The Fast and the Furious franchise is not what it once was. It probably never will be again, though it may stretch beyond our living years, when Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson have used their immense riches to replace their withered forms with abnormally huge androids. After seeing The Fate of the Furious, I know that this is no longer a car franchise, but a superhero franchise with cars. Racing scenes have tapered off in recent movies, replaced by The Rock doing Captain America things, but Fate offered one token street race that very well may be the last in the franchise. I have thoughts.
Spoilers ahead, but nothing you couldn’t have predicted.
In fair Havana we lay our scene…
and it isn’t a poverty-stricken Communist wasteland, but a magical place full of immaculate American cars and empty streets. Dom’s cousin (Dom has cousins?) is a fledgling taxi driver who borrowed money from a shady character called Raldo to buy a ’50 Chevy. He hasn’t made enough as a taxiest to keep up the payments, and Raldo is going to repo the Chevy as a result. Dom gives his little cousin a stern talking-to about keeping your word, and everything is after-school G.I. Joe PSA until Raldo starts running his mouth and insults Letty. Dom promptly challenges him to a street race, and Raldo accepts, as long as he agrees to race the Chevy against his ’56 Ford restomod. Winner takes both cars.
The only problem is that the Chevy is the “slowest car on the island,” disregarding the countless Ladas and Fiat 126s crowding the real streets of Cuba. Of course, Dom agrees, pledging that “It’s not what’s under the hood that counts, but who’s behind the wheel,” or something like that. Which is totally untrue. In the real world. But Dom starts modifying the car, which is when I got interested. I’m down for a little automotive fantasy.
Using his herculean strength, he starts ripping off body panels. Or maybe they were held on with zip-ties. You don’t know in F&F or Cuba. Either way, it’s great. Kids, if you want your car to be faster, make it lighter. I like it. Dom grabs his cousin’s Coca-Cola™ can and pulls off the pop-tab, jamming it onto the waste gate vacuum line. Oh right. The car has a turbo. According to Dennis McCarthy, the real life guy who supervises all of the movie car builds for F&F, this is because the V8 under the hood was pulled from a boat, but that’s not explained in the movie.
Anyway, Dom needs boost. Pinching the vacuum line to the waste gate will open it more than usual, offering that boost. Bad for the engine, but good for power. This actually is explained, in precisely 3.2 seconds. Dom also runs a bit of wire from the tab to the cabin, so he can totally pull the hose if he needs to, slamming the gate open completely and throwing the system into full boost. No, there’s no telling what 30 pounds of boost would do to an ancient boat engine, but I allowed it. Dom is working on a car and not backing one out of a plane at 30,000 ft.
Next, Letty appears with an ancient looking bottle of nitrous oxide. In a Youtube video, McCarthy explains that this was borrowed from a nearby dentist’s office, but this bit of plot was cut from the movie as well. Medical nitrous does not equal car nitrous, but who cares? This is fun, fantastical car stuff. This is my jam.
The race begins, Dom uses his emergency boost pulltab and laughing gas nitrous, and his engine, of course, catches fire. I like this for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s far more realistic than Brian’s floorboards falling out in in the first movie because there was too much NOS. And secondly, because since I was an embryo, I’ve been seeing hot rods with flames painted down the sides, and now Dom’s car has the real thing. Rock and roll, boomers.
Dom and Raldo reach the final strait, neck and neck. The fire belching out of Dom’s engine bay is so hot it shatters his ancient glass windshield, flying in his face. If you work for Corning or something, you can speculate on the viability of this. It’s not a problem for Dom. He spins the car around, rams open the throttle, and wins the race in reverse. The engine seems to explode in the last split-second, giving Dom the rocket boost he needs to beat Raldo across the line.
Oh, the fire under the hood has melted the brake lines, so he can’t stop the car and has to ditch it over the seawall into the Caribbean.
I sat back in my cinema chair and frowned in thought. That was a pretty fun race. Not particularly realistic, of course, but at least a tree that grew out of the soil of reality. I thought the reverse victory was really dumb until I did a little more research. According to McCarthy, the ’50 Ford has a tractor transmission, which had 4 forward gears and a gear that reversed the entire transmission, all 4 gears. So yes, the car could go as fast in reverse as it could forward. I don’t know if tractor gearing allows for those speeds in general, but I do know that it wouldn’t be unusual to see such a setup in Cuba. It was a real thing. What a great scene!
But thinking on it more now, I can’t help but theorize that it was probably an ending. We know that there will be at least two more Fast films. We know that there will probably be a franchise spinoff soon starring The Rock and Jason Statham. And we know, thanks to this hilarious and excellent article at Bloomberg, that the franchise has featured less and less racing and more and more Brosnan-era James Bond craziness.
I want to believe that future Fast films will still feature racing, but I can’t. The movies don’t want to discuss cars, or car modification, anymore. Gone are the days of “2JZ engine, no ****!” or a bunch of kids building a drift-ready Mustang. Instead, they’d rather save their time for keyboard-frenzied cyber battles and completely bogus car hacking. Sadly, F8 was glutted with that. Almost everything cool I learned about Dom’s cousin’s 1950 Ford Fleetline I had to find out from interviews with the actual car’s builder. It was all really cool stuff, just not cool enough for Hollywood to let it into the final cut.
The Fate of the Furious almost seems ashamed of its gearhead heritage, and this scene proves it. Why not let someone explain the tractor transmission? The boat engine? Maybe take more than the blink of an eye to explain the waste gate? The deletion didn’t even make the movie better as a whole. There are swaths of boring, transparent techno-babble later on, along with enough villainous, groaner one-liners to feed Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a week. Can we spare a few minutes for the car enthusiasts who funded this franchise?
Maybe they want to distance themselves from street racing. This would make sense, since street racing is extremely dumb and dangerous, and illegal driving literally killed the headline star of the franchise. The Cuba scene even features a pair of motorbikes dive-bombing into busy streets to halt traffic, as if this is safer somehow. But surely there are more ways to work genuine gearhead interest back into the franchise.
Sure, there are cool cars later on. A featured Lamborghini Mercielago, a Howe & Howe sportstank, and even a C2 Corvette coupe inspired by a real life autocross champion. But none of it is elaborated upon too much. They’re not so much cars as they are action devices. Like torpedoes, gas-powered circular saws, remote machine guns, jet packs, nuclear missiles, conventional missiles, heat-seeking missiles, grappling hooks, and Dwayne Johnson’s inhuman biceps. Yes, all of those things are prominently featured.
But what are producers to do? They have to go with what works. The Fate of the Furious grossed more on its opening weekend than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. People love these movies, and they especially love the ones with less racing. I get it. It’s business.
However, I do have a charge for Universal Pictures. Keep a slow burn going. Keep racing in these movies. Maybe offer a little more car stuff with each successive movie. Maybe you’ll say that people aren’t into cars as much as they once were, and that’s probably not true. But even if it is, you have the power to change that. Countless gearheads around the world became gearheads because of 2001’s The Fast and the Furious. You can create new gearheads with your films, too. And it’s a smart plan, because pretty soon, your franchise is going to have very little to differentiate itself from Transformers, G.I. Joe, and any number of boiled-thick action franchises vying for summer weekend slots. Fans will become fatigued with another loud, anonymous, explodey action series, and yours will need to stand out.
Car culture built The Fast and the Furious, and car culture can keep it alive.