The secret to the Fast & Furious franchise’s success might just be partly-down to its WWE influences.
Spoilers for the Fast & Furious films lie ahead.
You have to hand it to the Fast And Furious franchise. Since it revved up its engines and hit the nitro back in 2001, it’s evolved from street racing to a heist movie to saving the world. And Fast & Furious 9 – its latest release – continues that madcap tradition; a Bondian tale with cars imbued with a machismo Blofeld in the form of John Cena with an overwrought Shakespearian/Greek tragedy essence of brotherly drama and daddy issues.
And in living up to the insanity, F9 boldly goes where no car has gone before.
But what has made these films so unashamedly entertaining is their self-awareness, reinventing the genre with each film whilst gradually accepting its own ridiculousness. So, when you have Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson shifting a torpedo on a sheet of ice with his bare hands, it shows that nothing is off-limits. And its secret, besides the ramped-up action or the choreographed stunts, is how the franchise has modelled itself on another notable enterprise: WWE.
It’s a crazy wild theory, but it’s not judged on the inclusion of WWE wrestlers like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (Fast 5, 6, 7, 8 & Hobbs And Shaw), Roman Reigns (Hobbs And Shaw), John Cena (F9) or Ronda Rousey (Fast 7). It’s not just because of the in-joke WWE moves where someone like Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) can be on the receiving end of a Rock Bottom (although it’s a beautiful sight to see). Or the epic ‘street fight’ style matches that could give Kurt Angle and Shane McMahon’s appearance in 2001’s King Of The Ring a run for their money. Or the ‘tag team’ relationship between Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson).
Over the years, The Fast Saga is acutely aware of WWE’s entertaining structures, and with every film within its arsenal growing at an exponential rate, the more that formula becomes apparent. So much that every wanton destruction might as well have legendary WWE commentator Jim Ross yelling through the microphone, “Good God almighty, look at the carnage!”
How many times have we’ve seen WWE engage in that pre-ring build-up, that trash-talk with that swagger of Vince McMahon’s entrance as they unload their agenda? Well, nobody encapsulates that better than Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in Fast 5 (aka the best in the franchise), stepping off the aeroplane in Brazil with concrete determination that Toretto was going to get his ‘candy ass’ a whooping before he’s arrested. And as an avid WWE fan, these moments add a weight of expectation – a showdown of the ages which teases what is about to happen next.
It’s that type of energy that gravitates towards its one-on-one encounters. Feuding is part of WWE’s DNA; The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (which produced the greatest WWE promo videos of all time) or Edge & Christian vs The Hardy Boyz, for example. The wrestling enterprise has a habit of blurring between fiction and reality, which proves how eerily familiar it all feels when it’s extended to the Fast films between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. Talks of ego contracts, weird camera perspectives, the Hobbs And Shaw spinoff, to Vin Diesel’s recent comments about giving the former WWE star ‘tough love’ is like adding gasoline to the fire for attention.
The expectation is that the feud will be resolved before the saga’s end, but strangely, the confrontation helps the formula. The inclusion of ex-wrestlers means you have ready-made performers who can rinse every cliché out of the WWE handbook. Why? Because they’ve done this week in/week out to sold-out arenas, playing the crowd for every twist and turn in their storyline.
That naturally feeds into another familiar WWE tactic: wrestlers ‘turning heel’. The kind where Seth Rollins can betray and disband The Shield to become an independent superstar. The kind where enemies become friends and vice versa. That blueprint first used in the early Fast films with Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor feeling the wrath of the Toretto family. The latter flirted with Luke Hobbs and the Shaw Brothers as the central antagonists before becoming part of the ‘family’ through one good deed. Even Dom and Letty flirted with the dark side before eventually seeing the light in 6 and 8, respectively. Charlize Theron’s Cipher is positioned as the ultimate ‘big bad’, and time will tell if her story gets a redemptive change (most likely since a spin-off is in the works). But if anything, the saga proves that there’s nothing a bottle of Corona and a BBQ can’t fix for the sake of family.
And it opens the door for those shock returns.
Fast 4 saw Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) death before revealing she survived and joined Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his crew. The #JusticeForHan fan campaign brought back actor Sung Kang with F9, giving us Han’s backstory for his subsequent ‘death’ in Tokyo Drift. There’s a conversation to be had whether death means anything in media when retconning has become a frequent tool to correct an ‘injustice’. But the WWE has thrived off this formula for decades, waiting for that pivotal moment to throw them back into the action. And I wouldn’t put it past the Fast franchise if Han’s return wasn’t inspired by WWE wrestler Edge – forced to retire in 2011 due to a debilitating injury only to make a shock return in 2020’s Royal Rumble.
When it comes to women, the franchise’s prominent aesthetic of capturing scantily clad ladies is very reminiscent of the WWE ‘Attitude Era’ (arguably the heyday of pro wrestling entertainment) with its ‘Bras & Panties’ match (which doesn’t need much explanation at this point). And despite the elite stars of Chyna, Lita and Trish Stratus who defined that era, the female wrestling division was treated like a throwaway gimmick, where their sexuality was given higher precedence over their in-ring skill and athleticism. That match ended in 2007, but it shows how the Fast franchise is not immune from formulaic exploits in indulging hyper-male fantasies and lingering camera movements. And just like WWE, it’s also guilty for leaving its female characters on the sidelines with a lack of agency to dominate on their own terms.
WWE has made some swift changes with a renewed focus on its female roster and equal footing with its male counterparts in main events. And while not perfect, the Fast saga has seen the introduction of a female villain (Cipher) and more prominent action for Rodriguez’s Letty (particularly Fast 6’s London Underground fight) and Jordana Brewster’s Mia (F9). In an advert for the female stunt performers, the likes of Heidi Moneymaker and Debbie Evans have showcased their tireless work behind the screen.
And when broken down, the exploits take a life of their own. WWE’s mass appeal has attracted a global audience. The togetherness imbued with its wrestling superstars means they’re forever interlinked by the experiences of the ring. The Fast Saga – celebrating 20 years – embodies that, delivering the same cathartic resonance that has seen its popularity rise beyond expectations and anchored by family.
The Fast Saga may be racing one quarter at a mile, but with two movies left, all roads now lead to Wrestlemania.
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