You may have heard last week that there were talks of Universal preparing a cinematic universe for the Fast and Furious franchise, going beyond the main series and into complimentary films providing further stories to the world. These rumours were later confirmed by one of the series’ producers and main stars Vin Diesel, stating that “We’ve written out story lines for various characters. We’ve been playing with it for a long time. It’s a very rich property, and we’re committed to treating it with a lot of class.” Now keep in mind that this is on top of the proposed ‘final trilogy’ that is already currently under production, which would round out what is considered the main series at ten movies.
The term ‘cinematic universe’ is getting thrown around a lot lately. The term was popularised thanks to the string of connected Marvel movies, and we’re seeing it co-opted by other franchises, especially as they begin to expand on an interconnected universe built around multiple characters. Star Wars is looking to delve into this with stand alone films in between the new trilogy, and the Harry Potter franchise is spreading its wings beyond the initial main series with a new film set to release next year. More and more the concept of a direct sequel is nearly being lost to the grander vision of a ‘cinematic universe’
Going back to Diesel’s quote, and what sticks out (outside of treating the franchise ‘with a lot of class’ being used un-ironically) is that they’re writing for various characters. If there is one thing that Fast and Furious does well, it has built a strong team dynamic between the ensemble cast. Obviously losing Paul Walker is a massive loss, but the ‘family’ is instrumental to the series. And while that will no doubt continue to be a primary theme for the franchise, it is not unreasonable to think that, much like how the Avengers focuses on the team while the solo movies focus on the individual, the F&F franchise could do the same.
Now let’s just pause for a minute. Do I think the series has the strength to craft a connected cinematic universe? Not really. It’s recent success is phenomenal and I really enjoyed the last few movies, but what we have is the reverse of the Avengers. What makes the solo films work is because these characters were designed with the solo film in mind. When they come together it is special, but with F&F we’ve already gotten that. And for the most part, the characters right now aren’t strong enough to hold a solo movie. There are exceptions to that rule (which I’ll get to) but while the family works well together, there are only a few that make sense outside of that role.
If this idea is going to find its legs, they need to find a way to make the spin-offs and prequels different enough from the main series, while still maintaining that same fun and ridiculousness that has let the franchise thrive free from the same scrutiny other dumb blockbusters have received. But there is a precedent, not only for the franchise re-inventing itself, but for mixing things up.
The movie at the forefront of that? Fast and Furious (3): Tokyo Drift. While still technically part of the main franchise thanks to some creative wiggling around in later films, the third movie at the time took a completely new cast and crew and set it in a different location. Back then the movies were still firmly in the ‘street race’ realm, but instead of straight line races we got drifting. More importantly, we had the character of Han introduced into the timeline. Now (Spoilers) unfortunately, Han is dead in the F&F universe. He was killed off at the end of 3, and as the series continued that movie was shown to occur in between the events of the sixth and seventh films.
But there are two things dangling from that particular thread. The first is the character of Han himself. He’s a bit of a fan favourite ensemble darkhorse member, and with him out of the main movies he won’t be overexposed if a spin-off or prequel story was told featuring him. What’s more, there is a chance to expand on an aspect of the franchise that is often overlooked. Justin Lin, who directed Tokyo Drift (as well as the 4th, 5th and 6th films in the series, and expected to direct the 8th) made his directorial debut with the 2002 film Better Luck Tomorrow. One of the supporting characters in the film was Han Lue, played by Sung Kang, who also played the role of Han Seoul-Oh in the Fast and Furious franchise.
Better Luck Tomorrow isn’t considered an official part of the timeline, but both director Justin Lin and actor Sung Kang have stated that they consider Han Lue and Han Seoul-Oh to be the same character. Lue’s smoking habit is even referenced in Fast Five, when Seoul-Oh’s girlfriend Gisele (Gal Gadot) believes he used to be a smoker as he “eats to keep his hands occupied”. There is support for this theory within the F&F fanbase, so providing a canonical link between the two movies would not only allow the franchise to logically spin off by using a popular character, but also combine the street racing aspect of Han’s Tokyo Drift life with the criminal side we see from the Lue version.
Speaking of Tokyo Drift, there’s also the character of Sean Boswell, who was the main protagonist in that film. We see him pop up in Furious 7, and the actor (Lucas Black) is signed on for at least parts 8 and 9. Admittedly he’s a pretty bland character, but there is still a lot of potential story revolving around the Tokyo street scene that his character would be at the head of. Now his involvement in the main movies would affect that, but it would be a shame to essentially leave the Tokyo backdrop after only one movie.
The Japan setting provides a visually distinctive variation to the main series as well as allowing cultural aspects to shape the film. Now any long term reader would know I’m a big fan of Japan so my bias is probably showing here, but with the connection to the main series already developed, why not expand on the Eastern scene for some spin-offs? They could have Boswell ship off to the main series and let a Tokyo Drift spin off start afresh with the power vacuum in the street scene. The events of that power vacuum could even touch into the main series, be it as a sub plot or simple easter eggs.
The other main character ripe for a spin-off/prequel? Hobbs. This is less to do with the character and more the actor behind him. The Rock was heralded as the next big action hero when he made the initial switch from professional wrestler to actor, and while there were some stumbling blocks along the way (namely movies like The Tooth Fairy) over the past few years that proclamation has started to carry some weight to match his biceps. There is enough blank space surrounding Hobb’s character that they could easily fashion a story for the Rock to headline, mostly devoid of the main cast, and it still work. He has the star power to carry a movie by himself financially, as well as the acting and stunt work to make it an interesting movie. Hobbs is a fun enough character, and if he was paired with some quality sidekicks a solo film could work well by going down a few different pathways.
I enjoy the Fast and Furious franchise for the most part, and while I don’t think it should be a ‘cinematic universe’ by any means as long as the primary films are breaking that billion dollar box office barrier there’s a reason for Universal to consider it. Whether we’ll get well thought out spin offs or a stupid Roman and Tej buddy cop movie remains to be seen, but there are roads for the series to go down if that is what the team sees. Personally though, I would love to see Dan Murrell’s idea from the latest Screen Junkies ‘Movie Fights’ episode, which would be to take the ‘heist’ concepts popularised from Fast Five onwards, and combine the franchise with one of the other best heist franchises in Hollywood: Ocean’s Eleven. Would it be ridiculous? Yeah. Are there way too many people to keep track of and give screentime to? Totally. But combining the craziness of the Fast franchise with the classy criminal group lead by Danny Ocean has the potential to be way too much fun not to consider….even if they are owned by two separate companies (Universal and Warner Bros). Make it happen Hollywood!