9.
Complaints about going faster … John Cena and Charlize Theron face off in Fast & Furious 9. Photograph: Giles Keyte / Universal

The box office figures grew successively. Like the stakes in the plots (they’ve come a long way from DVD players), the extravagance of the action and the names of the stars among the cast: Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson, Luke Evans, Jason Statham , Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron. Even bloody Helen Mirren. And now, in F9, John Cena arrives.

Once they get on the fast ride, they don’t tend to get off again unless they get hit, and even that is no guarantee. The exceptions were Johnson, who became famous for bumping bald heads into Diesel during the making of Furious 8 (and he’s not in F9 as a result) but it wasn’t very far, until the Hobbs & Shaw spin-off, where he crashed bald. he heads with Statham instead. And of course, Paul Walker, whose tragic death in a car accident in 2013 cleverly incorporated into the plot of Furious 7, making the film an emotional send-off and a box office success (more than $ 1.5 billion worldwide. ). Furious 7’s ubiquitous and sentimental theme, See You Again by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth (which has over 5 billion views on YouTube), only accelerated the phenomenon.

This brings us to the only aspect of the Fast saga that everyone knows: “family.” Again, it was never really part of the plan. According to Michelle Rodríguez, the family line in the first installment was “something that came out of Vin’s mouth when she didn’t like the line that was there.” Now, the word “family” is instilled in every movie, usually when Diesel holds up a bottle of Corona to his team at a well-earned barbecue after saving the world. The familiar theme of Fast & Furious is more than superficial; it’s what holds it together. In each film, the macropolitical stakes are secondary to emotional ties. Yes, they are saving the world, but in reality the Fast crew are risking their lives for each other. That’s why Charlize Theron’s Cipher was such a disgusting villain in the latest installment, The Fate of the Furious. She is trying to detonate a nuclear weapon, which is bad, but she is also disdainfully anti-family, which is unforgivable. “This idea of ​​family that is so fundamental to you, that rules your world, is a biological lie,” he hisses at Diesel’s Dom. “You don’t have to accept it. Not me. “Boo!

Cipher is wrong on the “biological” front, anyway. Before the lost brethren began to appear, the idea of ​​fasts was not strictly a matter of blood. There was Dom and Rodriguez’s Letty, and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and her partner Brian (Walker), but the extended Fast family also includes crew members like Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Sung Kang. Not only are they unrelated, they are multi-ethnic.

Boy racers ... Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast & Furious 6.
Boy racers … Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast & Furious 6. Photograph: Giles Keyte / Universal / Allstar

If there is a key to the success of Fast & Furious, surely this is it. In an era where movies have to appeal to all quadrants of the world, the franchise has been ahead of the pack. White, black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, and mixed combinations thereof (Diesel describes his own ethnicity as “ambiguous”) – they’re all part of the team. The series has regularly hosted rappers (Ja Rule, Lil Bow Wow), featured major international actors, given women a lot of agency (if not as much as boys), and visited other countries from Cuba to Japan to Brazil and Azerbaijan. Every audience sees a part of themselves represented, and everyone can endorse the concept of “family,” right?

This is what makes Fast & Furious a true 21st century movie franchise. When you think about it, it is almost the only one. Marvel, DC, Bond, Star Wars, Mission: Impossible – these are all relics of the 20th century. The only other recent addition is Harry Potter, which often feels like it’s set in the 18th century. Where these old-school franchises have had to revise their backstories to incorporate some diversity, Fast & Furious incorporated it early on.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Fast & Furious movies are a band success overseas. The last two installments earned less than a quarter of their box office in US theaters (compared to more than 30% for most Hollywood blockbusters). In fact, Furious 7 and 8 made more money in China than they did in the US At the time, they were the highest-grossing Hollywood movies ever released in China (they have since been overtaken by Avengers Endgame).

This could be a double-edged sword. Last month, just as Furious 9 was opening in China, Cena surprisingly apologized in Mandarin (he speaks fluently) on Chinese social media for describing Taiwan as the first “country” to see F9 – a huge no-no since. the Chinese state regards Taiwan as part of China. “I love and respect China and the Chinese people. I’m very sorry for my mistake. I apologize, I apologize, I’m very sorry, ”Cena humbled himself. It was a reminder of how studiously apolitical the Fast & Furious movies are, with their transnational villains and their avoidance of anything that comes close to real-world affairs.

Control of the crew ... the OG gang from 2001's The Fast and the Furious ...
Control of the crew … the OG gang from 2001’s The Fast and the Furious … Photography: Universal / Allstar

It may not have been enough. As FranchiseRe’s industry analyst David Gross points out, F9 opened well in China, with $ 136 million in its first weekend, but collections plummeted 85% in the second week and a further 57% the following week. . The Taiwan bug was likely a factor, though it suggests it might have more to do with local Chinese competition as well, not to mention the lukewarm reviews, some of which have sacrilegiously questioned the F9’s plausibility. Perhaps the giant magnets were a step too far after all.

It could be that the Fast & Furious saga is finally coming back to earth. Since the heyday of Furious 7, every movie has performed worse than its predecessor. Gross predicts that F9 will do very well to reach Hobbs & Shaw levels ($ 759 million worldwide), especially given Covid’s restrictions in theaters. But those are just the numbers, and when have the Fast & Furious movies ever cared about them? As Dom Toretto once said: “It doesn’t matter what’s under the hood; the only thing that matters is who is behind the wheel. “

The saga is rumored to end with a two-part tenth installment, with the main gang still on board. Will it be a triumphant goodbye or a hard landing? Perhaps that depends on our appetite for faster family values. Or what extreme fossil fuel consumption will look like the further we get into the climate crisis. Or, ultimately, if they can find new frontiers of unlikely car-related entertainment to break through. Let’s start the guessing game: underwater cars? Improved mobility scooters? Vin Diesel dies but then reincarnates as a car? If we have learned anything, it is that nothing is off limits.

Fast & Furious 9 is on UK cinemas of June 25th

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