Vin Diesel may be predicting an Oscar win for his latest Fast & Furious franchise film but the one thing anyone should be able to predict accurately is that there will be another sequel. Racing past $140 million in its opening weekend, the biggest in franchise history, Fast 8 seems like a guarantee at this point. To put that in perspective … Furious 7 made more this weekend domestically than The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift did overall in its entire theatrical run. Throw in over an additional $200 million outside the US and in any normal circumstance an 8th film would be a formality right now.
It’s a money train that shows no sign of stopping as the Fast & Furious franchise has somehow managed to form a franchise around a character described by comedian Adam Corolla as heavily into both “family and aggravated assault.” Unfortunately with the death of Paul Walker midway through production the question has to change to “Should it be?”
Normally that question wouldn’t even be asked, of course, as it’d more of a matter of getting everyone back both contractually and schedule wise. With the success of anything involving more than person comes the “disease of more,” as Pat Riley once opined and Bill Simmons espoused upon. In a team sport, after a championship run by a team for the first time, role players want star level perks and salaries. In many franchises supporting actors want more after a hit in the same way. Look at Twilight; the supporting cast was replaced when they wanted more than what Summit was willing to pay them.
The Fast & Furious franchise has seemed to avoid this because this is a cast that knows just how special this franchise is. You can tell in interviews that the cast loves working together so much that no one is going to leave over a contract dispute, et al. Most of this cast is also rarely seen in theatres without being in this franchise thus it would not shocking that everyone wants to come back from that stand point. This isn’t a Fifty Shades of Grey franchise that exists solely because people can’t get out of contracts or have mortgages to pay.
Thus, with seemingly everything going for it, moving on for this franchise is something that could potentially be hard to support. Why? No Paul Walker, pure and simple.
If Walker was still with us there’d be no question on the franchise going on. Signature actors can leave for other things and a franchise can go on. But with his death comes something we have to discuss, at a minimum: SHOULD it go on? A lot of this has to with the way its two main actors are connected. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast & Furious films are connected like Karl Malone and John Stockton were to the Utah Jazz.
When it comes to their legacy, many moons from now, you won’t be able to mention one without the other. Neither had as much success individually as they did together; they both came to fame together in the first film in the franchise and it never worked without the two together. As leading men neither has been profoundly successful as they have been as this sort of ex-con A-team. The franchise was nearly wrecked because people didn’t want to see a film called Fast & Furious without Diesel and Walker starring in it.
Both actors biggest hits come almost exclusively in this franchise; the outliers are Diesel’s eight lines of dialogue in Guardians of the Galaxy and supporting part in Saving Private Ryan.
2 Fast 2 Furious was awful but was marked by Tyrese Gibson in a role clearly meant to be Vin Diesel’s. It failed and the decision was to move on with Lucas Black in the lead, starting from scratch. Tokyo Drift was fairly forgettable except for the brief moment Diesel showed up that got an insane response in screenings. Diesel seemingly saved the franchise with a brief cameo that reminded people why they wanted to see the film: Dominick Toretto and Brian O’Conner.
The fourth film showed that fans weren’t responding to the franchise name: they responded to the characters. That’s why it felt like the franchise was back to being what it should be. You couldn’t replace the two characters people genuinely wanted to see in these films without wrecking your box office prospects.
Box office receipts showed that fans don’t want to see a franchise about car racing with rotating main characters. They liked Brian and Dom, and the racing, and as such that was the key to the first film’s success. Neither of the first two sequels worked because it needed that weird chemistry from Walker and Diesel. It happened to work out that the franchise found a couple of other actors to bring in to round out the crew that was taken down in the first film, obviously, as Fast & Furious wound up becoming a hybrid of characters from the first three films.
It made sense, too. The first film worked because Dom had a longtime crew that Brian was trying to infiltrate and the events of the first wound up leaving them all gone. The film needed people to replace the actors from the first film that didn’t survive the cut over the years. They had all the spare parts from the earlier films that somehow managed to work when put into the mix, too.
It’s crazy to think that characters who’ve become the backbone of a regular, consistent franchise all came into it at differing points for differing reasons. Tyrese Gibson was a failed replacement for Vin Diesel. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges was a throwaway character in the same film. Gal Gadot was the femme fatale in the fourth who wound up becoming a big part of two sequels. Sung Kang was cast in part to the third film because he had a great working relationship with Justin Lin coming into it … and brought back into it because of the same relationship despite his on screen death in Tokyo Drift.
They even added Better Luck Tomorrow into the franchise as the first part of Han’s life because of Lin and Kang’s involvement. That Han’s death wound up being used to help fuel the franchise in another happy accident that worked, giving us a starting point for Furious 7 and allowing us the ability to properly slot in Tokyo Drift into the franchise canon. Fast Five worked in part because Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was an injection of adrenaline into the mix as the sort of supercop needed to tackle down these international fugitives … and he keeps coming back because the character was so much fun. Now he’s sort of an extended sidekick who shows up for any numbers of reasons. It’s part of how Johnson was able to reinvigorate his career in the genre to the point where he’s been called “franchise Viagra.”
Furious 7 may have been set up as a send off for Paul Walker to start with, even before his death, but with him being gone from the world another film the franchise doesn’t feel right.
On the one hand it’s still very profitable to make films about street racers turned black ops team. Over $140 million domestically opening weekend says that there’s plenty of desire to want to see this concept and technically you can replace Walker at this point. You have Lucas Black in the wings as it’s an easy storyline explanation; Dom only trusts people that are part of the “family” and Sean Boswell is technically part of the extended family. They even had a brief moment together in Furious 7, too, and you can use this to establish the bridge to replacing Brian with someone familiar.
One imagines that you can work around his television schedule for the film, too, and at worst you can trade him out in a ninth film with someone else. This is a Diesel-centric franchise from this point forward no matter what. There’s leeway now for who replaces Walker in that other lead role; you can even swap in “The Rock” and not too many people would object.
On the other hand … this was about as perfect a send off to the franchise as you could get. Too many franchises go on far longer than they should, and don’t know when to end, and seven films is much longer than anyone thought this could go as a franchise. The first film was a small action film that wound up becoming significantly more successful than anyone thought it could, becoming the film that seemingly kicked off the arrival of every summer blockbuster season upon its release. With a principal gone, and never coming back, everyone can argue that this was the way to end the franchise.
The film’s conclusion seemed to be a good bye to both Walker and to the franchise from everyone involved, too. My thought is that it will go on for as long as it’s profitable … but I’m not sure if it should. Both sides seem reasonable to me. What do you think? Leave your comments below.
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Tags: Furious 7, Monday Morning Critic, Paul Walker, Vin Diesel