One of the great joys of the Fast and the Furious franchise has been watching the filmmakers top themselves in each entry with car-driven action. The Fate of the Furious goes as far as having the good guys take on a Russian submarine so they can stop World War III.

With two more films already announced, the question now can only be: What on Earth will Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and the rest of the cast do in the ninth film?

Now that you’ve seen The Fate of the Furious, you know a couple of big new developments: First, Dominic Toretto is a father, from his now-ill-fated relationship with DSS agent Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky). Second, and perhaps more importantly: Charlize Theron’s nefarious hacker Cipher avoided capture or death at the end of the eighth film. It’s hard to imagine Theron not returning in a future entry to cause some kind of trouble for Dom and his family.

The easy joke is to say, “Well, now they have to go to outer space.” Even series screenwriter Chris Morgan acknowledged the suggestion, replying that if he “had something so good,” he’d consider sending Dom and friends to the stars. He hinted at an unexpected crossover there, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with the Riddick series, but here’s another idea. For the ninth film, have Dom, Luke Hobbs, Letty, and the others go to space in an Armageddon-style situation.

Imagine it: Cipher has holed up somewhere secret and broken into the mainframe of various nations’ and corporations’ satellites. Unless she gets as much power and money as she desires, she’ll make the world go dark. Maybe, even worse, she could figure out a way to draw debris floating in space towards Earth, utilizing the satellites as a series of magnets. (The Neil DeGrasse Tysons of the world would quibble with the hard science of this storyline.)

Only Dom and his family have fought Cipher and survived to tell the tale, so who better to stop an asteroid, or a series of asteroids, from decimating the planet? Here, the motivating factor to stop Cipher wouldn’t need any further explanation; in Fate, it’s established that Dom is only working for Cipher to ensure the safety of his infant son, but if the entire world is at stake, that should be good enough for our heroes. And since Cipher spent most of Fate in a plane, it only makes sense she'll be in some sort of space station in Fast 9.

Of course, should the filmmakers and cast pursue this line of thinking, it leads to another inevitable question: What do you possibly do for Fast and Furious X? (You have to assume they’ll start employing Roman numerals in the titles soon.) Where could Dom and the family go after space? The best answer may be to expand the genre the Fast and the Furious series occupies. What was once a car-driven take on Point Break morphed into heist movies by the time of 2009’s Fast and Furious, and has since morphed into a James Bond-esque franchise. Taking the family into space pushes them into science-fiction, but in bringing them back to Earth, Universal Pictures could push them into another genre: action-horror.

Later this summer, the studio is going to begin building out its monster-movie universe with a reboot of The Mummy, in which Tom Cruise will not only tangle with an Egyptian mummy but Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) himself. The intent is clear: Universal wants to turn characters like Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, the Mummy and the Wolfman into the equivalent of the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. Should that experiment be successful, why not go a step further, and crossover with the Fast and the Furious franchise?

Of course this idea is ridiculous: Squaring off with criminal masterminds is one thing, but doing so with the Wolfman and the Mummy is entirely different. But even in the eight Fast and the Furious films, the action is rarely less than insane, not to mention the operatic twists and turns of the character dynamics. These people have gone from rogue drivers stealing electronics to government agents working to stop a nuclear war. In 2001, when Vin Diesel and Paul Walker were racing each other so the former could evade arrest from the LAPD, facing off against Universal’s monsters would have seemed insane. In 2017, it’s a lot closer to reality. (The series’ longtime producer, Neal H. Moritz, also produces the 21 Jump Street films, which at one time was going to crossover with Men in Black. Anything can happen.)

Think of it: This could sate Diesel’s clear desire to indulge in genre fare like The Chronicles of Riddick and Guardians of the Galaxy. Plus, it would be a hoot to see Dom and Luke and Letty battle the Wolfman. The logistics of how it all goes down might seem shaky, but a world where a hacker can take control of cars, missiles and submarines could easily be a world where monsters lurk beneath the surface.

The challenge is set for F&F writer Chris Morgan, the rest of the crew and castmembers like Diesel. Topping the action in The Fate of the Furious will be difficult, and bringing the characters into a shared universe the right way would be even more challenging, as Dominic Toretto and his family must be more than pawns in a larger realm. It won’t be easy, but these movies thrive on the impossible. Truly thinking outside the box is the only way to top what’s come before.

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) lives life a quarter-mile at a time — and he doesn’t like to look back. But with the release of The Fate of the Furious — the first film in the high-octane franchise not to feature late star Paul Walker — it’s hard not to take a look back at where it all began.

In preparation for Fate, I watched 2001's The Fast and the Furious, the film that jump-started one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises. And I must admit, viewing Fast right before seeing the new adventures of Dom and his expanded crew is a whiplash-inducing experience.

The word, “family,” for instance, is now the core of the series; the premise of Fate of the Furious is that Dom has inexplicably betrayed his family to do the bidding of an enigmatic, all-powerful hacker named Cipher (Charlize Theron). The theme of family is front and center. But in the Rob Cohen-directed original, the word “family” is only uttered twice, and both times by characters who appear just in the first film: the boss of Walker's undercover LAPD officer Brian O’Conner and the thuggish Johnny Tran (Rick Yune).

Yes, family is still a driving factor for Dom, his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). But the word itself isn’t mentioned over and over again as it is in Fate of the Furious, written by frequent F&F screenwriter Chris Morgan. (It wasn't until Morgan's Fast & Furious 6 that family became the franchise's buzzword.)

In Fate, Theron’s Cipher knows all too well that family is Dom’s Achilles' heel, with her suggesting that it’s a lie that Dom’s brain uses to survive each quarter-mile; she even subverts the idea of family, suggesting to Dom that he only loves to race because it’s the only place where he’s free of family.

Fate talks the talk, but it oddly is less willing to embody the loyalty Dom has embraced in past entries. In Fate, we eventually learn why Dom is betraying his family, without fully grasping why he couldn’t tell them that he’s working for the enemy. Similarly, the new film allows us to see baddie Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) as a nuanced character instead of a one-dimensional villain. But this movie glosses over what made Deckard was so nasty in Furious 7: He killed Han (Sung Kang), a member of Dom’s “family.” Yet Deckard is accepted into the fold — and rather quickly. As Dom has said before, you never turn your back on family, so why would all be forgiven?

As the franchise has become more focused on paying lip service to family, it's also strangely become more impersonal, no more so than with Fate of the Furious. Directors Justin Lin, James Wan and now F. Gary Gray have chosen to focus on action, attempting to top themselves with each new film. Cohen’s original had a few notable setpieces, specifically a heist-turned-rescue on a two-lane highway. The most ridiculous flourish, perhaps, is when both Dom and Brian were able to separately outdrive an oncoming train in the final scene.

As the series has progressed, action setpieces have piled on top of each other like the crashing cars in those scenes. There's even a visual homage to Dom and Brian outrunning the train in Fate — when Dom evades a heat-seeking missile with his souped-up car during a battle with a Russian submarine. That sentence alone suggests how vastly different Fate is from The Fast and the Furious: In the latest movie, our heroes take on submarines and missiles, and win.

This approach is symptomatic of most sequels: It has to be like its predecessor, but bigger. After seven movies where Dom, Brian and a crew of criminals and federal agents take on an endless supply of bad guys, why notavert World War III in their cars?

But with Fate, it's more apparent than ever that Walker truly was irreplaceable — the magic he brought to the screen can't be replicated, nor can the chemistry between Diesel’s Dom and Walker’s Brian. Part of why Furious 7 felt so cathartic was its functioning as a belated swan song for Walker, sending him off as emotionally as possible. With Walker gone, the series has been smart to avoid an attempt to replicate that chemistry with Diesel and, say, Dwayne Johnson or Statham.

Yes, there's a tribute to Walker in this film, but the hole left by that missing Dom/Brian bromance is felt throughout Fate with nothing to replace it or anchor the film. Dom spends so much time separated from the rest of his crew in Fate to the point where Diesel feels like he’s in a different movie. We get more of Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) joking around, and the burgeoning, begrudging friendship between Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw. Neither duo, though, can hope to match the connection Dom and Brian shared through seven films. The original film is pitched at a lower key, but it feels truer to the spirit of the franchise than Fatedoes.
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