By Dushyant Shekhawat Aug. 02, 2019
Today, the ninth instalment of Fast and Furious hits theatres, promising to be loud, reckless, and most importantly, fast and furious. How has a series about driving fast and making quips been one of Hollywood’s most bankable properties for 18 years?
This year, the Fast and Furious franchise became old enough to vote, drive, and get married. The series that began with a sleeper hit in 2001 has improbably managed to spawn a head-scratching number of sequels for a property that basically boils down to “action heroes drive dangerously and make quips”. Today, the ninth instalment of Fast and Furious hits theatres – a spinoff that replaces Vin Diesel, the franchise’s patriarch, with a different set of chrome-domed badasses, The Rock and Jason Statham. Hobbs & Shaw, as this spin-off is called, promises to be loud, reckless, and most importantly, it promises to be fast and furious.
How has Fast and Furious managed to remain one of Hollywood’s most bankable properties for 18 years? With eight feature films to its name, and a ninth dropping today, the franchise is no lightweight. Though it seems to draw at the box office, a critical darling it is not. Even when being generous, the most apt description of these films would be “mindless entertainment”. So where exactly does the appeal of Fast and Furious truly lie? Is it in the seemingly endless permutations of the words “fast” and “furious” that they come up with for each movie title? Maybe it’s the strides the series has made towards destigmatising male pattern balding by placing Vin Diesel, The Rock, and Jason Statham front and centre. Or are we guilty of putting too much thought into this exercise?
In 2001, The Fast and the Furious introduced us to a gang of street racers, led by Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto. Our introduction to their world was through the eyes of undercover cop Brian, played by Paul Walker (RIP). In that first film, the plot revolves around Brian trying to bust Dom’s racket of stealing electronic goods of trucks on the highway by using his team’s unreal driving skills. Pretty low stakes given where the franchise is today, but at the time, they matched the Fast and Furious franchise’s tone perfectly.
Maybe it’s the strides the series has made towards destigmatising male pattern balding by placing Vin Diesel, The Rock, and Jason Statham front and centre. Seven Bucks Productions/ Chris Morgan Productions
Maybe it’s the strides the series has made towards destigmatising male pattern balding by placing Vin Diesel, The Rock, and Jason Statham front and centre.
Seven Bucks Productions/ Chris Morgan Productions
Cut to 2019, where Hobbs & Shaw will see the übermensch characters of The Rock and Jason Statham go up against Idris Elba playing a super-powered terrorist with genetic modifications, including bulletproof skin. If that sounds wild, consider how this is just from the movie’s trailer, and that the actual plot is definitely going to up the ante on crazy. We’ve gone from a relatively benign cops-and-robbers game over stolen DVD players, to battling villains worthy of the Avengers. And even so, somehow, the plot of Hobbs & Shaw manages to match the tone of the Fast and Furious franchise as perfectly as the first instalment did.
To get to this point, we’ve seen the crew do everything a car is capable of, and a whole host of things nobody imagined cars could do. This is a series that has seen the heroes use muscle cars to take down an armoured tank on the highway. We’ve seen Dom’s crew chase down a plane on a runway in their cars, foiling a terrorist plot along the way, and that isn’t even the most ambitious aviation-related stunt. In Furious 7 (the seventh instalment, duh), the team attaches parachutes to their cars, before the cars go skydiving onto a stretch of mountain roads. You read that right. Cars. With parachutes. Skydiving out of planes. Directly onto roads. The most audacious part? They did that stunt for real, which means there is a way to beat Mumbai traffic, if you’re willing to skydive in your car like you’re a stuntman in Hollywood’s answer to ridiculous Rajinikanth films. The list goes on, but you get the drift.
There’s no denying the fact that Fast and Furious is mindless entertainment, beyond the shadow of a doubt. But that doesn’t mean that mindless entertainment is always a bad thing. And when you do it as well as this franchise has been, it’s no wonder that it has lasted almost 20 years, still looks like it has life left in it. Fast and Furious is unapologetically cheesy, just like the popcorn in the theatre, and that is its greatest strength.
There’s no denying the fact that Fast and Furious is mindless entertainment, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Fast and Furious began as Paul Walker’s show. As Brian O’Conner, he was the heart and soul of the franchise, until his tragic and untimely death in a real-life car accident in 2013. Furious 7 (of the skydiving cars fame) was his final appearance in the series, and as the film released after his passing, his farewell scene was a genuinely emotional moment that conditioned every fan of the series to tear up every time they hear Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again”.
Even though Walker and Brian were gone, the juggernaut rolled on. The Rock ably stepped into his shoes, becoming such a focal point of the series that he’s now starring in his own spin-off. Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto is a cult favourite movie character, with his dedication to his Family (capital F) rivalling that of the entire cast of Baghban. The theme of the Family always sticking together has been the only constant in a series that has always evolved into something bigger and better with each iteration. And maybe that is the real reason why fans keep going back to the theatre for another Fast and Furious fix. Because no matter how much times may change, we’ll always have family.
Dushyant Shekhawat really likes his mustache. He grew it himself. You can find him on Twitter at @SeriousDushyant.