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If you could use a time machine to take the latest Fast and Furious movie back to 2001 when the first film debuted, the original fans likely wouldn't even recognize it. Every installment in the series has moved Dominic Toretto and his crew further away from their street racing roots, but it seems that this shift has been wholly intentional. In fact, series star Vin Diesel recently spoke out about it in the special features section of The Fate of the Furious Blu-ray release, and he admitted that the increasingly grand stakes of the franchise have forced street racing to take a backseat in favor of the global plots. The actor explained:
Our characters have evolved to kind of 'save the world' status that it's hard to justify a race anymore in this universe. So we were adamant about trying to find the perfect place to set that up, and the idea that we were able to make this race about honor was such a cool thing and such a throwback to the first one ironically.
The fact that The Fate of the Furious opens on a badass race through the streets of Havana, Cuba is very much by design. F. Gary Gray and Vin Diesel recognized that the series no longer centers on grounded and gritty drag racers, but they felt the urge to include this sequence as an homage to what the franchise used to be. From there, The Fate of the Furious had the freedom to branch out and embrace its new direction: high stakes espionage and potentially apocalyptic scenarios. It's a compelling blend of old and new, and it perfectly showcased how this franchise can move on from racing as a central plot element while keeping it around to inform the world of the characters.
Purists may contest the direction of the Fast and Furious franchise, but the overwhelming success of The Fate of the Furious seems to indicate that mainstream audiences have enjoyed the shift. Street racing isn't the most sustainable long-term premise for a blockbuster franchise, so the fact that these films continuously break their old mold and reinvent themselves into a series of escalating heist/global espionage storylines is nothing less than admirable. Besides, cars are still a fundamental part of the world; they've merely made a bizarre transition from traditional racing vehicles to multi-tools that serve the needs of any given action sequence.
With this shift in direction, the Fast and Furious franchise has also seen a notable change in character focus. There's no question that Dom remains the central hero of the series, but The Fate of the Furious also established the possibility of other characters branching out into their own unique corners of this universe. One of the most prominent ideas in that regard is the concept of a possible spin-off focusing on Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). While no official plans for such a film have received an announcement just yet, such a project would only take the Fast and Furious series even further away from its traditional roots on the streets. Some franchises fail because they refuse to evolve, but that's clearly not a problem faced by these films.