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SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains massive spoilers for The Fate of the Furious. If you have not yet seen the film, please bookmark this page, and return to it after your screening!
In case you haven't heard, there is a certain word that has been used for many years to explain the key theme of the Fast and Furious movies: family. No matter how big the action gets, or how many countries the lead ensemble travels to, the core of the films is meant to be Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) willing to put everything on the line for those closest to him. In the latest chapter of the series, The Fate of the Furious, this idea is directly challenged, but not only because Dom finds himself nearly killing all of people he loves. It's also because the film bafflingly pretends that Sung Kang's Han Seoul-Oh -- a key character in four of the sequels -- never existed.
With the exception of the Vin Diesel cameo, Han spent a long time as the primary link between the events of The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift and the rest of the franchise -- but that was also a period he spent as a "doomed" character. Han actually dies during the events of the third chapter in the series, but because that narrative was set after the events of Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and Fast & Furious 6, he was given time on screen to become a central member of Dominic Toretto's family. You'd think that all this history would mean something to the group, but it doesn't seem that way watching The Fate of the Furious, given that Dom never for a moment hesitates about teaming up with Han's killer, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).
While the eighth Fast & Furious movie highlights its "Han problem," it's actually an issue that has been with the franchise since Furious 7. With Deckard killing Han being featured at the very end of Fast & Furious 6, the aftermath is left to be dealt with by the next film... but it doesn't really do a satisfactory job. There is a funeral sequence with the "family" members in attendance, but once that is over and done with, the film hastily moves forward with its international adventure and never looks back. Certainly one factor playing into this choice must have been the death of Paul Walker -- which required Furious 7 to dedicate its ending as a send-off for Brian, but the issue gets much, much worse in The Fate of the Furious.
From a macro perspective, it's bad enough that Han isn't mentioned by name once in The Fate of the Furious' 136 minute runtime, but the narrative progression makes things a whole lot worse. When Deckard Shaw is introduced in the new movie, it is as an antagonist... but only because of the throw down between him and Dwayne Johnson's Luke Hobbs in the previous movie. Hobbs is plenty and understandably pissed that Shaw nearly killed both himself and his partner, and has a chip on his shoulder throughout the movie as a result (mind you his personal issues don't really involve Han) -- but the same can't be said for any other member of the main cast. Not only is there extremely limited protest from Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), or Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), but Dom formulates an entire plan around getting Shaw to help out with his personal mission. How did all of these people completely forget that the guy killed one of their best friends?
The Fate of the Furious really rubs it in with the last scene of the film, as Han's killer not only shows up for a family dinner, but does so carrying what has been established as the one thing in the world that can get Dom to betray all of his values. It's a set-up that presumably will allow Deckard Shaw to join the ensemble in their next adventure, but it's hard to see how the franchise does that without coming across as incredibly hypocritical. When we spoke with producer Neal Moritz about it recently, he had this to say:
We have always talked about the fact that every one of these guys in our movies has a code. What has always been able to bring them together is that they all have the same code. They have all been on different sides, against each other, but they understand each other because it's all family first. And Statham was doing that. So, yes - and that's something that we will probably explore in future films - but yes I do understand why people have questioned that. But that's something we're going to deal with in the future.
Even if it is brought up in whatever the ninth movie is called, how do introduce the topic without it being incredibly awkward following The Fate of the Furious? Shaw will have every right to call out Dom as a phony for everything he did in the previous adventure, and it will still come across like Dom suddenly remembers how Han died. It's easy to see the appeal of having Jason Statham as a key member of the franchise going forward, but the series has also used him to dig a seriously big whole for itself.