If you went back in time to 2001 and told a person that “The Fast and the Furious,” a mid-budget summer programmer based on a magazine article about street racers that bears a very close resemblance to 1991’s “Point Break,” would not only become a success but turn into one of the most profitable longest-running film series in history, that person would probably freak out and scream “Help! There’s someone here who’s gone mad and thinks they can travel through time!”
Mad though you may seem, it would still be the truth: in 2022, the “Fast Saga” (as it’s now colloquially known) is a film series that extends over two decades and has never gone more than a couple years in between installments. Moreover, it’s the only film series with the highest number of installments that hasn’t undergone a change of narrative continuity and/or a recasting of lead roles. After all, “Bond” keeps getting a new face, “Batman” keeps fighting a new Joker, and so on, but Dom Toretto and his merry family of racers-cum-special ops heroes continue on despite all that life in front of and behind the camera may throw at them.
The man who brings Dom to life, Vin Diesel, sees this longevity as more than just serendipity or endless IP exploitation by a greedy studio. To Diesel, the Fast Saga is a venture that borders on the mythic, a quest that has more going on beneath the surface than just fast cars, loud music, and explosions. This notion may sound ludicrous at first blush, but given the “Fast” films’ continued success, there just might be something to Diesel’s philosophy.
It’d be a huge generalization to say that the makers of franchise films only see them as a glorified means to an end, yet this must be the case for at least some of the folks involved. While major creative forces like directors and writers can’t be wholly dispassionate, it’d be easy to understand how some would simply wish to do their job and go home. That said, the “Fast” saga isn’t just a franchise that keeps Diesel bankable while affording him other opportunities. For him, the “Fast” films are a passion project all their own.
Speaking to Men’s Health last year, the actor explained his ethos behind keeping the whole of the franchise in mind while making each successive entry:
“When people are in the middle of the process, trying to manifest something, maybe they don’t spend enough time thinking about how it will be remembered — how it will be regarded. But at the same time, you have to identify the significance of it, in order to get the most out of yourself — and the most out of the people that you’re inviting on the journey. So it’s not uncommon that I’ll give a speech on set where I’ll say, ‘We’re making this franchise for people that are no longer with us,’ which is very real, and the implications of that are very heavy. ‘But at the same time, we’re making the franchise for the people that aren’t born yet.’ When you have a unique perspective of creating a franchise that spans generations, you realize, okay, we all have to be as brilliant as possible. We have to reach as high as we can. Because it may be more important than just a movie. More important than two hours of escapism. There may be something more at play.”
Given that he’s prone to making rousing speeches on set like the one he alludes to, it’d be easy to think that Diesel resembles Dominic “Dom” Toretto a little too closely. According to Jordana Brewster (who plays Dom’s sister, Mia), Diesel is a markedly different person, explaining that “He is not Dom … Dom speaks and walks in an entirely different way. Vin’s creation of Dom is genius because it’s completely different from who he is.”
Yet there’s also no doubt that Diesel, like Dom, attempts to foster a family atmosphere around him (with Brewster admitting that she and other cast members are “often forced to give speeches, too”) and can be extremely chummy with his co-stars, such as playing World of Warcraft off the set with Paul Walker (who played Brian O’Connor until his passing in 2013).
In fact, it can be said that Diesel’s crafting of this demeanor, his career, and maybe even the “Fast” franchise itself is connected to his lifelong love of roleplaying games. As Michelle Rodriguez (who plays Dom’s wife, Letty, in the films) said recently while promoting her role in the upcoming film “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” Diesel is “a Dungeon Master […] he’s got all the paraphernalia of a Dungeons & Dragons fiend.” She also observed how “He puts a lot of his Dungeon Master techniques into making movies and producing them.”
When looked at in this way, the “Fast” saga resembles one long D&D session. Characters once thought to be dead surprisingly return, other characters show up and disappear at will, allegiances constantly shift, and a lot of dungeons — sorry, make that decommissioned military bases — are plundered and utilized.
As the “Fast” franchise gears up for what promises to be its culminating installment, it’s remarkable to reflect on how the movies have maintained an audience through nine films and a spinoff (not to mention an animated series). While each entry since 2011’s “Fast Five” has seemingly only gotten crazier and larger (causing producer Neal Moritz to posit the idea that perhaps the series should get a little smaller instead), the saga has never felt like it’s gone completely off the rails, and we may have Diesel’s thoughtful consideration to thank for that.
Despite yet more drama that’s shaken up the #FastFambly behind the scenes, it’s impressive that I’m still looking forward to “Fast X” with excitement rather than trepidation. As Diesel himself said earlier this month in an especially fatherly Instagram post from set, “We’ve come a long way … our crew, our cast, our studio has never stopped reaching higher. Most importantly, you never stopped believing in us. Hope to make you proud.”