The Rock leaves a hard place: Was Diesel’s world just too Fast & Furious?

As Dwayne Johnson bids farewell to the full-throttle franchise, Kevin E G Perry asks: When did the muscle-bound one run out of road?

Saturday 24 July 2021 08:00
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<p>Facing off: Vin Diesel and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson square up in ‘Fast Five’</p>

Facing off: Vin Diesel and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson square up in ‘Fast Five’

You can stop The Rock. Dwayne Johnson may have entered the Fast & Furious franchise a decade ago in 2011’s Fast Five looking like an unstoppable force, but it appears he’s finally arrived at an immovable objection.

Johnson was out and about this week, hard at work promoting Disney’s latest theme-park-ride-cum-blockbuster Jungle Cruise,when he was asked by The Hollywood Reporter for his reaction to something his erstwhile sparring partner Vin Diesel said to Men’s Health back in JuneIn that interview, Diesel heavily implied that the well-publicised feud between the two men had actually been a cunning ploy on his part to summon the most convincing possible performance out of Johnson as special agent Luke Hobbs.

“It was a tough character to embody, the Hobbs character,” Diesel said. “I could give a lot of tough love. Not Felliniesque, but I would do anything I’d have to do in order to get performances in anything I’m producing.”

It’s no surprise to hear Diesel talking in these terms. The similarities between the Fast & Furiouscanon and the revelatory work of Federico Fellini are of course too numerous and obvious to mention. Who could watch the death-defying rope bridge stunt that opened this year’s F9 and not think of the figure floating over the beach at the start of 8½, anchored to the ground only by a rope around his ankle? It’s a wonder they didn’t just split the difference and call it “F8¾”.

Whether or not Johnson is a fan of classic Italian cinema, he’s certainly no fan of Vin. He reportedly said that upon reading Diesel’s “tough love” line: “I laughed and I laughed hard. I think everyone had a laugh at that. And I’ll leave it at that. And that I’ve wished them well. I wish them well on Fast 9. And I wish them the best of luck on Fast 10 and Fast 11 and the rest of the Fast & Furious movies they do that will be without me.”

The best moment in the interview arrives just after that bombshell, when Johnson’s fellow Jungle Cruise passenger Emily Blunt chimes in of Diesel: “Just thank God he was there,” to which Johnson replies simply: “Felliniesque.” I think we all know exactly what tone he said that in.

There’d long been a sense of “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” about Johnson’s relationship with Diesel. There was his infamous reference to his male co-stars as “candy asses” before it was widely reported that the pair didn’t actually shoot any scenes together in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. A combination of clever editing and a betrayal plotline served to ensure the men could share a billboard even when they weren’t prepared to share a room. In 2019, Johnson even got his own Diesel-free spin-off, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, but if his latest remarks are to be taken at face value then he’s now reached the point where he’s decided to walk away from the franchise (and the dump trucks full of money he makes from it) entirely.

While Johnson is unquestionably a huge and internationally bankable star, it’s hard to imagine the Fast & Furiousproducers (one of whom is Diesel) losing too much sleep over his departure. After nine films that have played fast and loose with chronology, physics and plausibility, losing just one out of their sea of characters doesn’t exactly limit their storytelling. Given that director Justin Lin only has two remaining sequels to wrap up the whole convoluted saga he’s probably happy to have one less thread to tie, not to mention a happier leading man.

A franchise of one’s own: The Rock in the spin-off film ‘Hobbs and Shaw’, in which Diesel did not feature

As for Johnson himself, it’s not like he needs the work. Even after getting back from his Jungle Cruise he still has action thriller Red Notice,and his own DC superhero franchise kicks off in little over a year with Black Adam. He’s also set to start work on an awards-baiting biopic of King Kamehameha, founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii, a somewhat less-awards-baiting sequel to his 2015 disaster movie San Andreas, and an “it’s-not-a-remake” remake of Big Trouble in Little China. With a schedule like that, who has time to race muscle cars?

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If Johnson ever does find himself with a hole in his schedule, it won’t last long. Just this week, Space Jam: A New Legacy director Malcolm D Lee in an interview with Entertainment Weekly floated the idea that Johnson could be just the man-mountain to lead a third instalment. “Dwayne Johnson would be an interesting choice,” said Lee. “It would be different. I’m not exactly sure what his skillset would be, maybe he goes back to wrestling.” Or maybe The Rock finally does battle with his two oldest natural enemies, paper and scissors? The possibilities really are endless.

Whatever happens, Fast & Furious cinematographers can breathe a deep sigh of relief that they’ll never again have to try to find a wide enough frame to include Johnson, Diesel and both their egos. They say divorces are never easy, but sometimes it just makes more sense than staying together for the sake of the spin-offs.

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