The Failure of F8

The Fate of the Furious (2017) was the first in the series not helmed by an Asian director since 2003. And while Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray’s bonafides at the intersection of cinema and anti-blackness are unquestionable, the series’ notable narrative shift is owed more to thematic dissonance than overt intent with regards to Han. The result however is unfortunately Fast’s key Asian player being swept under the rug regardless, in a manner that runs counter to what these films are about.

Vin Diesel mumbling “Family” (or “Fambly”) has become something of an in-joke even amongst fans, but it’s been the series’ mantra for almost a decade. Super-producer Diesel’s bold-faced sincerity in this muscle-car universe has been driving the narrative ever since Fast Five, which combined all the series’ disparate elements a full year before The Avengers. Fast & Furious 6 saw the likes of Diesel and Giselle risk life and limb for the ones they loved; the latter even lost her life protecting Han. Furious 7 continued that thread, approaching it from multiple angles with the heroes fighting to avenge and preserve their Family, while Deckard Shaw fought to avenge his own brother. It was Family vs Family in a film that ended with a meta-textual goodbye to Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor, as the words “For Paul” were scrolled across the screen. Family was, by this point, built into the series’ DNA, and none of its car-jump, tank-flip nonsense would’ve been nearly as fun without members of the Fast Fam either driving the vehicles (Dom, Brian) or freaking out about the crazy predicaments (Roman, Tej).

Now, Fast & Furious is clearly a series un-beholden to any one tone or idea. A total departure from its preceding decade, while unpalatable to some, could have worked in its own way. Thor: Ragnarok, for instance abandons the character of Thor seen in four prior films and delivers an all-out farce. But to say that The Fate of the Furious abandoned its focus on family and is therefore not beholden to Han being a part of it would be disingenuous. The film is perhaps about family in ways that even its predecessors weren’t, putting Dom’s found Family (with a capital ‘F’) to the test by making him turn against them in order to protect his biological family, a son he didn’t know he had.

The entire narrative is constructed around the idea of Family itself – again, on both sides, as Dom approaches the Shaw bros’ mother (Helen Mirren) for help. And while this results in an admittedly hilarious airplane rescue involving Jason Statham and a baby, not a single member of Dom’s Family brings up the fact Deckard was responsible for killing Han when Deckard is first brought on board. It’s a fact never once contended with, and the film even ends with Deckard being invited to the Toretto family cookout, a sacred space crafted over the last four films where the Family shares love and Coronas.

In a film about Family, where Dom has to choose between found Family and biological family, he chooses biological family regardless of what the narrative suggests. The balance is all lip-service, and the film’s theme is left unreconciled. Deckard is welcomed into the Toretto home after rescuing Dom’s biological son. Elena (Elsa Pataky), the child’s mother, is also given an unceremonious exit after being shot in the head to motivate Dom, but this is at the very least contextualized as unequivocally terrible.

Han’s death on the other hand, at the hands of a man the Family spent the last full movie hunting down, provides the characters with not even a hint of doubt or dissonance when it comes to welcoming Shaw. Their initial dislike for him is vague, which allows their eventual acceptance to be unanimous and without question. Which is not to suggest that Shaw or any character in this series ought to be beyond redemption, but it’s a redemption he doesn’t work for, and a death neither he nor the heroes acknowledge.

It’s as if Han never existed at all, and it breaks the very fabric of this universe. A series that’s built up goodwill with global audiences by bringing together a multi-ethnic, multi-national family of vagrants, whose sincere love for one another is rivaled only by the series’ sincere love of cars, now found itself abandon the very story it had been telling for over a decade.

Which is precisely why, now that Statham’s character Deckard Shaw is getting his own spinoff, the series needs to address #JusticeForHan. Though luckily, if Hobbs & Shaw fails to do so – it might, as none of the original Family are likely to feature in this film – there are rumours of Justin Lin returning to direct Fast & Furious 9, and potentially Fast & Furious 10. Bringing Han back in some form isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but even if Hollywood’s favourite Korean American stays dead, it’s hard to imagine Lin won’t want to right the wrongs done to a character who’s been part of his oeuvre for almost two decades. It won’t undo the wrongheaded narrative decisions in The Fate of the Furious, but it’ll certainly go a long way to bringing the series back to its former glory by making its talk of Family feel meaningful once more.

In the words of Han himself, “Fifty percent of something is better than a hundred percent of nothing.”

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