Beyond the Memes: ‘F9’ Reminds its Furious Fanbase Why Vin Diesel is One of a Kind

A fan who suggests a globetrotting franchise can’t carry on following the real-life demise of one of its lead actors renders themselves undeserving of die-hard categorization. And a fan who tears down their posters and reduces the state of the film series to feature-length “meme-fodder” before even having seen its latest entry is no fan at all.

Did Vin Diesel ever claim to be anything more than an entertainer who knows his customers as well as he knows himself? No, yet he’s spent recent days becoming a proverbial punchline. Despite overwhelming evidence supporting that he is, and should be, considered anything but. Its principal star from the very beginning back in 2001, Diesel helped relaunch the action mainstay in a set-controlling producer-based capacity at the turn of last decade.

His lateral move up the industry chain first began in 1995 when he burst upon the scene “Multifacial” – a short film written and directed by, and starring Diesel. A commentary on his then-struggles as an unproven multiracial actor trapped in the purgatorial nature of auditioning, the film screened at the Cannes Film Festival, where it caught the eye of one Steven Spielberg. In a few years’ time, Diesel had both a supporting role in the Oscar-winning director’s “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) and a starring effort as the titular robot/superhero in “The Iron Giant” (1999) under his belt. Experiences that planted the early seeds for who’d eventually become a project-leading jack-of-all-trades, ever in full bloom.

A public feud with Dwayne “The Rock ‘’ Johnson notwithstanding, Diesel’s rapport with his “Fast and Furious” co-stars mirrors the same close-knit “family” camaraderie depicted on-screen. Michelle Rodriguez, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson and more return once again in “F9: The Furious Saga.” This time, the “Fast” team takes on their latest in a running slew of formidable foes: Jakob (John Cena), a high-performance driver aligned with nefarious assassins, thieves and terrorist networks – and who’s also the conveniently never-before-mentioned estranged younger brother of Diesel’s Dominic Toretto.

The crew did anything but pump the breaks in their most recent outing. “F9” fills the considerable hole left by the departure of Hobbs (The Rock) and Shaw (Jason Statham), who spun-off to front their own enterprise in 2019 with the aptly-titled “Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” Directed by frequent “Furious” helmer Justin Lin, the intended penultimate picture in the twenty-years-strong saga flew fresh to the finish line via the incorporation of style-defying time-jumps, flashbacks and dream sequences. At the same time, the film retained its typical flair for shock-and-awe that’s led many to often equate the series with its superhero film, fellow-blockbusting counterparts. Namely, a mid-credit sequence reveals a key player from earlier films, inspiring renewed interest among Internet users actively deep-dive dissecting and predicting what’s to come next.

“Furious 7” (2015) was “For Paul [Walker, who starred as Brian O’Conner in most of the franchise’s releases before perishing in a single-vehicle collision in 2013].” “The Fate of the Furious’’ (2017) was “From Paul.” “F9” does not forget Paul. In fact, it features Paul.
First teased in the new film’s trailer that aired during the Super Bowl in February, Walker’s since-been-retired character – albeit, his face unshown for obvious reasons – seemingly pulls up in his signature 2002 Nissan Skyline GT-R R34.

See the film to find out exactly when, and in what context his chill-inducing re-emergence takes place. A tastefully-executed reminder to all those who’ve balked at the concept of a film or TV series daring to attempt powering forward in the absence of one of its stars due to unforeseen circumstances. For as in real life, “F9,” the pair of films that preceded it, the future installment and so forth all demonstrate that, even in death, the show must go on.

Under Diesel’s care, the show is most definitely in good hands. And thankfully, as of “F9,” the show is also in outer space. Yes, you read that right. The franchise’s decision to take to the skies, while warmly received by devotees, has been maligned by the “jump the shark” non-believing population; movie cynics not as quick to romanticize the act of drinking coronas at the backyard barbecue as they once were, if ever at all. Now, the more Diesel leans into the singular value that has turned him into a “damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t” posterchild target for all things mockery, spectators on the outside looking in continually fail to confront a glaring but-nevertheless-certain reality.

“F9: The Furious Saga” has raked in $544 million at the box office – and counting – against a $200 million-plus budget. Memers: who’s laughing now?

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Mike Reistetter, former Editor in Chief, is now a guest contributor to The Messenger Papers. Mike's current career in film production allows for his unique outlook on entertainment writing. Mike has won second place in "Best Editorials" at the New York Press Association 2022 Better Newspaper Contest.