What is it that has made the Fast Saga endure over the last two decades? There’s only so much staying power that can be found in increasingly fast cars, absurd heists, and celebrity cameos. No, the true power of the series is that it is a romance, played absolutely dead straight.
The Fast Saga Endures Because It Is a Completely Unironic 21st Century Love Story
Love interests in an action movie are nothing new. In fact, one might even go so far as to say they’re basically a requirement these days. When it comes to a more action-adventure-oriented story, sometimes love stories are integral to the character arc (Rey/Kylo in The Rise of Skywalker), sometimes they add nothing at all and are there out of obligation (Poe and Zorii in The Rise of Skywalker). In the former case, it is their feelings for one another that drives them in part to act, push them to be better, or to broaden their view of what it is they want, which is what makes them work.
Romantic stories onscreen often fall apart due to a lack of conviction. Not on the part of the audience, but on the part of the characters and storytellers. The reason the Fast Saga has such staying power is because, beneath the noise, action, fast cars, and other distracting things that look great in the trailer, the core of the story is fundamentally a romantic one.
A love story, pure, simple, and without a trace of the irony we see far too often these days. It shouldn’t work. But it really, really does.
It’s true, the first few films in the series did fall into the “incidental love interest” trap. In the first, The Fast and the Furious, Dom (Vin Diesel) had his not-like-other-girls girl Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) because it humanized him, not because Letty added anything to the plot. And Brian (Paul Walker) had his doomed-for-now fling with Mia (Jordana Brewster), which did throw a wrench into Brian’s investigation but ultimately wound up not mattering in how the story paid off. Sure, he liked Mia just fine, but that didn’t stop him from getting heart eyes for Monica (Eva Mendes) in the second movie, 2 Fast 2 Furious.
This trend occurred again in the third film released, Tokyo Drift, which while initially removed from the rest of the saga, shared its treatment of romance with its predecessors. Sean (Lucas Black) falls for Neela (Nathalie Kelley) honestly just because she’s there and because she’s nice to him. She’s one of the things fueling his rivalry with a classmate, but certainly not the only thing.
Then everything changed when the series returned to its rapidly-expanding core cast in the fourth installment, Fast and Furious. Suddenly the focus turned to who the characters are as individuals, but also who they are to each other. The romantic heart of the story shines through best when viewed through the lens of its three core couples.
Brian and Mia
The ones that started it all. From their introduction in the first movie, they were the will-they-won’t-they. The Romeo and Juliet of the street racing world (with a much better ending). Though things ended poorly in the first movie, by the time they’re reunited in the fourth, it’s full steam ahead. By the time the credits roll, Brian has made his decision. He’s in this criminal life for good if it means he gets to be with Mia.
Brian and Mia feel almost like the baseline. Like a reminder of what everyone in the crew should want, but can never quite make the leap to getting. By the time Fast Five, the fifth movie, rolls around they’re expecting their first child. The sixth and seventh movies see them fighting to retain the slice of normalcy they’ve carved out for themselves. At the end of the day, every action they take, every heist they pull, or crime they commit is in the name of staying together to raise their little family.
They do find their peace, in the end, a choice necessitated by the real-life passing of Paul Walker, but the (in this author’s) correct decision to keep the character of Brian alive. But because of the strong foundation, and desire for togetherness on which Brian and Mia’s story is built, it doesn’t feel like a forced ride into the sunset. It actually flows quite naturally for the two of them.
Han and Gisele
What happens when all you want is to be together, but the stars never quite align? You get Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot).
Despite an initial one-sided interest in Dom, and despite being pursued by every other man on the team, Gisele’s choice became clear at the end of Fast Five, when she chose to drive off with the quietly charming Han. The sixth movie, Fast & Furious 6, then becomes about their search for a life outside the criminal enterprise they find themselves swept up in, with this one last job intended to set them up for that.
When Gisele ends up sacrificing herself for Han (presumably so Gadot could go film Justice League), his grief leads him to the one place they always talked about seeing together: Tokyo. It is at this point, the timeline connects and leads the audience to the events of Tokyo Drift, which came out several years prior, where Han meets his end in a car crash
Though death, when the character is on the verge of happiness or as a means to make right a past wrong, is rarely the way to go, for Han and Gisele, it proved a bittersweet conclusion. The lone critique of their relationship would be that the storytellers decided to bring Han back in the ninth film, F9, with his death having been faked all along. As wonderful as it is to get Kang back on screen, this decision cheapens the end of Han and Gisele's story, and retroactively ‘fridges’ her, with his grief over her death now acting as the driving force behind his actions.
Dom and Letty
More so than the others, Dom and Letty are the emotional and romantic heart and soul of the entire franchise. From the fourth movie on, their worlds absolutely revolve around each other, but it's really in the sixth to eighth movies that their romantic arc is the strongest and elevates the rest of the story by association.
After being told in the fourth movie that Letty was dead, Dom began a journey of grief that seemed to come to an end when he found happiness with Elena (Elsa Pataky), who he’d gotten to know on a job. Once he found out that Letty was alive, however, the story became about getting her back. From there, their love story took a hard left turn into trope-town.
If it exists in romance novels, it happened to Dom and Letty, and this is meant with the highest of praise. First Letty had amnesia and was working with the other side in Fast & Furious 6. Then, when she eventually did come around and join the good guys for Furious 7, she still couldn’t remember anything—including her and Dom’s secret wedding. It was only when she was about to lose him forever that it all came flooding back. It might sound like a stereotype, but through the seemingly impossible, Dom never gave up on the idea of them recapturing what they once had
Then comes the eighth movie, The Fate of the Furious—the most earnest and achingly romantic of them all—where the script is flipped. Never mind that the whole thing starts with a beautiful, sun-soaked Cuban honeymoon for the two of them, a gorgeous sequence in and of itself. No, it’s when the main plot kicks off, and the criminal Cipher (Charlize Theron) blackmails Dom into working for her and going rogue, that we get our first instance of genuine angst in this series. Yes, actual angst. The payoff to Dom’s unshakeable faith in Letty is seen here when she refuses to write him off as a lost cause in turn. It’s not constantly stated, but the audience is never left with any doubts that these two ride-or-dies do everything they do out of nothing but love for each other. And with several films to build that out, it’s more than incidental to the story, it’s instrumental in its success.
The Fast Saga earnestly states on several occasions that family is the most important thing to all the characters—Dom in particular. This is said so much it became a meme in early 2021 when the ninth film finally hit theatres. That statement is certainly true, but the wonderful thing about the Fast Saga is the idea of family is never presented as mutually exclusive to romance. Oftentimes, those who critique the inclusion of a romantic subplot in a piece of media will decry it as unnecessary, as the story is about “found family.” To Dominic Toretto, everyone in his life is his family, be it biological, romantic, or simply by choice. None of those scenarios is given pride of place above the others.
There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with falling in love, with finding a partner and making a life with them however you see fit, and in 2021 few film series seem to understand that as thoroughly as The Fast Saga.