NB: The following contains spoilers for the first seven Fast & Furious movies.
You either like the Fast & Furious movies or you don’t. For 15 years now, you’ll likely have thrilled or cringed at the threadbare plots, variable acting, gaudy cars and logic-defying action. This is Den Of Geek, so you can probably guess which side of the love-hate divide we land; there’s much about the Fast & Furious films that is naive, crazy, or downright risible, but that’s precisely why we like them.
Whether you’re talking about the first movie, which got the franchise’s motor running back in 2001, or the franchise’s rejuvenation from Fast Five onwards in 2010, the Fast & Furious series has excelled at making a virtue out of its flaws. Assuming they ‘click’ for you at all, the Fast movies are exciting because they’re ridiculous; when The Rock showed up, ready to explode out of his combat fatigues in Fast Five, it was both groan-inducing and brilliant at the same time.
When Luke Evans drove around London in a wedge-shaped go-kart, flipping police cars end over end like something out of Robot Wars in the middle of Fast & Furious 6, there was something endearing about its absurdity. “There’s such a fine line between clever and stupid,” Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tuffnel once observed; in the Fast films, clever and stupid amount to the same thing.
“Endearing” might just be the operative word for these movies. If there’s a common factor among them, as they’ve morphed from drag racing B-pictures to gonzo heist capers, and “honor among thieves.” Aside from all the cars with custom paint and big exhausts, the first Fast & Furious was about Paul Walker’s gradual induction into Vin Diesel’s extended family of petrol heads, rebels and misfits. For Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner, the lure of Dominic Torretto’s gang is so seductive that, by 2009’s The Fast & The Furious, he’s given up a comfortably-paid life as an undercover cop to join it. A life on the force, it seems, is no substitute for driving Nissans and eating barbecued chicken in Dom’s back garden.
Barring the anomalous Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift, the Fast films have been about loyalty and trust ever since: we come for the car chases and explosions, but we stay for the sense of kinship between the lead characters, which by now includes Dwayne Johnson as well as Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Diesel, and Michelle Rodriguez. This is why, when Brian was retired from the franchise in Fast 7, following Walker’s tragic real-life passing, his send-off felt genuinely emotional: it was a death in cinema’s most high-octane – and strangest – family.
Next year sees the eighth Fast film roll out of Universal’s double garage, and its pet topics – vehicular mayhem and camaraderie – are present and correct. By now, you may have noticed that the word “family” appears in the trailer more than once, and even features on the poster in big capital letters. Dubbed Fate Of The Furious, Fast 8 also revives one of the series’ occasional motifs: a sudden, head-scratching shift of allegiance.
We’ve already discussed the one that got the ball rolling: Brian’s switch from cop to outlaw. Later in the series, The Rock’s government enforcer Hobbes went from a government agent on the gang’s tail to an honorary member in Fast Five. And then there’s Michelle Rodriguez’s character, Letty, who’s worked through what is probably the weirdest character arc in a modern film. Tough racer and Dom’s girlfriend for the first half of the franchise, Letty died in spectacular fashion in The Fast & The Furious – or so it seemed. Everything changed when she made a shock reappearance in Fast Five’s post-credits stinger; this set the scene for her grand return in Fast 6, where she greeted her old flame Dom by shooting him at point-blank range.
Letty, it turned out, had a special case of amnesia that blanked out her memories and turned her to the dark side for good measure. Now aligned with Luke Evans’ gruff villain Owen Shaw, Letty spent much of Fast 7 driving around trying to kill the gang she used to hang out with – that is, until Dom managed to rekindle her love for him through his sheer gruff charisma.
If that seemed far-fetched, things are going to get really weird in Fast 8. If we’re interpreting the improbably quick editing in the trailer correctly, the plot goes something like this: during a routine high-speed heist of some kind, Dom deliberately runs Hobbes’ vehicle off the road, leaving him for the cops to capture. As Hobbes is carted off to a maximum security prison, we learn that Dom has turned against his own gang – seemingly at the behest of Cipher, a new villain played by Charlize Theron. It’s as though everyone in the Fast universe has an internal switch that can be flicked between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ settings – like that Krusty doll in an early Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror episode.
While Dom’s terrorizing his old friends with Theron cackling over his shoulder, Hobbes is in prison – coincidentally, the very same slammer where Jason Statham’s bad guy Deckard Shaw has languished since the events of Fast 7. And because this is a Fast movie, Deckard Shaw isn’t a bad guy anymore; Hobbes and Shaw are just about to settle down to the mother of all prison brawls when Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who’s fast becoming the franchise’s M, shows up to reveal that Shaw’s now part of the good guys’ crew.
This is the very same Deckard Shaw, we should point out, who was revealed to have murdered Han (Sung Kang) during the events of Tokyo Drift – a bit of story retro-fitting impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t actually watched the series – and spent the entirety of Fast 7 trying to kill Brian, Roman, Letty and everybody else. Once again, family loyalty was the root cause of all the violence: Deckard was simply avenging the death of Owen Shaw, his brother.
We’re intrigued to see what kind of storytelling judo moves screenwriter Chris Morgan will pull off to explain how Shaw and the series’ regular heroes are willing to put aside their differences. Or how Morgan will provide a logical motivation for Dom’s switch of allegiance to Team Theron. Is Dom suffering from the same unique kind of amnesia with a side order of murderous treachery that Letty suffered? Is Theron a hypnotist? Or has Dom been replaced by an identical robot, Stepford Wives style?
Whatever happens, it’s all par for the course in the Fast saga, which has long since become a big-screen soap opera with lowered suspension and fluffy dice attached. Dom may be trying to kill his friends in Fast 8, but the gang will still forgive him once the clouds lift and he returns to his old self again. All families have their ups and downs, and for the Fast crew, who are used to jumping of bridges, crashing tanks and riding cars out of the back of planes in mid flight, shooting at each other is just the equivalent of quarrelling over who’s turn it is to put the bins out.
The Fate of the Furious opens on April 14th, 2017.