In August, the ninth Fast & Furious film will rumble a NOS-induced roar and elbow its way into cinemas.
Nothing can stop this fast-driving, fast-living film franchise that initially began life as a scrappy action movie about drag racing and now feels more like the bastard child of Jason Bourne and James Bond.
Can you blame them? Collectively, the eight Fast & Furious movies have made more than USD$3.9 billion at the box office.
Every year, there will be a new Fast & Furious movie to see. It is known.
But when that ninth movie — this time a spin-off called Hobbs & Shaw — hits cinemas in August, it won't star all of the franchise's most recognisable names.
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson will return as Agent Hobbs, who will face off against his frenemy Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham.
But there's something rotten in the state of illegal Los Angeles street car races. Oh, that's right, there's no Vin Diesel, the Fast & Furious' esteemed longtime star and producer.
His absence is pointed. Rumour has it, Diesel and Johnson — two of Hollywood's most bankable, most beefed-up movie stars — can't stand the sight of each other after making four Fast & Furious movies together.
But where did it all go wrong? And what is the truth about this bitter feud?
THE FEUD BEGINS
When Johnson joined the Fast & Furious franchise 2011, it was as a result of some savvy decision making on behalf of Diesel and the other producers.
In 2011, Johnson's star was still coasting on the enormous goodwill of his wrestling career. The fans loved him, and he was beginning to prove himself in movie roles.
The character of Hobbs was originally written for Tommy Lee Jones, more of a surly Agent K in Men in Black-type, rather than the lean, mean law-enforcing machine that Johnson turned it into.
"The reason why we brought Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five was because of you," Diesel said in a Facebook video addressing the series' fans. "He shined in it."
After making four movies together, however, something soured between Johnson and Diesel.
In 2016, on the set of Fate of the Furious, the eighth instalment of the franchise and the first after the death of Paul Walker, rumours of a feud between Johnson and Diesel leaked into the media.
Johnson was behaving like a diva, sources told People magazine, turning up late to set, and Diesel was devoting more time to script revisions and late-night meetings with producers than his acting. (In the past, Diesel has been rumoured to be incredibly hands-on with directors, holding up production as he questioned every component of a scene.)
And then came the Instagram post. Shared on 6 August and since deleted, Johnson initially used it to praise his female co-stars, production crew and the team at Universal Studios for their hard work on the movie. But there was one male co-star was making his blood boil, and he wasn't afraid to let everyone know.
"Some [male co-stars] conduct themselves as stand up men and true professionals, while others don't," the Instagram caption read. "The ones that don't are too chicken sh*t to do anything about it anyway. Candy asses."
"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, you're right," he added.
Some male co-stars! Who could he be referring to? Not the affable Ludacris, surely? What about Tyrese Gibson, Kurt Russell or Scott Eastwood? Or could it be … Vin Diesel?
JOHNSON VS DIESEL
It was Diesel.
Though initially neither man confirmed it, both kept stoking the fire of the feud in ways that caused many cynics to wonder if it was all an elaborate ruse to stir press interest in the film. Johnson shared an Instagram post in which he thanked almost everyone involved in the movie by name except for Diesel.
Then Diesel took to Facebook to tell fans that he would tell them "everything" they wanted to know about the feud.
Later, in an interview, Diesel said that the battle between the pair had been blown entirely out of proportion. "It's not always easy being an alpha," he told USA Today. "And it's two alphas. Being an alpha is sometimes a pain in the [ass]."
Vin Diesel's character enjoyed staunching up to Dwayne Johnson's in certain film scenes (above), but the antics reportedly continued off-screen, as the two traded jabs in various press interviews. Picture: Supplied.
Vin Diesel's character enjoyed staunching up to Dwayne Johnson's in certain film scenes (above), but the antics reportedly continued off-screen, as the two traded jabs in various press interviews. Picture: Supplied.Source:AP
On the red carpet, Diesel took a measured approach, telling reporters that he saw Johnson as family no matter the fighting going on behind the scenes.
Speaking to USA Today, Diesel added: "I protect the franchise. I protect everybody including Dwayne. I protected Dwayne more than he'll ever know. And it doesn't matter. He doesn't have to know. But he appreciates it. He knows it. Dwayne has only got one Vin in his life. Dwayne Johnson only has one big brother in this film world and that's me."
Johnson didn't appear to share Diesel's views. Speaking to Rolling Stone, he blasted Diesel and his "approach" to making movies.
"We were not in any scenes together [in Fate of the Furious]," Johnson told Rolling Stone. "Vin and I had a few discussions, including an important face-to-face in my trailer. And what I came to realise is that we have a fundamental difference in philosophies on how we approach moviemaking and collaborating. It took me some time, but I'm grateful for that clarity. Whether we work together again or not."
Ice cold! Surely that is the end of it, right? Wrong. Johnson went on to say that the beef not only lives on, it's sizzling away.
"I wish [him] all the best and I harbour no ill will there, just because of the clarity we have," Johnson said. "Actually, you can erase that last part about 'no ill will.' We'll just keep it with the clarity."
TYRESE GIBSON WEIGHS IN
It wouldn't be an issue relating to Fast & Furious without Tyrese Gibson weighing in.
As Roman Pierce, Gibson has been providing comedic relief in the franchise since he first joined in 2 Fast 2 Furious. But Pierce isn't exactly a fan favourite, especially in relation to the more popular characters of Hobbs, Dominic Toretto (Diesel) or even newcomer Deckard.
But that hasn't stopped him adding his two cents to the feud at every available opportunity.
First, Gibson shared a lengthy Instagram post, which he quickly deleted, defending Johnson and calling him "my brother".
"I don't know WHO he has a problem and I don't have any details of WHAT those problems are — as a matter of fact if I DID know I would tell you sh*t!!!" Gibson wrote, somewhat unhelpfully.
But Gibson quickly changed his tune. By October 2017 he was railing against Johnson on social media for delaying production on Furious 9 because of his spin-off movie Hobbs & Shaw. "I'm sorry to announce that if Dewayne [sic] is in Fast9 there be no more Roman Peirce [sic]," Gibson wrote. "You mess with my family and my daughter's survival I mess with yours."
It was all about Johnson's desire to tell a stand-alone Hobbs (& Shaw) movie, it seems.
In a now-deleted Instagram comment, Gibson wrote: "If you move forward with that #Hobbs movies you will have purposely ignored the heart to heart moment we had in my sprinter … I'm on your timeline cause you're not responding to my text messages. #FastFamily is just that a family … … We don't fly solo."
Move forward with Hobbs & Shaw is exactly what Johnson did, and in 2018 he had expressed his disappointment in Gibson for taking his frustrations to social media.
"We haven't talked at all," he said on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen. "That whole thing with Tyrese was pretty disappointing. A beef requires two people to actually jump in it and it was really one-sided, and he had voices his opinion a lot on social media."
Maybe it was Gibson who was a candy ass, and not Diesel, after all?
FUTURE OF THE FRANCHISE?
Either way, Gibson is getting what he wants: Johnson is not returning to the franchise for Fast 9.
In January, he confirmed that: "As of now, we're not in Fast 9 because they're getting ready to start shooting."
By 'we' he means both his character Hobbs and Statham's character Shaw. They were too busy completing production on their own movie, spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, alongside a killer cast that included Helen Mirren as Shaw matriarch Magdalene Shaw, Vanessa Kirby as MI6 agent Hattie Shaw, Deckard's younger sister, and no less than Idris Elba as Brixton Lore, a genetically-enhanced global terrorist and all-round bad guy. The movie's release this August is about as hyped as film franchises get.
Johnson did, however, add that he wouldn't rule out returning to the main franchise for a bit of mano-a-mano conflict resolution with Dominic.
"Who knows with Fast 10 and down the road, you never know. Because look at the end of the day, the truth is there's unfinished business between Hobbs and Dom. It's unfinished."
So, too, it would seem, is the business between Diesel and Johnson.
Let's hope these candy assed-brothers can work out their differences some time soon.
The world's best film franchise depends on it.