Vin Diesel skipped 2 Fast 2 Furious to make The Chronicles Of Riddick, but it was also Riddick that brought him back to play Dominic Toretto again.
It’s hard to imagine that you could see where the Fast & Furious films would go when The Fast & The Furious first hit cinemas in 2001. Rob Cohen’s actioner echoes Point Break with its tale of a brotherly bond between a street racer who boosts DVD players on the side, and the undercover cop tasked with busting him. But the first film was a big hit in cinemas and an even bigger success on VHS and DVD, making it certain that it would produce at least one sequel.
The Fast & The Furious also cemented Vin Diesel as a movie star, following his breakthrough success in 2000’s sci-fi sleeper hit Pitch Black. When the time came to develop the sequel, Diesel wound up having to choose between reprising his role as Dominic Toretto or continuing the chronicles of Furyan warrior Richard B. Riddick. The Chronicles Of Riddick won out at the time, but Diesel eventually returned to star in and produce the Fast & Furious series too.
Assuming more creative control as a producer, he’s seen the series go from strength to strength, right up to the long-delayed, much-anticipated F9, which comes to cinemas this summer. Shepherded by Diesel and returning director Justin Lin, the current plans for The Fast Saga (as we’re now calling it) include Fast 10, Fast 11, and assorted spin-offs.
But before all of that, there were two sequels that had barely a minute of screen-time for Diesel between them, due to the star pursuing his other franchise-in-waiting down a road that led all the way back around to a starring role in the fourth instalment. Here’s the story…
2 Fast 2 Furious
When the sequel to The Fast & The Furious first got the green-light, the producers were aware that Diesel – who was already eyeing yet another potential franchise-starter with 2002’s extreme-sports spy movie xXx – might not come back for a second go-around. To that end, Universal developed two story treatments, one with Toretto and one without, to cover their bases.
Nevertheless, the studio were keen to get him back if they could, and they reportedly offered the star upwards of $20 million to return. However, Diesel was disappointed that the sequels script that he was sent had very little to do with the previous film.
Indeed, in 2015, he told Variety: “They didn’t take a Francis Ford Coppola approach to it. They approached it like they did sequels in the ’80s and ’90s, when they would drum up a new story unrelated for the most part and slap the same name on it.”
Around the same time, the wheels were moving on another sequel to a smaller Diesel-led hit – Pitch Black. As the last film produced by PolyGram Film Entertainment ahead its merger with Universal, the sci-fi actioner had been an unexpected sleeper hit for the studio a year before The Fast & The Furious hit cinemas.
Diesel was far more eager to re-team with writer-director David Twohy and would play Riddick for a lower asking price (a reported $11.5m) than Toretto, and so it’s hard to see how many at Universal could have been upset with that. Meanwhile, production pressed ahead on 2 Fast 2 Furious without Diesel.
In John Singleton’s 2003 sequel, the original film’s other lead – Paul Walker – did return and reprise his role as LAPD officer Brian O’Conner. He’s matched with series newcomer Tyrese Gibson as ex-con Roman Pearce, as the duo embark on an undercover operation to bust a Miami drug lord.
Where the first film echoes Point Break, this occasionally seems to aspire to make a PG-13 Bad Boys, awkwardly timed in the same summer as Michael Bay returned to his very R-rated stomping ground with Bad Boys II. Though neither film received warm reviews at the time and 2 Fast 2 Furious easily washed its face when all the box office tallies were in, it’s often decried as the weakest instalment of the franchise, whereas Bad Boys II has undergone a PC Danny Butterman-led reappraisal.
The following summer, The Chronicles Of Riddick was less successful both critically and commercially, but as was abundantly clear, Diesel was invested in playing Riddick again. What really makes this a tale of two sequels is how their box-office performance affected the next instalments of each franchise.
2 Fast 2 Furious did well enough for the Fast & Furious franchise to continue, although Universal judged this to be a teen-oriented franchise and didn’t invite Walker back for Part 3. Instead, we get Lucas Black (who looks approximately 37-teen in the movie) as wayward boy racer Sean Boswell, who moves to Japan and finds a whole new outlet for his delinquent driving, in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Universal held an open call for writing submissions for the third film and Chris Morgan, who would go on to become the franchise’s resident screenwriter, initially pitched a movie about Dominic Toretto travelling to Tokyo to investigate the murder of an acquaintance and joining the drifting community. At first, Diesel once again declined to reprise his role, and the script was rewritten with new characters.
While he had projects like Sidney Lumet’s Find Me Guilty (now there’s a story we should come back to) and Disney’s The Pacifier on his dance-card, Diesel was also hoping that he and Twohy would be able to continue the story by going back to the roots of Pitch Black and making a third movie that was more independent and less costly than The Chronicles Of Riddick. The main stumbling block was that Universal still held the rights to the franchise and had no designs on continuing it after the last film underperformed.
However, interests aligned when Tokyo Drift got to the test screening stage. The initial audience scores were not good, and producers mooted the idea of going to Diesel again to ask him to appear in reshoots.
As a result, the star negotiated to film a short, uncredited cameo, in exchange for Universal transferring the rights to make further Chronicles Of Riddick movies to his One Race production company. This kind of deal is rare because nobody wants to be the executive that lets a big property go and make money for somebody else, but all went as planned – Diesel filmed his surprise scene at the end of Tokyo Drift, and Twohy began developing the film that would become 2013’s Riddick, as an independent production.
While Tokyo Drift marked a low for the Fast & Furious franchise at the box office, it also paved the road for Diesel coming back to lead the franchise to new heights.
Later reflecting on his break from the Fast movies, Diesel told Celebuzz in 2013: “I always wanted to sell Fast & Furious off the story, and the continuation of story. So, you can see, before I produced it, [the first three films] are all fragmented.
“And then once they asked me to do the cameo in Tokyo Drift, they said, ‘We know you’ve said no to all the scripts we’ve given you.’ Then they called my bluff and said, ‘Why don’t you produce the scripts?’ And I said, ‘OK. Let’s really produce them with some heart and some integrity in the continuing storyline.’”
Fast and Furyan
In his new producing role, Diesel started off on the fourth instalment, the simplified Fast & Furious, which also brings Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster back from the first film. Many have observed that as a result, this one is the first true sequel to the original film and as a veritable mega-hit at the box office, it assured the future of the series in years to come. Morgan’s idea of Dom investigating a murder made it into the fourth instalment too, with one hysterical scene seeing him use all of his racing ESP and Sherlock-style skills to work out what happened at a crime scene based on the state of the road.
Successive sequels have roped in some of those fragmented elements from earlier films too, with Tyrese, Ludacris, and Sung Kang all reprising their roles from previous films and joining the regular ensemble. From the breakthrough hit of 2011’s Fast Five onwards, the series shifted gears from loosely connected races and stunts to increasingly audacious missions within an ever-expanding found-family narrative. And with that change, the series has entirely turned around both its critical and commercial fortunes from the early days.
Indeed, the Fast movies have been on such good form since Diesel came back into the fold that when the time came to find a distributor for Riddick, Universal came back to One Race and picked up the distribution rights for the completed threequel. Diesel had starred in three more Fast & Furious movies for the studio by then, so his relationship with Universal was considerably improved.
While the aforementioned comment about Francis Ford Coppola’s approach to sequels was presumably a reference to The Godfather and its sequels, it’s also quite telling about the earnestness with which the Fast movies are made, at least from the producer’s end of things. The series aims high, even if it’s not likely to win any Oscars.
It’s notable that the 2019 spin-off Hobbs And Shaw, the only film not to bear Diesel’s producing credit since Tokyo Drift, is more self-consciously outlandish in its approach and loses some of the wholesome nonsense factor that makes the parent series a winner. Dwayne Johnson may have got Jason Statham in the divorce, but on the evidence of that one film, it doesn’t seem as though he got the series’ oddly endearing heart.
On that, we’ll refer back to that Celebuzz interview, in which Diesel mused upon what advice he’d have given himself back in the early 2000s with the benefit of 10 years’ hindsight:
“I would’ve said, ‘Don’t walk away from it just because the script sucked in 2 Fast 2 Furious because there’s an obligation to the audience to fight, no matter what, to make that film as good as possible.’ Just walking away doesn’t help that saga at all. I might have had a little bit more patience or belief in the long-term of it.”
Diesel evidently doesn’t see a reason not to make these movies as good as they can be, which all lends to the increasingly bonkers energy of each sequel. With each new instalment, there are various positions on how successful they are or not as dumb blockbuster fun, but there’s no arguing with the popularity of the series, however unlikely it may have seemed back in the day.
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