Yesterday, hours after the internet had successfully smoked out Scott Eastwood as the subject of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's angry Instagram message, TMZ reported that no, it wasn't Clint's overprivileged son. It was Vin Diesel, the man who's been the face of the Fast and Furious franchise since 2001. "We're told The Rock has butted heads with Vin during the production, in part because V.D. is a producer and has made decisions that didn't sit well with the former wrestling champ," TMZ wrote. The site also added that The Rock and Vin met on set on Tuesday—"because tensions were running so high it was almost impossible to shoot scenes"—but that they're not sure whether the beef, as TMZ put it, was fully "quashed."
If you're getting the impression that I'm being dismissive of TMZ's report, that's because I am. TMZ gets a lot of things right, and they don't get enough credit for being the news-breaking organization they actually are, but this one feels cooked up. You just aren't going to convince me that Johnson, who, it should be noted, is also a producer on Fast 8, would start a very public conflict over creative choices for a Fast and Furious movie. These are movies in which Dodge Chargers destroy the city of Rio by dragging a multi-ton vault through it, where cars leap from one skyscraper to the next, where The Rock physically removes an arm cast BY FLEXING—what creative choices are there for anyone to get tight over?
You also aren't going to convince me that Johnson, one of the savviest guys in Hollywood, a dude who turned an eyebrow muscle into a multi-million dollar career, isn't self-aware enough to know his place and purpose in the Fast franchise. He was brought in—after four movies—to add a jolt of fresh energy; not to replace the well-established, well-liked stars. This whole thing would be like if Billy Dee Williams, after finishing his scenes on The Empire Strikes Back, was like, "Cool, so now I'm Luke, right?"
But, the second TMZ said The Rock's message was about Vin Diesel, the feud became real. Maybe not in the minds of either actor, but that report guarantees that this will be a storyline all the way up until Fast 8 premieres in April 2017. Diesel will make a Facebook video about it; Jimmy Fallon will ask The Rock about it on The Tonight Show. Perception always trumps reality, and TMZ just dictated what the perception will be.
And honestly, that is a very good thing for Fast 8.
Since the franchise's fourth movie, Fast and Furious in 2009, Universal has increased box office numbers with every subsequent installment, hitting a peak in 2015 with over $1.5 billion in global ticket sales. That's an astonishing level of success, but like any business, Universal isn't going to be satisfied by anything less than a continued uptrend. But that's not easily done.
The success of Furious 7, as grim as this may be, was no doubt influenced by the fact that Paul Walker passed away in the middle of the movie's filming. His tragic death, ironically caused by a high-speed car accident, magnified Fast's long-held emphasis on family—we saw the strong bonds of Dom Toretto's ragtag group come to life as the cast banded together in real life, as Tyrese wept at the site of Walker's death and as Vin Diesel sang "See You Again." The emotions behind Furious 7 were intense and intensely magnetic. And in a way, going to see Furious 7 was like saying goodbye to Paul Walker.
Fortunately (or, if you're a sociopathic studio suit, unfortunately), Fast 8 doesn't have something like that heading into its release. And surely Universal never wants to face losing an actor ever again. But is there something else, something far less tragic, that would drum up drama and anticipation? If there is, it's probably a feud between the franchise's two biggest stars.
In Fast Five, arguably the series' best movie, the action is driven by the rivalry between Diesel's Dom and Johnson's Hobbs. The movie makes you wait as long as possible, watching beads of sweat roll down The Rock's face while pondering "WHAT IF THESE DUDES FOUGHT," and when they finally do square off, the cathartic release is like ecstasy. It's a perfectly constructed conflict between two evenly matched characters, but Fast & Furious 6 softened the hatred while Furious 7 eliminated it altogether, to the point that Hobbs was leaping out of a hospital bed to come to Dom's aide. That was cool, but not as basically pleasing. The relationship needed a remodel.
Now it's got one. And even better, now it looks like Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson—not just Dom and Hobbs—hate each other. I have no idea what narrative hoops Fast 8 is going to jump through to one, get Hobbs into prison (as The Rock's Instagram video showed) and two, get Hobbs back in opposition against Dom, but it doesn't even matter. All that matters is that Diesel and Johnson dig in their heels. We need Vin to strap on a black turtleneck and fanny pack for Halloween; we need The Rock to say he's better at karaoke, or to say that Vin's looking a little chubby in his old age. Whatever makes this "feud" last for the next 247 days.
Beef, real or not, worked for Kanye West and Graduation, it's worked for Taylor Swift's entire career, and it'll work for Fast 8. That movie can take my money now.