Something that I threw together for the FastTrans zine organized by Gender Reveal. It didn’t get accepted, but I had fun with it!
We shall live eternal, shiny and chrome, Or, There’s no true death in Valhalla: Auto(motive)-gender, the liminal road, and the resurrective potential of the engines (of capitalism) in Fast & Furious and Mad Max: Fury Road
In my humble opinion, the only good joke Family Guy ever made was that explicit sex scenes were filmed for each Fast & Furious movie involving Dom and Brian due to both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker (RIP) wanting them in the films, but those scenes were always cut prior to release. One of my favorite jokes about the upcoming Fast X – which should have been called Fast-Ten Your Seatbelts – is that it’ll be the movie where Dom finally gets to fuck a car on-screen (I refuse to write this fanfic).
I somehow managed to watch The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) on my iPod Classic (so maybe this was in 2008? 2009?) without ever encountering the other movies. And then the pandemic happened, I wound up quarantining with a movie buff, and one of the series that we watched was Fast & Furious. I now understand why I didn’t continue with the series, but the pandemic was also maybe the perfect time to watch these gloriously fun, funny, goofy, earnest films. Like another (inferior) Jason Statham role, the trials and travails of Dom and his family transport you to a world where family is everything, cars can fly, physics is merely a suggestion, and the world can be saved by cool people driving really fast.
Shifting gears to the actual focus of this essay, movies can be comforting. Rewatching movies can be especially comforting: knowing what happens when, how characters will react, how the good guys manage to save the day (or at least survive) and defeat the bad guys…for now. Until the next movie in the franchise, or the next rewatch. Characters who die in the course of the action to motivate the other heroes (and perhaps make viewers cry ugly tears) are resurrected: bullets sucked back into guns, knives stitching up wounds, explosions removing shrapnel, cars righting themselves. Han is no longer dead, Gisele hasn’t sacrificed herself, Furiosa hasn’t been stabbed, and Nux still believes in Immortan Joe – that’s right, I haven’t completely forgotten about my overly complicated title. Of course, Han’s death has already been fully retconned away and it looks like they might do the same for Gisele (time will tell).
One of the criticisms that’s been leveled against Mad Max: Fury Road is that Immortan Joe is a cartoonish caricature of the patriarchal worldview. To which I would respond: yes, it’s a movie with another character named The Bullet Farmer who shoots a lot of guns, and George Miller and co. clearly decided that subtlety was for cowards. The, uh, overt sexuality of the Fast & Furious has also received its share of press; every franchise entry apparently must have at least one lingering shot of a woman’s ass that then pans to stare equally lustily at the car behind her. Fast & Furious seems wholly uninterested in interrogating or challenging gender, which of course means that the increasingly ludicrous levels of muscles displayed by aging stars and the absurdly dated relationship dynamics are all the more telling (shoutout also to the incredible fact that, canonically, something called Race Wars exists in the franchise’s world). Mad Max: Fury Road is a gloriously clear fuck-you to the patriarchy, but is also uninterested in challenging the gender binary. (It is my humble, tangential contribution that both Furiosa and Max are ace-aro)
The unravelling capitalist hellscape in which we live simply can’t leave well enough alone. Just witness the somehow-still-ongoing cavalcade of remakes, decades-later sequels, prequels, TV series continuations. You name it, someone with a financial interest will try to make it into a franchise. Not incidentally, this is part of what makes Fast & Furious noteworthy; it’s an organically developed franchise that doesn’t draw on existing intellectual property. Also worth noting that because I’m the one writing this essay, I do not include Mad Max: Fury Road in my critique of the franchise resurrection practice because (1) it’s actually good and (2) it stands on its own as a great movie.
Although Tom Hardy is apparently an asshole (Charlize Theron has talked about this in interviews), Max is self-effacing to the point of invisibility. One of my favorite “critiques” of one of the film’s posters was that Max appearing in his blood-bag metal mask on a lower plane than Furiosa was emasculating. The same can never be said of Dom, or Brian, or Hobbs, or [insert name of any male protagonist character here].
I’ve probably rambled long enough at this point, so I’ll wrap up briefly by saying that these are both franchises which I deeply appreciate in spite of their (sometimes extremely) problematic people and associations – looking at you, Mel Gibson – and which constitute intriguing and entertaining explorations of the allure of the open road.