Analyzing what it means to be family and pushing the boundaries of acceptable believability in the Fast and Furious universe.
Time is a funny thing. It’s something that we can almost bend and grasp as far fetched as that may sound. But in movies, time is only a small obstacle. The amount of time that passes between movies, how characters age, and the unfortunate passing of actors off and on screen won’t stop a movie franchise. In Terminator: Genisys an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger went back in time to the original films time period and stayed, thus being a clever way to explain why he is older in the latest film. In Logan we have an aged and weathered Wolverine trying to take care of an unstable Charles Xavier all while suffering from adamantium poisoning. Keep in mind, Charles Xavier had already died in X-Men: The Last Stand some ten years earlier.
When there’s a will there’s a way. The Fast and Furious franchise is no exception as it’s faced tragedy in the passing of series vet Paul Walker, and in my favorite move of the series, managed to keep Han (Sung Kang) alive for three movies after his death in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
With Walker’s Brian O’Conner they chose to retire the character to a life outside of the increasingly dangerous one that involved car chases, espionage, and various heists. Furious 7 handled the unfortunate passing of Paul Walker with true gravitas and love. They used his brothers to stand-in for shots they had yet to shoot and other digital trickery that was far more seamless than the likes of Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Princess Leia in last years Rogue One. The choice to let Brian O’Conner retire from the life of danger to be with his wife and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their son instead of in one of the many fiery explosions in the Fast series reinforces the meaning of family, or more importantly, how you care for your family.
This had a metatextual effect in that the love for Paul extended to his character Brian. You can feel that as his extended family watches him with his wife and child at the end of Furious 7 and as Brian and Dom part ways on the road of life and beyond.
If there’s one thing that these movies have stressed it’s that family comes before anything. And for the most part they’ve stuck with that motto. They’ve lived it. They’ve mentioned “family” over 30 times in the now eight movies. When Dom learns that Letty has returned from the dead he doesn’t hesitate to find her. He’s even encouraged by his then current girlfriend Elena, who worked with Hobbs at the Diplomatic Security Service. But Elena and Dom had a serious relationship and lived together in the Canary Islands. Elena understands (maybe too much) and wants this for Dom as she knows how much he loved Letty.
Remember, “I don’t have friends, I got family.”
And this emphasis on what family has meant to the characters of the Fast and Furious series is what didn’t sit right with me during The Fate of the Furious. I can believe in the moment in this universe of movies that cars can parachute from planes or that cars can jump from skyscraper to skyscraper or that various humans can jump out of vehicles to avoid crashes and survive without a scratch…
But the second something doesn’t fit within those boundaries or adhere to what has been made important to these characters then the world crumbles. This is what happened to me when watching The Fate of the Furious. Why?
Han. Han Seoul-Oh (a nod to none other than Han Solo) or Han Lue (Kangs character from Lin’s debut film Better Luck Tomorrow is also considered to be the same character as Han Seoul-Oh – which is also confirmed to not be Han’s real name, but an alias reaffirming that he is Han Lue). The coolest character in the franchise who was always snacking in between drifting his car with precision and effortlessly charming Gisele (Gal Gadot). I loved the character and so did director Justin Lin who made his mark on the franchise with Tokyo Drift and perfected it throughout Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and Fast & Furious 6. Han dies at the end of Tokyo Drift, but somehow defined space and time and was in all of the follow-up movies in the series. It turns out that Tokyo Drift takes place after however many movies Han would appear in of the series. At the end of Fast Five Gisele asks Han when they’re going to get to Tokyo and he smiles and says, “Well get there. Eventually.”
Han meets his end after being t-boned by a car in a race through the streets of Shibuya. This was not an accident, but rather the revenge of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) on the Fast Family for blowing up-but-not-killing his brother Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Deckard Shaw also sent Dom a package to his house in Los Angeles (in Han’s name too!) that blew all of it up, but none of the Fast Family was killed during that somehow.
Spoilers for The Fate of the Furious to follow.
Fast forward to The Fate of the Furious and we see Deckard and Dom sharing smiles and handshakes and a damn Fast Family meal! Sure, I love the charisma of Jason Statham trading barbs with Dwayne Johnson and everyone else, but would they really accept him like this? The movie goes out of its way to show that Shaw was a decorated military vet and forced into scenarios where he looked like the bad guy just like Dom and Hobbs have been. And yeah, he saves Dom’s baby nearly single-handedly from 20 or so thugs in a shoot out on a plane where the baby is used quite wonderfully to full comedic effect listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks and being calmed by Shaw’s funny quips and faces.
But dude totally killed Han.
I can’t get past that. That was something he did out of spite. He wasn’t forced into working with an enemy like Dom was for Cipher (Charlize Theron). And that was the straw that broke the camels back for me in The Fate of the Furious. But is there a chance for Han to return? And if there is, do the actions of the Fast Family to Shaw still matter?
The answer to both is absolutely.
The LA Times just interviewed members of the cast and series writer, Chris Morgan who had this to say about Han and the #JusticeForHan hashtag that has been appearing since last Friday.
“Justice for Han … justice for Han,” he repeated, turning the words over, carefully considering their meaning. “I think you’ll learn a lot more about it, and I don’t know if that hashtag will be the appropriate one to put on it down the road. But I can tell you this: We will definitely be talking more about Han.”
Sounds like Han is definitely going to come back, but that doesn’t excuse the actions of Shaw and how it was presented or how Han’s “family” accepted him so easily. They would have all freaked out on him, unless he was able to explain his actions. This never happened. Jason Statham had this to say about his character.
“I’ve never been attracted to playing some villainous baddie that wants to blow up the world and steal all the money and the typical cliché villain type things,” said Statham, who steals The Fate of the Furious with his kinetic action scenes, including a memorable Hard Boiled-esque shootout involving a baby and a gunfight. “It was really important for me to get involved on a level where I could get behind the character.”
“And you know,” he added carefully, hinting that the next two sequels will retroactively revisit the circumstances of Han’s death, “that whole episode has not fully detailed exactly what happened. I’m not going to say anything more than that! But [writer-producer Chris Morgan] likes to annoy the fans and please the fans and get all these angry protests. So, more to come.”
Well, that’s not how Deckard Shaw was presented in Furious 7 at all. His casual acceptance was glossed over and is insulting to the core audience that has traveled with this franchise over the years. It’s sloppy storytelling. Michelle Rodriguez agrees.
“I know,” she exclaimed, feeling the pain of the Han faithful. “When [Deckard] was introduced, they didn’t even think for us to give him any flack when he walked in. And we were like, ‘Yo, dude, this guy killed one of our boys! You know it doesn’t fly like that!’”
“At the end of the day, you’re talking about a Hollywood demographic blockbuster character overriding story,” she said, candidly. “That’s the battle that you have when you make movies this big. They were like, ‘We know that the grand majority of the audience wants to see this guy be on your side, so that overrides the fact that he killed one of your guys.’”
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if that’s going to fly when we hit the Asian markets, but all right,’” she laughed. “I don’t write this stuff. What can I tell you?”
Can’t get more candid than that. I love how blunt she is. If your cast is asking these basic questions then your audience is going to. If Chris Morgan knew that Han would be returning then he could have calculated how to handle it all. He would have asked himself (or fellow producers like Vin Diesel) what the basic human emotions would have been when encountering the murderer of a friend. And you know what? It would have helped the drama. The dramatic struggle the crew would have to go over in having him help the group. But instead it is ignored because “We know that the grand majority of the audience wants to see this guy be on your side, so that overrides the fact that he killed one of your guys.” That’s a bad move.
Besides the Shaw brothers being accepted into the family in spite of killing a dear friend and blowing up their home in an attempt to kill them all I had two other issues. First up is Scott Eastwood’s character Little Nobody. He’s a suit that unfortunately feels like a lame attempt at replacing Paul Walker. This wasn’t fully evident until we see him in a car and it’s the type of street racer that Brian would have driven. Out of a garage full of Bentley’s, Benz’s, Lambo’s, and tanks this guy chooses a street racer just like Brian preferred. When there’s been so much mention of Brian and the legacy of Paul Walker in this series, replacing him in any way doesn’t feel genuine. It doesn’t feel loyal. Just like Dom and the crew accepting the cold blooded murderer of Han into the fold.
The second moment is where my suspension of disbelief met its limit. My brain can acknowledge the craziness of the stunts that we’ve seen in these eight movies within reason, but when Cipher hacks into hundreds of cars and they start automatically driving AND turning corners I scoffed. Buuuuuuuullllshit! It’s ridiculous. If she had just had a few of the cars in the parking garage start and drive directly forward and crash out the side causing the same destruction and mayhem I could believe it, but driving like they are fully aware? No. This isn’t Minority Report. I can sure as shit believe most everything else that happens, including the submarine, but I started calling bullshit on a lot of things after the automated cars. Like, there’s no way in hell Roman would be able to hold onto a car door that was submerged under arctic ice water as it was ripped off and then used as a sled. Not to mention the hypothermia. Or how about Dom rolling out of a burning car at 100 mph without a scratch and not even a motherfucking soot stain on his white denim jeans he insists on wearing?
The smaller details we give passes suddenly become glaring annoyances. The Fast and Furious franchise will not stop though. The latest has already made half a billion dollars worldwide and there are two more movies (at least) planned for the series. I hope the series settles down just a little. I know that’s ironic, but sometimes less is more. With The Fate of the Furious it was a little too fast and a little too furious. They moved on past Han and Brian too fast. The ridiculous action scenes somehow became too furiously ridiculous now. The series should downshift and slow down before continuing to drive forward on fire recklessly. And if Han really does come back and Shaw has an elaborate explanation as to why they faked his death I wouldn’t expect too much resolution to the fact that not one damn person questioned that in The Fate of the Furious unfortunately.