Whether you like to call it The Fate of the Furious (its original title) or Fast and Furious 8 (international title and more Google friendly), I prefer to call it: “Die Another Day of the Furious.”
Die Another Day, of course, the 20th official James Bond movie and the last Pierce Brosnan role as British secret agent with code name 007. And there was a reason why it became his last James Bond role.
Beside Brosnan fulfilled his contract with four James Bond films, the producers thought they need to re-imagine James Bond character. That is, the James Bond that more suit with new geopolitical landscape in a post-9/11 world. The era that greatly defined by the secret agent character Matt Damon’s “Jason Bourne”, with no high tech gadgets, just bare-hand fighting and shoot.
That’s why when Die Another Day released, after 9/11, many people thought the film was out of context, like coming from different decade, the Cold War era. In post-9/11 world, the West main enemy was not anyone from their Cold War enemy side (former Soviet or North Korea terrorist) with sophisticated organization and weaponry, but radical Islam terrorist that lived in the cave, with limited weapon, but had ability to hijack a plane and crushed it to the tall building.
As we saw in Die Another Day, James Bond driving an invisible car, while in real life terrorist using a knife to hijack a commercial jet plane. It took four years to reboot James Bond character that fit with today’s world geopolitics. Daniel Craig replaced Pierce Brosnan in Casino Royale (2006). And the history saw it as one of the successful franchise reboot in modern cinema.
And now let’s talk about Fast and Furious 8.
Once upon a time… or to be precise: in the summer of 2001—not knowing few month later there will be 9/11 tragedy happened—there was a little action film released. The title The Fast and the Furious, about police officer Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) sent undercover to the Los Angeles underworld street racing scene. Then he must decide where his loyalty lies when he becomes enamored with the people he supposed to be put behind bars (Vin Diesel and others).
With estimated budget US$ 38 million, the movie was a surprise box office hit, earning US$ 144,5 million in US alone. The stars, Paul Walker and Vin Diesel were hardly known back then. Critics didn’t much pay attention either. They dubbed The Fast and the Furious as “the ‘Point Break’ with racing cars.” As you may know, Point Break was Keanu Reeves’ 1991 film with the similar storyline, but instead of street race car, Point Break had surfing.
Ah, it feels that first Fast and Furious movie live “in a galaxy far far away” if you just saw this 8th film. Once a mediocre action film has become a box office behemoth, a star packed extravaganza, a Marvel’s Avengers film without Avengers superheroes in it.
What we saw in the 8th installment is not coincidental. This franchise had its high and low. As well-documented everywhere, the franchise was almost getting straight to DVD release until extreme makeover saved it. The makeover were: changed the storyline not about race car, but a heist story; made the casts more diverse for international audience, not just good whites people and bad blacks, but added Latinos and Asian too; and don’t forget to put the family value, a universal value accepted everywhere in the globe, as a core philosophy of the franchise.
The tipping point was in the 5th film, Fast Five (2011), by adding Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and set the film in Rio de Jenairo, Brazil. It drew more than US$632 million worldwide. More importantly, critics love Fast Five. The late Richard Corliss of Time magazine put Fast 5 in his list of 10 best movies of the year 2011.
From Fast Five the franchise managed to make each movie better than the last in terms of box office success. The formula they found in Fast Five live strongly, and even more touched audience heart when Paul Walker tragically dead in the middle of the making the seventh film. Fast and Furious 7 (2015) wasn’t just a movie, but a farewell to the beloved actor, like went to a funeral of family member.
And now they comeback as if Paul Walker character just out of the picture. His name only mentioned one time and a baby named after his character in the end of the movie. (Ups, sorry, spoiler.) We must accept that after seven films our beloved former street race car heroes have become the Avengers that recruited by SHIELD to save the earth from annihilation by a megalomaniac villain.
In particular, Chiper (Charlize Theron), the super villain, got Dom (Diesel), our superhero, rejoin to the dark side. Dom went rogue, became a criminal, and above all, leaved his family (his wife, Letty and friends). In this 8th film our (super)heroes play the mission just as the mission of Ethan Hunt of Mission: Impossible or James Bond, involving nuclear launch code and the world at stake. And like Mission: Impossible and James Bond films the action getting bigger. After we saw cars against tank, cars jumped from the airplane, now we saw cars racing with submarine—not to mention hundreds of cars in New York City went zombies.
In this 8th film the franchise has likely reached the point of no return. It becomes so big, that the only way to make it right is making bigger. And people may suggest, jokingly, in the next installment our superheroes will race a space shuttle or have a war against alien invasion.
Before Die Another Day, James Bond reached the moon in Moonraker (1979), following Star Wars box office phenomenon. And when producers thought they reach the limit, they contemplated; put the hero back to earth. Die Another Day rebooted into more gritty and realistic Casino Royale; after science-fiction focused Moonraker, the producers wanted a conscious return to the style of the early Bond films and the works of 007 creator Ian Fleming. The result was For Your Eyes Only (1981) which is largely based on Fleming works.
I hope Fast and Furious filmmakers have a chance to contemplate also. And if they don’t, I’ll be sad if the franchise ends as a joke with space shuttle race or alien invasion.***