In F9: The Fast Saga, the last instalment of this franchise which has grossed over $6 billion worldwide across its 10 films, Tej (Wiz Khalifa) tells Roman as they head to outer space to destroy a satellite, (Tyrese Gibson), “As long as we obey the laws of physics, we should be fine”. For a franchise that has steadily abandoned physics with each subsequent instalment, I chuckled. I was also heartened to realise that the franchise is aware of the gravity-defying, nonsensical turn this franchise has taken with the last two or three instalments. As someone who has grown up watching dumb action films, I truly love action films that don’t take themselves seriously. Over the last 21 years of this franchise, the audience has witnessed some genuinely memorable action sequences in this franchise that is all about “family”. A Fast & Furious loyalist like me can only hope that the next two instalments (one of which releases on May 18) do not tarnish the love this franchise has got over the years.
One of the main reasons I adore this franchise is also one of the most memed aspects about it - ‘family’. Vin Diesel’s incessant allusions to his family could get a little overbearing by the time you approach F9, but the bond of this “family” is undoubtedly the beating heart of this franchise. The outlandish action scenes Fast & Furious specialises in are grounded because of the emotional stakes of the characters involved. We get a glimpse into the underlying emotion of this franchise in the first instalment where Brian (who is a cop then) refers to Dom’s group of street racers as “gang” and Mia corrects him and says that it is a team, not a gang (a term that would undermine their unity) At the risk of sounding naive, I must admit that a few scenes over the franchise have actually moved me. One particular scene is from Fast Five (the best film of this franchise), where Brian expresses his apprehensions about whether he would be a good father. As Dom talks to him, we find out that this insecurity is rooted in his childhood where his father was never present to mould him or shape him into a better person. Fast & Furious doesn’t explore intricate complexities in the relationships the characters share, but it finds a way to organically extract emotions. In a set of films all about exploding cars and crashing through windows, I find myself craving the intermittent moments of warmth between the characters and the way they stand up for each other. The subtle undertones of the familial bond become more obvious in the latter instalments, but by that time the characters have already established a connection with the audience and personally, when I connect with the characters, I tend to forgive cheesy overtly sentimental scenes by the end (especially sitcoms).
There is a scene that traditionally features in most films of this franchise: saying grace. The members of this team gather, either before the commencement of an important mission, or after the villains have been vanquished. Be it Dom’s son in the 9th film or Brian in the 5th film after Dom gradually embraced his presence in his sister’s life, these moments are brimming with warmth simply because they remind us of the friends we made that turned into family. I have always chased tenderness in life and in movies because of my deep-rooted belief that life is all about these fleeting moments of warmth amidst the multifarious challenges we face on a daily basis. The “saying grace” scene in this franchise provides me with inexplicable comfort simply because they serve as a reminder to take things slowly once in a while. A truly memorable climax sequence with this “family” was Fast Five where the song Danza Kuduro (which is a commonplace name at every party I attend now) plays as Tej opens the safe and the team can finally live a crime-free life with the truckloads of money they just got.
A fairly valid criticism this franchise gets is the lack of a genuinely terrifying villain for the initial films. The only threatening villains are Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Cipher (Charlize Theron) in Furious 7 and The Fate Of The Furious respectively. As a result of this, most of the team has an air of invincibility around them. Tyrese Gibson goes meta in F9 when he comments about the invincibility of the team after they escape unscathed from a life-threatening attack. An unfortunate consequence of this is that while we still connect to the characters, we are never scared about losing them (although some fan theories seem to suggest the franchise is set up for a tragic ending) Two major characters that were apparently dead also were brought back to life conveniently. I hope that the last two films give us more villains to be terrified of. The ruthlessness of a character like Thanos is what made Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame memorable. While the Fast & Furious franchise strives for action-based excellence, it wouldn’t do any harm if the stakes were substantially raised by a character's death.
While I love the emotional connect that the characters share, the legacy of this franchise in the eyes of the world would be viewed in terms of how it defined “cool” for an entire generation of moviegoers. The film exponentially increased the trend of modifying and customising cars. It took simple cars and added a stylistic appeal to them, especially to those fascinated by cars like I was as a child. While there are several other reasons, one reason why cars of the 21st century come up with multiple options for customisation can be attributed to the Fast & Furious franchise. It also gave rise to the trend of selecting cars from a wider colour palette, using funky colours that would have earlier been mocked, but looked extremely cool after the advent of the F&F films. I can imagine the hype, especially in Western countries, when a film about street racing released over two decades ago. Even in terms of fashion, the muscle shirts and Dom’s crucifix necklace fit among the various trends kickstarted by this film. The fascination with cars has permeated into the lives of the cast of who have also been passionate about cars. Paul Walker was known to be a huge car aficionado owning more than 20 cars in his garage, which were eventually auctioned off for around $ 2.3 million after his untimely demise. Even actors like Vin Diesel, John Cena and Ludacris own limited edition cars.
I must admit that I am blinded by my love for this franchise and as a result, I am impervious to its various glaring flaws. One could argue Fast & Furious has taken a turn for the worse and the new films are a far cry from the glorious past of this franchise. It has definitely lost a bit of its steam after the tragic death of Paul Walker. But I view the increasing obliteration of logic in F8 and F9 in terms of an ageing person who just wants to have fun as they grow old. Amidst the physics-defying stunts, the emotional core of this group of street racers is something I deeply resonated with. And I think they did a commendable job in keeping the emotional core intact even as the scale of the film expanded multifold from just street racing and illegal modifications to a globe-trotting team trying to save the world. The franchise has always been rooted in the bond of this family, something that hasn’t changed across the 10 films of this franchise. As the lyrics of 'See You Again' go, which played in the tearful farewell of Paul Walker in Furious 7, “How can you not talk about family when family’s all that you got?”
Regardless of how bad the next two films turn out to be, there will always be a soft corner in my heart for Vin Diesel’s stonefacedness, for Paul Walker’s inimitable charm, for the hilarious on-screen bond shared by Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris, or the characters of Jordana Brewster, Gal Gadot and Michelle Rodriguez - female characters who drove cars with the same breakneck speed as their male counterparts and kicked as much ass in a franchise that has been construed as male-dominated. A franchise that showed “friends turning into family” like no other, featured some of the coolest action sequences involving cars on screen and revolutionised how the world looked at automobiles, Fast & Furious has undoubtedly left an imprint in the minds of several people and regardless of the flaws it has in its quest for making commercially viable cinema, I believe from the bottom of my heart that this franchise has a legacy of its own.