When considering the blockbuster franchises of our time it’s easy to stop at the Marvel, Harry Potter and Star Wars storylines. However, a world away from the magical and alien are the heroes of the Fast & Furious franchise. Better known in the movie biz as the “Fast Saga”, this collection of nine films has earned a tidy $US5.8 billion in petrol money for Universal Pictures. When F9 comes out this year, it’s certain to add to those coffers. It’s also certain to help further cement a way of looking at manhood that is having as singular an effect at home as it is on the streets.
Summing up the Fast Saga is certainly not something that can be done at speed. Firstly, the films jump back and forward in time, giving the storyline more turns than the Monaco Grand Prix. Secondly, while the first three films were very much about street-racing culture, the last six have made the jump to high-stakes hijackings, international espionage and cybercrime. But here’s an attempt to put the pieces together in chronological order:
The Fast and the Furious—Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), an undercover cop, infiltrates a street-racing crew that has been hijacking trucks full of electronic goods.
2 Fast 2 Furious—Brian finds himself on the run in Florida. He’s given an opportunity to go back under cover to take down a criminal organisation. Succeed, and he’ll have his record wiped clean.
Fast & Furious—Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), the leader of the street-racing crew from the first film, turns up in the Dominican Republic and heists oil to give to the poor alongside his partner Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).
Fast Five—Dom, Brian and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) unite to heist $US100 million from a corrupt businessman. Hot on their tailgate is federal agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).
Fast & Furious 6—Dom and Brian team up with federal agent Hobbs in exchange for another amnesty for their crimes. Together they work to take down mercenary Owen Shaw (Luke Evans)
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift— Young hot-head Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is sent to live in Tokyo where he falls in with local street racers but falls foul of the Yakuza. He’s befriended by Dom’s friend Han (Sung Kang).
Furious 7— Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older brother of mercenary Owen Shaw, is an assassin who comes looking for revenge and threatens Dom’s family. Deckard seemingly kills Han before being defeated by Dom’s team. Brian and Mia retire to raise a family together.
The Fate of the Furious—Dom is blackmailed by cyberterrorist Cipher (Oscar winner Charlize Theron) who has taken control of a powerful supercomputer. The film also features a surprising cameo from Helen Mirren as the mother of the Shaw siblings – proving even esteemed celebrities enjoy the series.
The Fast and the Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw— Former enemies Hobbs & Shaw are forced to team up to recover a killer virus from a cybernetically-enhanced terrorist (Idris Elba). The focus on Hobbs & Shaw in this film explains their absence from the upcoming Fast and Furious 9.
Fast and Furious 9— With a current release date of June 17, this upcoming film features the return of frequent series director Justin Lin. According to the trailers, the plot will see Dom and his crew travel the world, from London to Los Angeles and even outer space in order to face off against Dom’s younger brother Jakob Toretto (John Cena), another deadly assassin now working for Cipher. Han returns from the dead, Mia surfaces from retirement and Brian’s old friends, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) continue to work with the team meaning everyone is present to take Cipher on. The film also features newcomers to the franchise Cardi B, Anna Sawai and Michael Rooker as new characters.
The franchise has earned steady earnings despite middling reviews. Fast & Furious is currently the tenth-highest earning film franchise of all time (though, depending on how one counts individual Marvel franchises it could be as high as the seventh) and, with at least two more films to follow F9, is likely to go higher. Add to this the income from theme park rides, live shows, video games and cartoon spin-offs, which are also turning a healthy profit. All this despite the end of Western society’s love affair with cars.
According to the asset management firm Schroders, the number of vehicles per person in the United States is in steady decline. In Britain, fewer drivers under the age of 30 have licences than in the 1990s. Automotive analyst Katherine Davidson says that car sales may never recover to the levels measured prior to the 2009 recession. Somewhat surprisingly, she identifies urbanisation and smart phones as car killers.
The majority of the world’s population now live in cities. In the West, the attraction of a suburban lifestyle has been undercut by increasingly clogged highways and longer commute times. Government infrastructure in many countries is favouring increased public transport over freeways. On the whole, millennials place less value in owning a vehicle than previous generations. Davidson writes, “Cars are not as relevant as a status symbol, and getting a licence is no longer a ‘rite of passage’ in the way it once was.”
Smart phones have also contributed to the demise of the car through the provision of software that undercuts the vehicle’s essential purpose. Cars provided freedom for a previous generation, allowing members to travel more easily and therefore access friends, experiences and resources. Today, though, a range of apps provide that same level of contact instantaneously and allow access to new vistas without the need for travel. As a Microsoft researcher writes in the book It’s Complicated, “What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, twitter, instant messaging and other social media are to teens now.”
So, if the desire to own a car is receding and the need for doing so is similarly reduced, we might well ask why F9 is set to crush the box office this year? This is because the Fast Saga has managed to use its unbelievable car chases and outrageous stunts to tap into something very real. Research entitled Driving Cultures by Sarah Redshaw offers an explanation:
“Young men… are encouraged to display their masculinity in such ways . . . Skill in handling a car, allied with dangerous unpredictability, is regarded as superior and as more desirable than driving with caution.”
In short, the last century of driving has linked the car to the idea of masculinity; and the sorts of excessively risky driving demonstrated by the Fast & Furious franchise are regarded as indicators of a superior manhood.
However, the question arises, is fast driving a good indicator of what makes a man? That sort of query deserves its own article. Whatever culture we are considering, though, it should be easy to see that responsibility is one marker of the mature man. However far back we care to look, he is a provider, a member of the body politic, a husband, a father, a teacher and a leader. He doesn’t just play the role of a man; he acts it out responsibly. As the Bible puts it, “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6).
Consequently, a man cares about the effects his behaviour has on those around him. And surely on that ground alone the mature man is at odds with the heroes of the Fast & Furious franchise. They laud their friendships but encourage their friends to live dangerously. They talk about family, but they risk the lives of innocent families. Whatever fantasy value emerges from the Fast Saga, the reality is its producers are driving masculinity off a cliff (just as the characters in the films often do with their cars). And it’s hard to object when we’re paying to be in the passenger seat. Cue the squeal of tyres.
Mark Hadley is a media and cultural critic who lives with his family in Sydney. Please note that discussion of a media product in Signs of the Times does not imply an endorsement or recommendation. All released Fast & Furious films are rated M and contain violence, sexual references and coarse language.