Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.
Now eight films in, the “Fast and Furious” franchise keeps chugging along to big box office returns and a seemingly unstoppable string of storylines, but at least one member of the crew would like to see a few changes under the hood. Earlier this week, star Michelle Rodriguez took to Instagram to ask that series “show some love to the women of the franchise on the next one,” implying she might not stick around if some changes weren’t mad. She’s not wrong, because while the series has plenty of interesting, cool, and diverse ladies as part of its ranks, it’s often neglected to put them in the driver’s seat. That needs to change.
The “Fast” franchise already has plenty of pieces in place when it comes to tuning up a more female-friendly franchise (which is, of course, not to assume that women don’t already love the series — this writer certainly does). They just need to assemble them correctly. Here are a few ways to achieve that goal.
1. Better Storylines For Existing Stars
Rodriguez’s character, Letty, is the most enduring female lead of the franchise, starring in five of eight films (not including a pivotal photo-only appearance in “Fast Five”) over the past 16 years, but it wasn’t until “The Fate of the Furious” that she was finally afforded to chance to move into the spotlight. When her husband Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) unexpectedly abandons their crew, Letty becomes the group’s de facto leader, and why shouldn’t she? She has, after all, been there from the beginning. She’s just as much a key member of this so-called family than Dom.
But that one subplot doesn’t detract much from the totality of the franchise, and Rodriguez isn’t wrong about the series’ lack of love for its female stars, including supporting characters like Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), Gisele Yashar (Gal Gadot), and Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), all of whom primarily exist to round out the storylines of the films’ male characters, often as love interests who occasionally come along for the ride. Despite giving its women badass backgrounds, from cop to weapons expert to hacker and all with driving expertise to spare (well, mostly, Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey is still riding shotgun, two films in), the “Fast” series scarcely allows them to steal the spotlight.
This is a franchise that gave a supporting role to no less than Dame Helen Mirren, only to feature in her a tiny part that mainly hinged on her ability to fake a down-market accent. She deserves better, and so do the rest of the women who populate the series. They’ve already snagged plenty of exciting leading ladies; now, it’s time to let them take the wheel.
2. Find a Real Female Villain
When Charlize Theron was cast as the primary villain in “The Fate of the Furious,” the actress was still garnering acclaim for her ass-kicking turn in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a role that allowed the Oscar winner to re-establish herself as an action star to be reckoned with. Audiences will be treated to more of that Theron when “Atomic Blonde” opens later this year, and all the better, because she was not the actress who showed up in “Fate.”
Initially presented as the franchise’ biggest baddie ever, Theron’s nefarious hacker Cipher soon crumbled into flimsy exposition overload and opaque motivations. She touted chaos but was also hellbent on ruling the world, plus something about a submarine! Theron never got her hands dirty in the role, and was instead relegated to tapping away on her massive keyboard, installed in her massive, radar-avoiding jet, all while her hired hands battled around her. She was a bad villain — a weak, poorly-drawn one that did a disservice to both Theron and the film as a whole. Dom’s baby was more nefarious than Cipher, and he really only participated in a battle as an accessory for Jason Statham.
“Fate” leaves the door open for Theron to return as Cipher, thanks to perhaps the most flat-footed tease in “Fast” history (she makes off in her jet, alive and undeterred, which is a boring way to play up a villain’s essential evilness), which means that the franchise still might have some hope of playing to Theron’s strengths and finally giving the series the full-bodied female baddie that it could have so, so much fun with.
3. More Inventive Casting
The “Fast and Furious” franchise has always picked diverse talents to populate its films, from the first outing (which starred Paul Walker alongside Diesel, Rodriguez, and Rick Yune, among others) until the latest incarnation. “Fast Five,” typically hailed as the best of the bunch, moved the series’ action to Rio de Janeiro and brought along a diverse cast to match, including returning favorites like Gadot, Sung Kang, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Tyrese Gibson. It also added Dwayne Johnson and Pataky to the fray and found a juicy role for Joaquim de Almeida.
The franchise doesn’t just excel at casting diverse faces from around the world, but stars that have different levels of star power, recognizability, and acclaim. The series can (and does) employ all kinds of actors, from Oscar winners to rising stars. In order to “show some love” to its leading ladies, the franchise needs to keep up with its strong casting, and also add new faces to the team. Here are a few ladies who might be interested in just such a gig.
4. Consider a Reboot or Spinoff
“The Fate of the Furious” was styled and marketed as the first film in a new (and likely final) trilogy, though it’s insane to think that the billion-dollar franchise will just ride off into the sunset by the time the tenth film hits theaters. In a franchise-obsessed market, the series has emerged as a bankable, if initially unexpected standout that still has plenty of gas.
Reboot this beast with a women-led cast, or offer up a spinoff that focuses more firmly on the ladies already in its ranks. There’s long been a hunger for female-led action series and the recent success of “Wonder Woman” has only bolstered that idea, why shouldn’t “Fast” get in on the fun?
5. Hire a Female Director
Now eight films deep, the franchise has never tapped a female director, though various entries have been helmed by a variety of filmmakers, including F. Gary Gray, Justin Lin, and James Wan, who broke with his horror-heavy resume to make “Furious 7.” We know more than a few who would love the job.
The ninth “Fast and Furious” film is set to open in 2019.