The Fast and the Furious franchise shares more with Marvel movies than just overflowing box office riches. At their cores, they seek to offer audiences exactly what they expect, which basically constitutes nothing more than things that go BOOM.
Matching expectations may be a profitable business model in the short-term, but it poses problems long-term since the easiest way to keep enticing audiences is by making everything BIGGER. The Fate of the Furious, the latest in the series, can be seen as a case study in how the confines of its commercial formula, with each installment promising more stars and more action, inevitably proves limiting.
Given the rampant egos that run amok in Hollywood, packing in as many A-list performers as possible eventually causes trouble, both on set and on the screen. The former has been well-documented, while the latter is immediately evident in Fate of the Furious. Given the producers’ desire to keep attracting widely-beloved names to boost their box office riches – while of course retaining members of the ensemble with whom fans are already too smitten to leave behind – the screenwriters basically must invent stories that can somehow fit all of them, which is a backwards approach to writing. Coming up with a good story is hard enough when not faced with a list of characters to include, especially since the hubris of the actors demand that they each need a moment in the spotlight. The result is an often-incoherent story.
But who cares when the BOOMS are so glorious!
And yet, the best action scenes are those rooted in, and thus reliant upon, the scale of the story. Ideally, the BIG explosions of cars and buildings should not only match but stem out of EQUALLY-BIG plot explosions, which are tough to pull off when the audience has difficulty comprehending a narrative that endlessly veers between too many characters to appease the actors.
At a certain point, continually raising the roof leads to jumping the shark. The Fast and the Furious franchise may not be there yet, but it’s telling that The Fate of the Furious was the first whose domestic gross fell short of its predecessor’s cume.
Besides all the obvious entertainment factors, what set apart the franchise in the past was the organic multiculturalism of its cast. Everyone loves seeing themselves up on the screen, and these movies provided so many groups of color – who comprise a gradually-larger percentage of moviegoers nowadays – with all-too-rare silver screen representation, for which they’ll happily shell out their hard-earned bucks on which the franchise’s future depends. Unfortunately for Fast and the Furious’ coffers but fortunately for, you know, progress, diversity in Hollywood fare is on the up and up (thank god), which makes the series look just as reflective of the world as the likes of the Marvel Universe, the Star Wars galaxy, and the rest of Disney’s tent-pole roster. Without that added bonus, Fast and the Furious looks like just one amongst many interchangeable franchises.
Overseas, however, this iteration performed just as healthily as ever. In addition to the makeup of their casts, the series has made a concerted effort to become more global in setting as well. Instead of the set pieces only being located in America or major cities around the globe – as was custom only a few years ago – they’re shot all over the world, including in some corners rarely touched by Hollywood. This globalization – in conjunction with the corresponding PR blitzes where they film – increases the franchise’s profile on every continent. Foreign audiences understandably will pay to see their locales on the screen.
Yet as more and more studios follow their lead, Fast and the Furious will lose this edge as well.
What to do?
Perhaps the franchise should take a page out of the medium it most represents: television. Much like TV series, these movies purport to feature self-contained stories, yet they’re all still continuations of past yarns. In a way, the relationship between each installment is reminiscent of TV seasons. Though the producers have apparently already flirted with the idea of spinoffs – which would fix the problems caused by needing an increasing overabundance of actors – it wouldn’t really solve nor even change the current dilemmas they would face whenever churning out another entry in the main franchise.
I’d argue they should instead adopt a different model presented by the boom tube: television anthologies.
Hand over the keys to the Fast and the Furious kingdom to a revolving door of dynamic writers and directors, literally and figuratively affording them the creative freedom to take the car that is the franchise for an unrestrained spin. If some characters don’t fit their storylines? Bummer. Those actors can come back next time.
If every Fast and the Furious installment offered consistently engaging stories to go along with their more conventional thrills, these cars will be entertaining moviegoers for far longer than if they continue down their current road.