ST. LOUIS — Ten years ago, Vin Diesel recruited Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to appear in his popular "Fast & Furious" franchise for Universal. Brought on as the law wall standing between Diesel's Dominic Toretto and his crew's freedom, Johnson stole the show and helped enliven a franchise that wasn't exactly firing on every cylinder before his arrival. This week, he publicly made his exit from the main franchise.
It's hard to ignore his impact. Example: Does anyone remember the general plot and bad guy in the fourth installment, "The Fast & Furious?" I do, his name was John Ortiz and the plot revolved around bringing Dom back into the fold with Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, and the late Paul Walker. But the film didn't blow the box office doors open, something Johnson's arrival very much did with 2011's "Fast Five."
For the first time in the franchise's history (dating back to 2001), Diesel's anti-hero had a proper hero to oppose him on screen. While they predictably joined forces later in the film, their mid-film fight met the hype. The Rock stuck around and the money came pouring in for the next two sequels, but the well was poisoned on the eighth installment, "The Fate of the Furious."
Johnson may have found a kindred action spirit in Jason Statham's rehabilitated baddie (he was the main heel in "Furious 7") in "Fate," but he found a combative and ego-centric Diesel as well. The feud between the two was lit during filming when Diesel failed to show up on time to set constantly and get his work in. Johnson called him out in a hilarious and direct Instagram post, and the divide was formed.
The two shared barely any scenes together in that movie, signaling the end of their partnership in the franchise. The box office accumulation for "Fate 8" wasn't affected by the split, but the headlines wouldn't stop. What happened to the greatest bromance in recent action history? Well, I don't think they were friends who had a big fight; more like business partners who had a falling out.
When you have a couple of action stars with clauses in their contract for how many times they can be punched in a fight, the odds are stacked against a long-lasting friendship. When Diesel brought the Rock into the fold, he was thinking about money and control. By having him in the movies, he was breaking box office records and making himself look good, both on screen and in the press.
After all, the "Fast and Furious" franchise is Diesel's baby. It's basically all he has these days going for him. It's not hard to understand why he would get protective over it. Unlike Johnson, most of his non-"Fast" movie attempts lately have stunk or were laughed out of the box office top ten. Diesel needs these films more than Johnson, which is a fitting reason for the Rock to depart.
In an interview this week, Johnson publicly turned down Diesel's plea on Instagram to return to the film franchise for "Fast 10." Johnson called his co-star manipulative in using his kids and the late Walker as decorative notions for his return. This was expected, especially when you consider his response to Diesel's statement that the former wrestler had to be coached into a good performance back on "Fast Five." This relationship was destroyed years ago.
Johnson is better off. Unlike Diesel, he doesn't lean on one franchise to keep his career afloat. He was the star who the fans asked Diesel to put in "Fast Five," and he showed up and knocked it out of the park. Take him out of the four films he was in, and those films become much less. Only "Furious 7," soulfully directed by James Wan as a sendoff for Walker, would have held up its end with The Rock. Otherwise, the last half of the "Fast" saga has been bolstered by his presence, not Diesel's.
The discord shouldn't be hard to miss. As Diesel has trended down, Johnson has trended way up. According to Forbes, he is the #1 movie star in Hollywood. He brings in the most bank, has a thriving production company in Seven Bucks, and just co-purchased the XFL. The Rock even churned out a highly successful "Fast" spinoff in "Hobbs and Shaw," recruiting Statham and Idris Elba for some easy going fun. Oh, Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart showed up too. It was a blast. Diesel wasn't in it for a second.
On the flipside, Diesel's pride and joy isn't doing too bad itself. "Fast 9" was the pandemic's biggest hit, grossing over $726 million worldwide, proving that audiences still fall head-over-heels for the far-fetched madness minus Johnson. But Netflix sure smelled what the Rock was cooking, making his November actioner "Red Notice" its most streamed movie ever.
Here's the thing. They don't need each other. It wasn't meant to last. Any reconciliation would now appear forced and commercially produced, so Johnson saying no to a return works just fine. "Fast 10" and "Fast 11" will do well or even very well, while Johnson will remain atop fans' hearts and Hollywood's dollar sign. As they both cruise around their late 40's and early 50's, the remorse is palpable between the two men. Maybe a showdown on the Venice boardwalk would suffice. I bet their paths will cross again, but for no longer than a photo op on the red carpet.
The bromance may have died, but all this feud did was heighten their cinematic relationship. Now, when you watch "Fast Five" and see the two men clobbering each other, you'll know they aren't friends in real life and this could actually happen. That is only bringing the make believe to life a little bit.
Personally, the "Fast and Furious" were always better with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson involved, something no one knows more than Vin Diesel.
Thanks for reading.
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