For Dom it was always about family. But many other things have changed.
One of the hardest things for writers and directors is not just following a character in one movie, but moving them through multiple films. Not only does your arc have to match everything we’ve learned, but we have to see the characters continue to grow.
Sometimes it works out well with someone like Michael Corleone, and there are many stories to tell. Sometimes you have to keep reinventing the character with someone like James Bond or just never acknowledge that there is something he can learn, just more adventure for him.
What if I told you that one of the greatest continuous character arcs of all time was actually in the Fast and Furious Movies?
Yes, Vin Diesel’s work is Dom Toretto, a character who has changed in nine separate films. Someone who is forced to repeatedly grapple with the past, present and future. Each film takes Dom to a new place, and each film tests him until it grows.
Dom Toretto has one of the best character arcs of all time
When we meet Dom Toretto in the first film, he already thinks he is the king of the streets and pays him respect. But as the film progresses, we see how little control Dom exudes over his realm. Rival gangs blow up his car, kill his friends, and he’s not even smart enough to track down a cop in his midst. Instead of going back to jail, at the end of the film Dom is allowed to run to live a life of regret, one deeper than he has already done because he was a mechanic and became an outcast from the racing scene.
We don’t see Dom again in the films until we catch a glimpse of him in the third film and he comes back to the fore in the fourth film. Dom is a die-hard criminal now. He no longer steals DVD players, but works with a crew to steal tank trucks. His actions there lead to the death of his girlfriend Letty.
Dom takes this anger and makes it inside. We heard him talk about “family” in the first film, but this is the first time he’s actually embraced the idea. In the first film he selfishly uses his family to rob trucks, now he understands that he led them into this life and has to make amends and get revenge for Letty.
When Dom moves into the fifth film, he has to come to terms with the fact that his friends are now on the run because of him. They are international refugees whom he has brought into a criminal life. Dom wrestles with it, his bow for this particular film takes her from criminals to heroes. People who bring down a cartel with a stranglehold on the country.
From criminal to hero
This is a big moment for the franchise, and it’s seen through Dom’s eyes. He is no longer part of the criminal underworld. And when we enter the sixth film, he and his friends struggle to be completely exonerated, ready to risk their lives for the sake of goodness.
Letty is back too, and Dom was previously partially acquitted of her death. He does this by saving her life and trying to help her remember what it is to be part of the family. He doesn’t do this with brute force, but with sensitivity, a new layer that we’ve never really seen. As Dom reconciles his feelings for Letty, we also see him grow as a man. He begins to understand that family is an evolving word. Not just about the people you grew up with, but also about the people you consistently bring into your life. This contributes to the event film.
The seventh, which tragically dealt with the death of Paul Walker, contrasted that loss with Dom’s development as a person. It’s a movie about him letting go of Brian, his partner in crime, and heroism.
When Brian sets off to start his family, Dom is directly concerned with the idea that families don’t always stay under one roof, but rather spread their wings. He wants Brian to lead a life he believes he was denied as a younger man.
An extension of the family
The eighth film is a direct continuation of this process as we believe Dom is returning to his criminal life. Why return to this dark place? Why turn on the family?
Well, we’re getting a complete undermining of Dom’s core belief. He has to draw blood on the family. Blood in the form of his son who was born without his knowledge and is now being used as leverage by a villain. Dom is no longer the same. Now he must capitalize on his friends’ weaknesses and make up with them in order to find a way to reunite his entire family at the end of the film.
And lest you think he’s done investigating the family, his long-lost brother comes to the fore again in the ninth film in the franchise. Once again, Dom has to wonder whether or not family means blood, or whether it means the people you want to build your life with … or even a little bit of both. We see Dom examine his past even more closely and face the pain of betrayal that has haunted him for decades.
In the ninth film, the idea is added that Dom has achieved what he wanted, a quiet and perfect life. Something he thought he would always miss.
Where are you going in the future?
The entire ninth film forces Dom to reconcile his beliefs and regrets with the reappearance of his brother while trying to stay out of the action.
If you’d told me that the guy who was grieving in the first movie was suddenly looking for a way to lead a quiet, almost suburban life with a family in the ninth, I would have said you were crazy. But you need the necessary leaps in the storm and the chapters in which he sees different worlds and enemies in order to see Dom at work on himself and become the hero we saw in the first chapter.
Where can the authors take the cathedral? Who knows. But they have done an amazing job so far, twisting his views on life, love, and family to meet the needs of an ever-changing character. That is an achievement in itself.
Did you see F9 still? Let me know what you think in the comments.