Back in April Vin Diesel and Universal Studios released the following video, telling me to go back to the theatres and get emotional about fast cars and a ridiculous film franchise.
I’ve gotta say, it’s probably going to work on me.
If you are reading this on the day it posts, then there’s a 50/50 chance that I am either currently in the air or an airport right now, flying my freshly vaccinated behind back to Texas for some sunshine and family time. At some point during my month home I plan to avail myself of America’s re-opened theatres. Like Vin said, there’s a certain magic to the moment when the house lights go down and the screen lights go up and for those two hours you get to exist outside and apart from the rest of the world.
And because it was Vinny (can I call him Vinny? I’m gonna call him Vinny) who put the effort into releasing a trailer trying to get people emotional about cars that go fast and then frequently go boom, I decided to do my homework.
To see if this was a film experience worth the cost of a Thursday afternoon matinee ticket, I decided to watch all 1,094 minutes (just over 18 hours) of the Fast and the Furious franchise and it’s spin-offs.
Logical or practical use of a postgraduate’s time? Probably not, but I’ve got a higher degree in Romantic literature and a novelist dream—don’t talk to me about logic and practicality.
Anyway, did it work? Am I now emotionally invested in fast cars and the actors who drive them?
Yes, the movie that started the whole franchise is based on a Vibe Magazine article and was essentially Point Break with cars, and there are a literal ass-load of shots like this.
But there’s so much more if you look.
There’s a lot of hot women as window-dressing, but that’s Hollywood. In this case I can largely shrug that off because those aren’t actual characters, they’re props on set. The female protagonists, the ones we care about, are doing stunts, driving cars, and wearing clothes like this the whole time:
Look at those flat shoes, jeans, and jackets. Yes, they look good—they’re all stunning, obviously—but they also look comfortable. Finding leading ladies in an action franchise who are actually dressed like they might be ready to do some action-y things, or at least dressed like real people, is rarer than you might think. Dressing the women like this most of the time, it’s kind of a sneaky feminist power move.
And look at the cast writ large:
Is there a more diverse cast on the action franchise market right now? One that is majority minority, and spans a range of minorities like this? Latinx, Israeli, African American, Korean American,, Samoan, and British bi-racial? With nods to all of these cultures sprinkled across the many, many hours of movies?
Okay, they’re not winning any awards for nuanced portrayals of cultures, but pretty much everyone casually speaks Spanish, if not more languages, and The Rock got team of twelve year old girls to perform a haka, or Maori war dance, in the F8 of the Furious.
Remember, it’s still a franchise about cars that go fast and then explode. If you want subtlety and nuance, look elsewhere.
But, if you stack these leads against any other major action franchise: Bond, Mission Impossible, Marvel, there’s no real comparison. The Fast franchise wins the diversity race by a mile.
Then there’s the Paul Walker thing.
Way back in 2001 Paul Walker played Brian O’Connor, an undercover cop trying to infiltrate Vin Diesel’s racing and heist ring in the very first Fast film (The Fast and the Furious). Over the course of that movie he came to understand Vin’s outlaws, became conflicted over taking them down, and at the end of the film lets them get away. Across the series, Walker’s O’Connor played lead or co-lead in every movie except for Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift, joining Diesel’s ragtag gang of found family and marrying Jordana Brewster’s character, Mia, younger sister to Diesel’s Dominic Toretto.
In late 2013, in the middle of filming F7, Walker died suddenly. After some debate among the cast and studio executives, the script was re-written in places and the decision was made to finish the film using a combination of body doubles (including Walker’s brothers) and CGI to film his scenes.
Movies aren’t shot sequentially, the first day of shooting may be on a scene at the end of the film and so on. So I don’t know when the funeral scene I’m about to describe was written and shot—I don’t know if it’s Walker or one of the body doubles involved, but there’s this moment at a funeral early in F7.
The entire gang has gathered back in LA for the funeral of one of their own and Tyrese Gibson’s Roman, who was introduced in the second movie (2 Fast 2 Furious, 2003) as Brian O’Connor’s oldest friend, looks at Walker and says “Promise me, no more funerals.”
So there isn’t one.
Where another franchise might have heroically killed off Walker’s character in the finale of F7, maybe sacrificing himself to save his wife and kids and conveniently writing his character out of all future film installments, O’Connor lives.
O’Connor lives and retires from “the life” with Jordana Brewster and their kids to some tropical paradise, saying goodbye to Vin Diesel and we the audience, the man who brought him into the high octane world of the Fast franchise and us the people who have watched them for over a decade by that point, with one last race.
And it’s beautiful.
So, for Paul Walker and the love that went into retiring his character, for that alone I would feel affection for the Fast and the Furious movies—but there’s also badass women and good action and a diverse cast and fast cars that sometimes go boom.
After two decades of having no strong opinions about this ridiculous series, I’m in. I’ll see you in the theatre, Vinny boy. There’s a movie ticket with my name on it somewhere in Texas.
F9: The Fast Saga is rated PG13 and out now.