Dominic Turetto pulls up to a four-way intersection—and pauses. He surveys the empty, desolate desert highway, not quite ready to move on.
Then his friend pulls up alongside him.
“Hey, thought you could leave without saying goodbye?”
Meet Brian. Despite getting on in years, this seemingly ageless man looks like the guy we knew from his early days of street racing. His smile big and bright, he still carries the youthful vigor that his friends have grown to love.
That his family has grown to love.
“Salute mi familia,” Dominic says as they both drive towards a fork in the road. “You’ll always be with me. And you’ll always be my brother.”
Soon, Dominic will go right, Brian will go left, and they’ll part ways forever.
Actually…let’s pump the brakes for one hot second. Because understanding the beauty of this moment from Furious 7 requires us to take in the surroundings a little bit. Dom—known as Dom by his family—is played by Vin Diesel, the star of the Fast and Furious franchise. He’s been the alpha male of the Fast and Furious team since 2001 when The Fast and the Furious hit theaters.
Dom is like our…Robert Downey Jr. of the group. Just like Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) begins with Iron Man, the Fast and Furious Cinematic Universe starts with Dom (P.S. I’m gonna go ahead and coin “FFCU,” if that’s cool with you).
And Brian? He’s played by Paul Walker. The teen heartthrob from She’s All That and Varsity Blues, Paul became more of a household name when The Fast and the Furious hit theaters. If Vin is the Robert Downey Jr. of the FFCU, then Paul is the Chris Evans—the Captain America, if you will.
But here’s the thing: when Paul’s character Brian took a left in that fork in the road from Furious 7, he wasn’t just heading a different direction—he was leaving for good. And that’s because Paul Walker had died in real life. A tragic car accident ripped a young, bright, talented actor from us far too soon, and the film felt obligated to give him a send-off.
And as Vin expresses in that all-too-real moment from Furious 7, he wasn’t just losing a friend—he was losing a brother.
This has become a running trend in the Fast and Furious movies—it’s what’s known as a “motif” in the art of storytelling. “Family” is a central component of the franchise.
And you know it is because Dom talks about family…um, a lot.
I know it’s kinda fun to make fun of how obsessed the Fast and Furious franchise is with “family.” I even enjoy doing my best Dom imitation of “nothing’s more important than your family.” But the Fast and Furious franchise does explore family in a unique, profound way. “Family” is more than a motif for the series—it’s a crucial limb to the franchise that is left debilitated without it.
And what’s best of all is that the Fast and Furious movies don’t just talk about family—they show the power of family in a beautifully cinematic way. Family becomes infused in the images, in the tensions, in the freakin’ choreography of the films. When you watch one of the movie’s pulse-pounding action scenes, you’re not just on the edge of your seat because of the high-octane energy—you’re invested in the characters, and you’re aware of how invested they are in each other.
And Hobbs & Shaw continues that thematic trajectory. It may be a spin-off of the Fast and Furious franchise that introduces entirely new characters, but the emotional beats and structure of Hobbs & Shaw are directly influenced by the Fast and Furious franchise. Understanding how the Fast and Furious series build and strengthen family dynamics film after film will greatly increase your enjoyment of Hobbs & Shaw and inform how the spin-off will fit into the FFCU.
This is different from a book series adapted into a franchise, which is often bound by the book’s literary obligations; this is different from franchises that space their movies years, sometimes decades apart and introduce entirely new characters and storylines; and this is different from the MCU, where any intercontextuality between movies is purely done from a plot standpoint—this is thematic cohesion. This is a world where the life lessons that Dom and Brian and Mia and Letty learned in the franchise’s first film directly inform the characters of the Hobbs & Shaw plane.
This is a universe where each successive movie’s pumps the philosophical blood of the last. This isn’t just another franchise—this is the new era of the “cinematic universe.”
The Power of Family
I’m going to go ahead and overview this term up top, since you’ll read these two words together like a billion times during this article: family dynamics.
Family dynamics are, to break them down to their simplest form, the patterns of interactions between family members. Sounds simple in theory, but actually identifying those dynamics and the root causes of our unique behaviors isn’t easy to do.
Let’s look at it from a therapeutic perspective. While there are commonalities between various families, each family system and its dynamics are unique. And studying how those dynamics affect each and every person differently is part of what’s known as “family systems theory.”
Even if we currently have little or no present contact with family, these dynamics have unavoidably influenced us from our earlier years. Family dynamics often have a strong influence on the way people see themselves and others in the world, and these ingrained patterns influence our relationships and behaviors as we drift through life.
For therapists, it is often essential to create an understanding of those family dynamics so they can pinpoint a client’s needs. Traditional individual therapy usually focuses on problems in a linear format: “Event A” caused “Problem B.” In order to understand what has caused the problem and identify what is needed to move forward, the history of the problem is explored. Easy said, easy done. Right?
But the family systems theory suggests that we view people’s personality in a more circular manner—what’s known as a “systemic perspective.” With that approach, “Event A” and “Problem B” coexist in the context of a relationship and influence one another. To understand Problem B, we need to understand the interactions—the family dynamics—with an emphasis on what is happening, rather than why.
Essentially: it’s easy to understand that one event could have caused “Problem B” to occur—it’s a much more arduous task to evaluate years of learned behaviors and group dynamics to identify why someone acts the way they do.
By nature, the family systems theory shifts blame away from one person who created a dynamic, and instead creates a bi-directional trajectory that explores how a dynamic is formed on the whole. In order to understand why someone acts the way they do, their behaviour is explored in the context of the family system, rather than in isolation.
So whether we’re mimicking or rebelling against what we learned with our families, our family dynamics provide key insight into the people we grow into—our passions, our fears, our strengths, our hindrances. Whether we’re happy with the way we’ve turned out or looking to lay blame on other parties, who we become is often the direct result of the people we spend the most time around.
That might seem obvious: certain family dynamics directly inform our behaviors. But what’s more interesting is how those ingrained family dynamics will go on to inform future group dynamics we become part of—and this is where we get into the Fast and Furious franchise. Because the very definition of “family” is being warped, and Fast and Furious had embraced that mentality years back.
The New Definition of “Family”
As society progresses, the very definition of “family” seems to change every day. People around the world organize their lives in so many different ways. The amount of adults that are married and not married is about 50/50. The most traditional family, a mom and dad who are married and have kids, now accounts for less than 20 percent of households. More people live by themselves than with a partner.
In 2015, Bella DePaulo wrote the book “How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century.”
“Across America and around the world, in cities and suburbs and small towns, people from all walks of life are redefining our “lifespaces”—the way we live and who we live with. The traditional nuclear family in their single-family home on a suburban lot has lost its place of prominence in contemporary life. Today, Americans have more choices than ever before in creating new ways to live and meet their personal needs and desires.”
Earlier this year, a woman named Lucy Huber tweeted this, which got nearly 50,000 retweets and 183,000 likes:
Stop saying “start a family” when you mean “have kids”. A couple is still a family. A single person and her cat is a family. A couple and their plants are still a family. Three weirdly close roommates could be a family. You don’t need kids to be a family.— Lucy Huber (@clhubes) April 17, 2019
However you define the idea of a “family,” it all boils down to a core set of values we’re looking from the people in our lives. If we’re not achieving those core values with certain people? Then we’ll push them away. Some people can achieve these values all on their own, or with their pet, or with a wife or a husband and 15 kids—and, in the case of Fast and Furious, with our friends who fill out those familial roles.
Those core values, according to an article from the Family Story organization, are equality, autonomy, interdependence and care.
- Equality means reducing social and economic inequality between parties.
- Autonomy means allowing for more individual freedom by reducing structural barriers.
- Interdependence requires us to be open to the fact that we are all dependent on other people, even those outside the family circle; and
- Care means recognizing all the ways the positive ways these relationships’ impact can have on our lives and well-being.
You’re looking for all four elements in whatever “family” you’re forming as a result of the 21st Century’s changing standards.
Fast and Furious posits that we don’t just integrate into new groups—we become part of new families. We take on fatherly and motherly and brotherly and sisterly roles and care for one another and fight with one another, just like we do with our by-blood families. And those new relationships can be every bit as meaningful as our early family dynamics. We never stop evolving, in the Fast and Furious world, the characters are always learning and growing from one another.
That’s the beauty of the Fast and Furious franchise. Each member of the “family” has their roots, and their growth has been directly influenced by the family dynamics over the course of several films. And we can gauge that growth through each family member’s assigned “role” in the group.
Early on in our years, we often assign ourselves roles in order to fill out our family factions, which goes on to influence how we’ll fit into other dynamics. For example, often family members see themselves as the “peacekeepers” of the family circle, and feel an obligation to balance out a more combative party. Or someone will inhabit the “scapegoat” role, where they feel outside the dynamic, like a symptom of the family’s worst assets. So when those people go out into the world, they can often hold onto those roles.
As Ramsey points in Furious 7, the members of the Fast family have definitely taken on their assigned roles.
Of course there’s more to each of those characters than a title—so let’s take a more rounded look at each member of the family and how they got there.
The Family Dynamics of Fast and Furious
For instance, Dom isn’t just the alpha male—he’s the father figure of the group. Whenever someone needs guidance or advice, he’s there. When someone gets out of line, he puts them in their place. When we’re introduced to Dom in the first film of the franchise, The Fast and the Furious, he needs to be the overseer of the group. His team robs semi trucks for a living, and any misstep can put them in jeopardy with the law, so he naturally inhabits that alpha role.
Then there’s Brian: an undercover cop who’s infiltrated Dom’s gang. He’s committed to his job…but he’s not exactly sure what he wants to do with his life. In fact, he seems much more interested in Dom’s sister, Mia, than he does in resolving the case. His desperation to fit into Dom’s inner circle goes from occupational to emotional as he gets closer and closer to Mia, warping his intentions and re-shaping his tenor.
And with those two relationships, we get our first family dynamic. Dom, as the loving, protective father figure, understandably repels Brian when he visits Dominic’s Garage every day to get the tuna sandwich—especially when everyone at the garage acknowledges the tuna tastes like garbage. Dom is inherently distrustful of Brian, meaning Brian must adjust his tone to win over Dom. Once Brian displays his spunk behind the wheel and proves his loyalty during a police chase, Dom changes his tune. Then Dom’s trust causes Brian to question his own motives. What is he more committed to? The job? Or Mia and the family?
Within a few scenes, The Fast and the Furious lays so much groundwork for the family’s inherent tensions. And that balance is something we can all relate to. Within whatever circle we’re a part of—whether it’s the family we’re born into or the family we build ourselves—we’re constantly adjusting ourselves and reacting to others. Our family dynamics are constantly changing and expanding and evolving, and we’re forced to keep in step with it every step of the way.
That’s why I think the Fast and Furious series is special. When I think back on legendary franchises born from cinema like Indiana Jones and Star Wars and Mission Impossible, they just don’t contain the same complex, constantly maturing dynamics the Fast and Furious gang employs. Star Wars is close, but sometimes decades go by between our heroes meeting up. The Fast and Furious gang challenges one another every couple years.
And people are lining up to pay the price of admission. Together, the nine Fast and Furious films have amassed $5.574 billion since 2001 (with one of those movies currently in theaters, eyeing another $200 million). I think that’s because people are experiencing a kind of familial unit that’s atypical of franchises. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is great in its own ways, but I wouldn’t say they live and die by their group dynamics—there are so many standalone films where our superheroes learn and grow on their own. And then it’s only every five years we get an Avengers film where those personalities coalesce, as opposed to Fast and Furious, where the group’s personality changes as the group dynamics change from film to film.
That’s why the Fast and Furious’s approach to franchises feels so genius and ahead of its time. Years before there were standalone movies introducing Iron Man and Thor and Captain America, there were standalone movies introducing the dynamic between Brian and Dom and Mia and Letty, and then the dynamic between Brian Roman and Tej, and then the dynamic between Han and Giselle and Hobbs. As each movie introduces new characters into the fold, the movie takes such caution and care with exploring the group dynamics and how it adjust the family’s role. In the first Fast and Furious film, they stole DVD players from semi trucks—by the latest film, they’ve empowered each other enough to stop global terrorism.
That might seem kinda goofy on the surface, but…it’s also kinda beautiful? It’s a movie, after all. And movies by design explore universal truths we all experience every day—action movies in particular are meant to blow up normal, familiar situations to gargantuan, entertaining levels. When you look at it that way, the Fast and Furious gang—which is nothing more than a group of blue-collar folks from L.A.—is able to save the world because of their familial bond.
And here’s where I think Fast and Furious truly sets itself apart from other franchises. Where the Harry Potter films are bound to the books; where the Indiana Jones movies span several different decades and characters; where the Marvel films rely on intersecting plots, the Fast and Furious movies dictate their trajectory and flow through cinematic storytelling. The beats and changing dynamics between the characters directly correlate with the action, with the driving, with the world-saving.
For instance, in The Fast in the Furious, Dom confesses that he’s scared to drive his 1970 Dodge Charger because his father died in the vehicle. His ability to finally pull that Charger out of the garage to help Jesse becomes a symbolic representation of his commitment to his family. And then when he races Brian at the end of the movie in that same vehicle, it’s Dom’s way of thanking Brian and showing Brian he’s earned Dom’s respect.
Then in 2 Fast 2 Furious, when Brian moves from one group to another, new dynamics are set up. Brian and Roman don’t mend their broken relationship by sitting down and having a talk—they drive together. They empower one another by pushing one another to complete their investigation. The film uses choreography and imagery to display their male camaraderie through the art of driving. And they carry that shared energy with them into the rest of the series.
As the movies become more confident and the family solidifies, we see the franchise becoming more and more imagery-driven with its storytelling. Completing the bank heist in Fast Five isn’t just a get-rich-quick scheme, but instead a chance for Brian and Mia to support their incoming baby boy and start their new family after years hardship. Losing Giselle in Fast & Furious 6 forces Han to look inward and move to Tokyo in Tokyo Drift, where he carries the weight of his old family and integrates himself into a new group. In Furious 7, Ramsey forces Roman and Tej to reckon with their unfulfilling playboy lives as they battle for her affection.
More than any other movie, though, Fate of the Furious—the eighth film of the franchise—presents of cavalcade of images and symbolism that’s all the result of several films that built those family dynamics. Dom discovers he has a son, and is blackmailed by a woman named Cipher. She challenges Dom’s very notion of family, which has continued to evolve mission after mission. In The Fast and the Furious when discussing his father’s death, Dom claimed he lived his life a quarter mile at a time, only living in the moment—and Cipher candidly reminds him of this old mentality. But now, presented with a child, Dom is forced to reckon with his future. He can’t just exist with the family around him, but must build his own family that he must strengthen from the ground up. Thus, Dom’s Charger becomes a haunting reminder of his dead father and how Dom was once scared to carry on in his footsteps. Forced to carry out Cipher’s terrorist schemes in order to save his son, Dom’s forced to fight against his own family in order to preserve his future family.
And here’s the kicker: the old family doesn’t give up on Dom. After several years of camaraderie and love, the Fast family understands its dynamics well enough to know that something is wrong with Dom. Then, their mission to capture Dom becomes a sort of loving intervention—and it’s all displayed visually and symbolically through their cars. When the team corners Dom, they shoot grappling hooks into his car as they desperately try to clamp him down and figure out what’s wrong. When Dom is about to be consumed by flames, the team skids their cars in front of Dom to protect him. And at the end of the movie, when Dom names his newborn son Brian, his new family becomes an extension of his old one.
And now we see all those visual displays of the power of family carrying into Hobbs & Shaw. When Shaw hides his sister from the police, it’s his way of mending years of broken familial relationships. And when Hobbs’ brothers and cousins link their cars together to keep Shaw’s sister from being kidnapped, they’re displaying their commitment to one another. Like the other Fast and Furious films, the family dynamics are shown rather than told. And we get to bask in the visually arresting, cinematic glory of it all—this is the way action films should be.
That, in turn, becomes motivation for anyone looking to understand their role in their own family—and that’s whatever family you create. Whether it’s with your wife or husband, with your childhood friends, with your surf buddies, with your co-workers, you can better yourself and the people around you when you think of them as family. You can be conscious of the dynamics between everyone and how you can improve them. And as you improve those dynamics and strengthen those familial bonds, you’ll all become happier, more fulfilled individuals.