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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

Review: The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury

At the end of Pitch Black only three passengers of the spaceship Hunter-Gratzner were still alive.  These three, Riddick, Jack, and Imam, took to space, destination unknown.  Possibly New Mecca, if their little shuttle could make the trip.  At the beginning of Pitch Black’s follow-up film, The Cronicles of Riddick, Riddick is a shaggy haired, scruffy bearded refugee on U.V. 6 chased by a bounty hunter named Tooms, Imam is on a planet called Hellion Prime, and Jack is a captive on the prison world of Crematoria.

Did you wonder how these three survivors split up?  Why they were not all living happily together on New Mecca?  Nope, those questions never crossed my mind either, but continuing to answer questions fans never asked come DVD bonus features and animated interquel films, such as The Chronicles of Riddick:  Dark Fury.

This direct-to-video animated short picks up immediately where Pitch Black left off.  We see Riddick’s shuttle had barely left the planet when a mercenary ship arrived and captured the three survivors of the Hunter-Gratzner.  But this is no ordinary merc troupe—this cadre is led by Antonia Chillingsworth, a psychopath who equates murder with art.   She has traveled the galaxy collecting the most notorious killers and turning them into frozen, living statues in her gallery, cherishing the artistry of homicide.

What are the odds of such a collector randomly stumbling across Riddick, one of the galaxies most infamous killers?  Slim.  But logic goes out the window early in this action-fest who’s real purpose is not to tell a story but to entice Pitch Black fans with more of Vin Diesel’s monotone lines, and more of Riddick’s talent for killing.

The short was directed by Peter Chung, and without knowing his name I knew his work—the animation style, violence, and sensibility of Dark Fury closely mirrors that of Chung’s best-known creation Aeon Flux.  Despite being based on a story by Riddick’s creator David Twohy, the film has Chung’s fingerprint on every frame.  As such, your opinion of Chung’s old Liquid Television action heroine will likely influence your viewing experience of this Riddick animated movie.

With Chung’s style-over-substance approach Dark Fury’s 35 minute running time drags despite being almost nonstop action from start to finish.  The fights are inventively staged; Riddick’s final showdown with Junner, Chillingsworth’s lover and chief lieutenant, is a highlight.  But for me the animated violence fails to adrenalize.   Like the merc leader I appreciate Chung’s artistry but feel no passion for it myself.

And if the action doesn’t work there is little else in the movie.  The character moments entirely reprise those from Pitch Black—Jack idolizes Riddick; Riddick will risk his life to save Jack and Imam despite seeming to care for nobody but himself.  We’ve seen it all before, done better.  The film also introduces a new nemesis for Riddick:  Tooms.  This establishes Tooms as a soldier for Chillingsworth before we see him as a merc in The Chronicles of Riddick film, creating an unnecessary bridge between the two films.

But despite being unnecessary, I enjoyed this short far more than the film that succeeded it.  It is stylized and violent with a good hint of dark humor as well.  I have long been a fan of Aeon Flux and appreciate Chung’s return to form.  It’s something only a fan of Chung or Riddick can appreciate, but as a fan of both I give it a recommend.

September 6, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Review: The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury

Review: Into Pitch Black

Before Pitch Black hit theaters audiences were invited Into Pitch Black–a Sci Fi Channel special promoting the film. But unlike most TV specials promoting new release films with their behind-the-scenes footage and “making of” documentaries, Into Pitch Black took us into the Pitch Black universe with a fully dramatized story. It’s a rarity not included on any home release of the Riddick films, nor easily obtained online. But as part of Now Playing’s Riddick Retrospective Series I did my best merc impression and captured a copy.

Taking place several months after the events in Pitch Black we follow an unnamed law enforcement officer charged with finding escaped convict Richard B. Riddick, last seen aboard the spaceship Hunter-Gratzner. Unable to find any leads, the officer hires a female bounty hunter to help his investigation.

As the two dig into the background of several passengers on the Hunter-Gratzner we are treated to many scenes from the actual movie Pitch Black. Of the special’s 45-minute running length, about 15 minutes are scenes from the movie. We witness the spaceship’s crash-landing and several of the survivors exploring the planet. The narrative sells these scenes as information found during the investigation.

To try and expand the universe beyond the events in Pitch Black we also get footage, shot night-vision style, of “Cutter”, the psychologist who studied Riddick in prison. In the only useful piece of trivia in the special we find Cutter was the doctor who “shined” Riddick’s eyes, giving him night vision (a fact later retconned out in the video game The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay).

Despite the aspirations of being a mini-story set in Riddick’s universe, Into Pitch Black never escapes the trappings of a promo TV special. There is a lot of emphasis in teasing the audience with Pitch Black footage. More, the low production values of this special, from the washed-out home-video camerawork to the worse-than-porno acting makes this show virtually unwatchable. To have this amateurish footage intercut with high value production and acting by Keith David and Vin Diesel makes the new scenes seem even more pathetic.

I believe the obscurity of this piece is because it is an embarrassment–nothing any Riddick fan would really want to revisit. I give it a strong Not Recommend.

August 28, 2013 Posted by | Movies, Now Playing Podcast, Podcasts, Reviews, Television | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Review: Into Pitch Black