The Fast & Furious franchise is one of the most remarkable Hollywood blockbuster achievements of the 21st century. We are now eight films into a series that began in 2001 as a one-off, pop-culture-seizing crime thriller about street racing, which has been almost cancelled twice and has had its greatest box office success (I’m talking over $1 billion box office success) with installments six and seven. It’s a miracle that the franchise still exists, let alone that Fate of the Furious just scored the worldwide opening weekend record with a whopping $532.5 million global debut. But as with any film franchises that lasts for this long, Fate of the Furious shows some signs of creative aging while also opening the door to better, more exciting possibilities. The story of Dom Toretto is, frankly, dull and played out. Which is why the franchise should be handed over to Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs.
[Spoilers ahead for The Fate of the Furious]
In Fate of the Furious, screenwriter Chris Morgan and director F. Gary Gray double down on the “family” theme of the series by introducing a long-lost son of Dom Toretto, from his relationship in Fast Five with Elsa Patky’s Elena Neves. This serves as the reasoning behind Dom “breaking bad” and going against his crew—he’s following Cipher’s (Charlize Theron) orders to prevent her from killing Elena and/or his son.
This plot twist is fine if incredibly soapy, and it does result in one of the most thrilling action set pieces of the franchise in which Jason Statham carries out a gunfight while holding a baby. But it’s no coincidence that every fun or exciting sequence in Fate of the Furious involves someone other than Dom. Indeed, Dom’s story is so played out at this point that the introduction of an unknown child feels exactly like kind of plot development that arises on a tired TV show in its eighth or ninth season when the writers have run out of ways to make the characters relevant.
Dom started as a criminal with a heart of gold, and we’ve seen him evolve throughout the franchise into the leader of this ragtag team of car-racing individuals, but over the last few films Dom’s seriousness has become sort of a drag. Moreover, with the passing of Paul Walker and thus exit of Brian and Mia from the series, we’re left with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) as the only other major holdover from the beginning of the franchise—a character whose franchise evolution basically mirrors that of a daytime soap opera, amnesia and all.
Maybe Dom’s wet blanketing wouldn’t be so obvious if it weren’t for Dwayne Johnson’s larger role in the series. Johnson entered the franchise in Fast Five, still the best Fast movie to date and the one that began the series’ meteoric rise to global sensation. His Luke Hobbs is a former U.S. Marshal who went from antagonist to ally in a short span, and in Fate of the Furious we see Luke take over as the de facto leader of the crew when Dom goes dark. And it’s fun! Johnson’s charisma and winking badassery are a tremendous fit for the franchise. As the series got bigger and bigger, so too did the logic leaps necessary to make sense of it all. Fast & Furious is now essentially a live-action Hanna-Barbera cartoon, and Johnson knows this—his performance never delves into the deadly self-seriousness of Diesel’s Dom, and thus makes for a more enjoyable and less eyeroll-inducing experience.
Additionally, if we’re really going with “family” as the theme of the franchise (even though everybody’s cool with Statham joining the team when he literally burned former “family” member Han alive), Johnson’s Luke Hobbs actually embodies this the most out of any of the current cast members. He’s the father of a pre-teen daughter, and one who takes his role as dad seriously. But he’s also tremendously loyal to his friends—i.e. extended family—and thus dutifully takes over the leadership reigns when Dom is absent.
Dom’s scenes in Fate of the Furious and even to a lesser extent Fast & Furious 6 are tedious to the point that you’re simply waiting for the film to switch back to the gang. There are only so many avenues for Dom’s story to go down, and with the introduction of a baby, we can probably guess we’re in for some very self-serious domesticity in Fast & Furious 9 and 10. Which is why Universal would do well to retire Dom and Letty with the next film and officially make Dwayne Johnson the face of the Fast & Furious franchise.