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Why That ‘Fast & Furious 9’ Reveal Weakens the Franchise

Han is alive. Take a moment, Fast & Furious fans, to let that sink in.

Sung Kang’s character returned to the franchise in the final moments of the Fast & Furious 9 (or F9, if you prefer) trailer, which arrived Friday via a massive Miami-set concert showcase that reunited fans with longtime stars Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Nathalie Emmanuel.

F9, which also marks the return of popular series helmer Justin Lin, pits Diesel’s Dom Toretto against John Cena’s Jakob, a villain who is revealed to be (surprise!) Dom’s brother. The familial connection proves that Fastisn’t straying from its soap opera-like formula, but the resurrection of Kang’s Han Lue was the out-of-nowhere twist that left the largest impression, considering the character was last seen in the driver’s seat of an exploding Mazda RX-7.

The winding, continuity-challenged framework of this franchise — charming to fans and headache-inducing to others – is difficult to follow, but for the uninitiated, here is where things stand.

Han was introduced and killed off in 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, a film that, outside of a Vin Diesel cameo, was thought to have no connection to the original. However, Han returned for 2009’s Fast & Furious, 2011’s Fast Five, and 2013’s Fast & Furious 6. It’s later revealed that Tokyo Drift takes place after Fast & Furious 6, with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw taking credit for Han’s murder. The same death sequence is also replayed at the beginning of 2015’s Furious 7, sending Dom into a fury and serving as the impetus for the film’s revenge plot. 

Now, three sequels and one spinoff later, Han returns in F9, still munching on potato chips — a character trait that lets the audience know it’s really him.

Following the trailer’s release, “Han Is Alive” and “Justice for Han” became top trending topics on Twitter, with fans rejoicing at the return of the franchise favorite. While Han’s return should be a celebratory moment, it raises an important question: What happens when there are no stakes left in this series?

Fast has pulled the back-from-the-dead stunt once before, with Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz returning in Fast & Furious 6 after her character was killed off in 2009’s Fast & Furious. Letty’s death, like Han’s, was a game-changer, but, as fans know, the franchise is all about family, and the creative forces behind the scenes just can’t seem to move on.

Even the villains of Fast & Furious live to antagonize our heroes another day, with Statham among those who have taken on anti-hero roles in subsequent films. Charlize Theron is back in F9 after her cyber-terrorist villain, Cypher, survived the events of 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. Knowing what we know, it would be truly shocking if John Cena’s heel turn lasted more than one film, as the WWE star will surely survive the events of F9.

It should be noted that the death that most impacted the franchise occurred offscreen, when Paul Walker was killed in a car wreck in 2013. His character, Brian O’Connor, was “retired” and given an emotional sendoff at the end of Furious 7

Nine films in (10 if you count spinoff Hobbs & Shaw), Fast & Furious has taken great care to preserve its remaining core. But at what cost? How can characters evolve if every tragedy gets a do-over?

Star Wars fans just went through a similar experience in December, with Chewbacca’s “death” in The Rise of Skywalker. The iconic character was thought to have been killed when Daisy Ridley’s Rey zapped a First Order prisoner transport with Sith lightning. Just as the emotional weight of Chewie’s death was sinking it, Rey learned she zapped a different transport, and the Wookie was still alive. For a moment, fans thought Star Wars had actually gone there. The filmmakers had the rug pulled out from under the audience, only to have Chewbacca reappear, still alive and waiting to be rescued.

No tears. No loss. No risk. Luke Skywalker even drives it home, proclaiming, “No one is ever really gone.” 

Fast & Furious revels in its melodrama and “family is everything” attitude. But its unrelenting loyalty to the family comes at the expense of advancing the story and its characters. The franchise turns 20 years old in 2021. Its Day One fans have grown up, maybe it’s time Fast did too.

January 31, 2020 Posted by | Movies | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment

What’s on tap for Now Playing Podcast in 2016

Looking ahead to what will be the ninth year of Now Playing Podcast, I don’t know how you top 2015. In terms of franchises — Fast & Furious, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Mad Max, Star Wars — I’m not sure you can get any bigger. But, thanks to Hollywood, there’s never been a better time to be a franchise-focused podcast, and so the show will go on!

So, listeners will hear more Marvel, DC, and Star Wars in 2016, for sure. There are even Star Trek and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequels to look forward to. But the Now Playing Podcast calendar is constantly in motion, so here’s a peak at what you’ll definitely hear in the coming months.

January: The Grindhouse Universe

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 3.07.53 PM

Machete don’t podcast. But Now Playing does!

After taking listeners inside 2007’s Grindhouse experience, Arnie, Stuart, and Jakob will get even bloodier with two characters spawned from the film’s faux trailers: Machete and Hobo With a Shotgun. The former stars the great Danny Trejo, who finally got to headline his own film in 2010, and returned for a sequel, Machete Kills.

While not a runaway success, the first Machete was well received and, as this article correctly points out, was “tailor-made for the current political climate.” The sequel, released three years later, was not as well received, and that’s about all I’ll say about it. Oh, it had Mel Gibson as a villain.

The idea for Hobo With a Shotgun came from another Grindhouse trailer, but one you would have only seen if you saw the film in Canada. The feature length Hobo stars Rutget Hauer, who you might remember from 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or possibly some other films.

January-February: Listener Requests

Our heroes, ladies and gentleman.

Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen.

Things will get really interesting in late January. That’s when we’ll hear reviews of listener requests made during 2015’s Kickstarter campaign to fund the show’s first book, “Underrated Movies We Recommend.” Listeners who supported the book at a certain level had the option to choose a film for the hosts to review, and the first one to be covered is 1987’s Masters of the Universe. It’s been almost 30 years and they still haven’t gotten a new He-Man movie made, so this is all we’ve got to hang onto folks. Just Dolph Lundgren and Courtney Cox and the lady who played Bruce Willis’ cheating wife in The Last Boy Scout as Teela. It’s a treasured memory, to some people.

If you’re looking to do some extra research before the Now Playing review, I recommend checking out Electric Boogaloo: the Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films. Cannon is the company that made the film, and Electric Boogaloo is a great behind-the-scenes documentary for film industry buffs. It’s on Netflix now, as is Masters of the Universe, coincidentally.

On the heels of He-Man, Now Playing will take up another listener request, a review of 1997’s Japanese anime epic Princess Mononoke.

February: Pool, Dead.

It's the part I was born to play baby!

It’s the part I was born to play baby!

The first Marvel character to make it to the screen in 2016 is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and if he were it’s unlikely Disney would allow him to exist in a hard R film. Ryan Reynolds takes his fourth turn in a superhero flick with the part he was born to play — and played a version of in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but the less said about that one the better.

February-March: DC Heroes Return

This happened.

This happened.

The first really big retrospective of 2016 will feature a cadre of characters that aren’t connected in the same cinematic universe, but they’re all part of Now Playing’s ongoing DC Comics series. Listeners can look forward to hearing the hosts talk Stardust, American Splendor, and the animated Gen 13; as well as the 2003 adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the highly requested review of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, which leads into the release of his Man of Steel follow up, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Also featured in this retrospective is a real treat for DC Comics fans, a review of 1979’s live-action Legends of the Superheroes TV specials. Decades before the CW made quality DC shows (and I’m hoping for more of the same from Legends of Tomorrow), NBC took Adam West and Burt Ward – more than a decade removed from Batman – and gave them headlining gigs in shows that also featured appearances by Green Lantern, Sinestro, Solomon Grundy, The Huntress, The Flash, Hawkman, and somebody named Ghetto Man, according to Wikipedia. Alas, two of DC’s biggest superheroes were missing from the lineup, because they were busy starring in blockbuster films and on CBS.

If you don’t know what Legends of the Superheroes is, just watch the intro on YouTube. The whole concept has a Star Wars Holiday Special feel about it, and I can’t wait to hear how this thing came about.

So that covers the first few months of Now Playing Podcast in 2016, and that’s just on the air. I can’t forget to mention that behind the scenes the hosts are furiously finishing their work on “Underrated Movies We Recommend.” It’s set to ship in the second quarter, and you can pre-order it now at the Now Playing Podcast website.

Maybe 2016 will be Now Playing’s biggest year after all.

 

December 31, 2015 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on What’s on tap for Now Playing Podcast in 2016