I’m going to start with a confession.
Of the … what is it? ... 27 or so films in the Fast and Furious franchise, I’ve seen about a total of maybe 30 scattered minutes, mostly late at night surfing the premium cable TV channels I haven’t gotten around to getting rid of yet.
My direct knowledge of the Rock’s body of cinematic history isn’t much deeper. I did see a good deal of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (again late night on premium cable) a few months back, and about five minutes of a movie co-starring him and Stifler in a jungle (again) just a couple of weeks ago.
So I’m not exactly the target audience for the F&F spin-off Calvin & Hob…
[I’m sorry, what?]
… I mean Hobbs & Shaw that debuted its first trailer Friday morning.
But I did watch that trailer and I gotta say - I see you Universal Studios.
Bloody brilliant (and I’m not even British).
No, I’m serious here. As un-versed as I am on the actual movies, I am well versed on their box office history, and what I just saw leaves me with the impression that if even halfway watchable, it’ll shatter the franchise record (which crescendoed with 2015’s Furious 7) for global earnings, which might make for an even more uncomfortable table read for the next film pairing Dwayne Johnson with Vin Diesel (if that ever even comes to pass at this point).
The trailer was so intriguing I might even go see the movie in theaters. It looked over-the-top; it looked stupid fun; and it looked like Universal may have just lowkey launched a new superhero universe.
Sorry to have buried the lede.
I know the franchise mainlines physics-bending car stunts that defy any and all real-world credibility, and my impression has always been that’s part of series’ appeal. And how they keep pushing the envelope each subsequent film is also part of the formula.
But my other impression has been that the films more or less have kept one-foot in the world of crazy action/adventure as they've evolved and not science fiction/fantasy, but that seems to have gone out the window with Idris Elba’s villain Brixton.
I mean am I crazy, or has F&F not just crossed over into Marvel Studios territory?
Brixton looks like an honest-to-goodness superpowered supervillain, rather than just a guy with impeccable motor vehicle skills.
Given the franchise’s blueprint of upping the ante on itself, Universal seems to be opening up the possibility to blur the lines between genres even further in the future. They’ve opened a Pandora’s box that their own formula won’t ever let them close.
And why should it? The reign of superhero films at the world box office seems safe for the foreseeable future. The franchise-loving Universal, who had its foot in the door of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Incredible Hulk and may or may not still have some claim on Namor, might have just stumbled into the birth of their very own superhero U, breathing potential new life into and perhaps extending the Fast and Furious franchise indefinitely
Food for thought: With Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man perhaps doing their last dance in Avengers: Endgame, is a fully-armored character out the realm of reason for F&F moving forward?
And/or how about a guy with wings like Marvel’s the Falcon?
Any tech or biotech type superhero or villain seems now on the table and if history teaches anything about the series (I’m told it’d be natural for Elba’s character to return in a future film as a hero) going even bigger from here is nearly inevitable.
And if so why even stop at superheroes? If you got bullet-proof, super-strong humans, why not flying or ‘transforming’ cars, putting some delicious olive oil on the bread and butter of the films?
The fact that its taken nine films to breach the barrier - to slowly whittle away at the audience’s suspension of disbelief with each installment before taking this leap is what’s insidiously genius about the whole thing. Box office history has mostly proven the superhero genre is dependent on the nostalgia quality of established Marvel and DC characters, and that's hardly even foolproof.
Established characters like the Green Hornet, the Phantom and Spawn have mostly sputtered and even the successes are more modest ones compared to the big Marvel and DC hits. What this remarkable franchise turn by Universal is doing is mashing established, already-successful characters and IP with the thing worldwide moviegoers can't seem to get enough of.
Down the road add a technologically-enhanced Hobbs with Lefty and Dom in cars that transform and combine into a giant robot and pit them against genetically-bred dinosaurs and they might just crack the supergenre code.