The Fate of the Furious—the eighth installment of The Fast and the Furious’s highly entertaining, absurd, and profitable franchise—opens with history. The scene itself is historic: according to the New York Times, it’s Hollywood’s first venture to Cuba since the United States instituted its embargo on the island nation in 1958. But it’s also a nod to the series’s origin, as Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) engages in a street race during he and Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) honeymoon in Havana. And even as The Fast and Furious has developed into a full-blown action series on super mass gainer, it’s always been at its best when engaging history, be it between characters or the overall story. However, The Fate of the Furious enters relatively new territory by focusing on the future.
Where 2015’s Furious 7 resolved one tragedy-driven problem, another conundrum arose. Its conclusion, in which both Paul Walker and his Brian O’Conner are given a bittersweet send off to the bittersweet symphony of Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, closed O’Conner’s loop following Walker’s death in 2013. As producer Neal Moritz admitted on The Bill Simmons Podcast last week, that could’ve been the perfect conclusion to the saga. “After seven, we could’ve just stopped,” Moritz, who’s been attached to the franchise since its 2001 inception, told Simmons. “There was a lot of conversation about stopping; it felt like a fitting place.” But cease, they did not. A final trilogy was announced in 2015, leaving even the most die-hard Fast and the Furious fans (confession: myself, and my closest friends, fall into this category) curious as to where the films would go next. The Fate of the Furious rattled the storytelling cage by having Dom, ever the committed extended family man, break bad and betray his beloveds.
Everyone knew that wouldn’t last, but this new turn was an attempt at something the films haven’t done since 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: advancing the plot, chronologically. With just two films left, The Fate of the Furious pushes the series towards a finish by finally looking ahead.
Why make an eighth film, especially after the end to its predecessor was not only well-received for its sentimentality, but felt finite? The obvious answer is demand created by sustained box office success, but the creators agreed that demand must be propped up by solid storytelling. “We were determined not to do it unless we could come up with an idea that was really worthy,” Moritz explained to Simmons. “When Chris Morgan, the writer, came up with the idea that Dom would go bad and turn against the team, that turned the light bulb on for me and I saw how we could keep going.” Moritz’s comments recall those made during a 2010 conversation with Collider, where he revealed that post-Tokyo Drift skepticism among fans left the brain trust hesitant to forge ahead with 2009’s Fast & Furious—the impetus for renewed interest in the franchise.
“We got everybody back and we [made] a really conscious decision that we weren’t going to show anything on that movie because of the amount of cynicism until we had a great piece of material,” he said. “And I remember as soon as we released our first trailer for that movie—the teaser—everything changed. It was like everybody was very cynical about the movie, they saw that and it was like, ‘wow.’” This inspired the heart of the series.
“They say if you want a glimpse of the future, just look behind you,” Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw says in the opening moments of Furious 7. “You can’t outrun the past.” The Fast and the Furious, in its totality, has succeeded by leaving no stone unturned when it comes to erstwhile details. Films four through seven became the franchise’s core by filling in the blanks between 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift. With the return of Diesel and Walker came the reunion of the original family, which grew just as every true fan hoped it would. Furthermore, adversaries like Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) became kin. In Furious 7, we learned the particulars behind Han’s (Sung Kang) death—it was at Shaw’s hands—and Lucas Black returns as Sean Boswell when Dom returns to Tokyo to exact revenge.
As a franchise firmly steeped in its past, The Fast and the Furious fully indulges the novelty of fetching characters of yore while introducing new ones. And where every film from Fast & Furious to Furious 7 has explained how we, by proxy of Dom, ended up in Tokyo, they’ve been working to a point where the series can start anew. This paved the way for The Fate of the Furious to be the first installation in over a decade to begin with a clean slate.
Dom’s heel turn is probably the necessary deviation to spice up the relationship between film and viewer, but it’s merely a case of the plot spinning its wheels. It’s a significant development, but so clearly temporary. It’s less compelling than Dom crying Knowshon Moreno-esque tears, Shaw atoning for Han’s murder by saving Dom’s son, and—*gasp*—Dom having a son: the lovechild Elena neglected to tell him about. The latter events propel the story into the ninth installation, where Shaw might join la familia as yet another bald, heavily-muscled, Type A personality, and Dom perhaps flirts with a less fast, less furious lifestyle as a result of fatherhood.
So what’s next for The Fast and the Furious? Is space the final frontier? Moritz, who admits to not knowing what will transpire between films eight and nine, says no. But the door is open for Charlize Theron and her unfortunate blond(e) White Woman Dreads to return, along with Helen Mirren as the foul-mouthed, emotionally manipulative Shaw matriarch—plus, other A-listers who will likely campaign to participate in the fun. But the truth is that it doesn’t really matter what happens at this point, as long as chapters nine and 10 include heavy doses of what fans adore. As long as some extravagant shit occurs between the fade in and inevitable family dinner, audiences will be satisfied. Record-breakingly satisfied.