Just seven days after it first hit screens, ‘Fast & Furious 8’ is a smash. It’s already the fourth biggest box office hit of 2017, the fourth highest grossing entry in the turbo-charged series thus far, and has broken the opening weekend record set by ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ – and it looks entirely likely to at least match ‘Fast & Furious 7’s earth-shattering $1.5 billion takings before it’s done.
Whatever happens now, ‘Fast 8’ can comfortably be declared a bona fide commercial success… but it may leave us pondering whether or not there was ever anything ‘bona fide’ about the headline-grabbing feud between the movie’s stars Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. Were the stars really at loggerheads, or were they just stirring up publicity?
After all, following ‘Fast 8’s record-smashing opening weekend, it was swiftly reported by TMZ that the actors had settled their differences and were both “1000% in” when it comes to making ‘Fast & Furious 9’ (planned as the penultimate entry in the series) – rather giving the impression that the ‘beef’ was settled as soon as it had served its purpose.
We’ve covered the details of the feud at length already, so I won’t recount it all here, suffice to say that Johnson drew first blood with an incendiary social media post complaining of “chicken s**t,” “candy ass” male co-stars who do not “conduct themselves as stand up men and true professionals.” While Johnson didn’t name names, it was quickly surmised that Diesel was the object of his rage.
The question is, was Johnson on the level when composing this post – or, in the spirit of his WWE past, was he in character, stirring up fan anticipation for an upcoming showdown? One key sentence – “When you watch this movie next April and it seems like I’m not acting in some of these scenes and my blood is legit boiling” – might very easily be construed as a direct ad for ‘Fast 8.’
The film’s official poster art lends further credence to the notion that the feud was staged, given that it plays heavily on a parting of ways between Diesel and Johnson:
All this having been said, we might note there isn’t actually much direct conflict between Diesel’s Dominic Torretto and Johnson’s Luke Hobbs in ‘Fast 8.’ From a narrative viewpoint, it would have made a lot more sense for Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty to be the one standing behind Diesel out of focus on the poster, as the fractured relationship between those two characters is far more pivotal to the action.
On the other hand, the fact that Diesel and Johnson are barely seen alongside one another in the film would support claims that the two had to be kept apart on set, much as they are reportedly being kept apart during the film’s ongoing promotion.
Johnson instead spends more of his screen time with Jason Statham’s villain-turned-sort-of-good-guy Deckard Shaw. The films sees the characters initially butting heads before building a camaraderie; so much so that it was reported that a spin-off movie centred on Hobbs and Shaw had been considered, and that a scene had been shot hinting at this before Diesel reportedly demanded its removal. Of course, if we assume the feud to be a publicity stunt, we might also assume this to have been part of it.
So was it all just for show? It would hardly be the first time action heroes have played up animosity for the benefit of the press: take the one-time arch rivals turned BFFs Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, who famously clashed on the red carpet for ‘Universal Soldier’ (see the video below).
If Vin vs Dwayne was just a PR stunt, it clearly worked given the money ‘Fast 8’ is raking in. Yet even if it wasn’t for real, it’s hard to envisage either Diesel or Johnson openly admitting as much anytime soon. After all, there are two more ‘Fast & Furious’ films planned before they finally put the series to bed, and this level of speculation could doubtless serve them well on Parts 9 and 10.