Warning: This post contains big spoilers for The Fate of the Furious.
When every other word out of your mouth is “family,” you’re pretty much fated to become a dad. And, sure enough, Dominic Toretto’s newfound fatherhood is the big twist at the center of The Fate of the Furious, which sees him switching allegiances from his crew of street racers–turned–superheroes to the cunning cyber warrior Cipher (Charlize Theron). Contrary to what the early trailers have shown (and what Vin Diesel has suggested), it’s not Cipher’s kiss that has Dom under her spell. Rather, she’s secured his services by kidnapping…well, his kid — a baby boy brought into this world by former flame Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), the Brazilian police officer who temporarily filled the Letty-sized hole in Dom’s heart back when his longtime lover (and, as it later turned out, wife) was missing and presumed dead. That development takes a tragic turn and, in the process, does a major disservice to one of the franchise’s strongest female characters.
Elena and Dom’s romance may have been short-lived in terms of screen time — they got together at the end of 2011’s Fast Five, and were basically splitsville the moment Letty raced back onto the scene in Fast & Furious 6 — but they were always well-matched in terms of capability and chemistry. At the start of The Fate of the Furious, Dom is blissfully unaware that there’s a mini-Dom in the world until Cipher confronts him while he and Letty are enjoying an overdue Havana honeymoon. Her initial overture to him involves a picture on a cell phone — presumably of mother and child — that we’re not privy to seeing; instead, the viewer gets our first look at the kid when Dom is aboard Cipher’s tricked-out airplane. Ushered into a walled-off cell in the back of the plane, he greets an imprisoned Elena, who introduces him to his child. (Giving the boy a first name is an honor, she says, she’s saved for the father.) As Cipher explains it, the terms of his employment are starkly simple: Work for me or your former flame, not to mention your only child, dies.
Dom’s “boss” proves she’s not kidding around in a jarringly violent moment that’s discordant with the franchise’s usual pursuit of more ridiculous thrills. Presented with the opportunity to kill Letty on the streets of Manhattan following a free-for-all zombie car chase, Dom refuses and Cipher takes note of that dereliction of duty. Once he’s back onboard the plane, she forces him to watch while Elena, gagged and tied to a chair, is executed by a bullet fired at point blank range. To make the scene even darker and more upsetting, their son is in the room at the same time his mother is murdered in cold blood, and the anguish on his young face is as painful for us to witness as it is for Dom.
Already seeking a way to escape from under Cipher’s thumb, the suddenly single father steps up his plans after Elena’s murder and choreographs an elaborate rescue operation that culminates with unlikely ally Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) playing babysitter and executioner at the same time. Invading the plane with his younger brother Owen (Luke Evans) in tow, Shaw plops the child in a carrier and handily dispatches wave after wave of henchmen, while Dom’s kid, whose ears are mercifully shielded from the gunplay this time, grins, gurgles and listens to the Chipmunks. With Cipher vanquished, Dom enjoys a father and child reunion on a Manhattan rooftop surrounded by his extended family, including Letty, who embraces her husband and her new life as a (step)mom. It’s in this setting that Dom has the bright idea to name his son — what else? — Brian, after retired teammate Brian O’Conner, played by the late Paul Walker. It’s a tender tribute to one of the franchise’s founding characters and ensures that, going forward, Dom will always have a Brian riding shotgun.
The sweetness of that finale, however, doesn’t offset the sour taste of Elena’s brutal exit from the series. In comic book parlance, there’s a word for this kind of violent dispatching of a prominent female character: “fridging.” It’s an outgrowth of a observation made by prolific comics author Gail Simone, who noted with dismay that female superheroes, as well as the wives and/or girlfriends of male superheroes, too often meet needlessly violent ends for the sole purpose of furthering the development of the male character. (Simone listed her findings on the website “Women in Refrigerators,” named for one such unlucky female victim, whose dead body was stuffed into an icebox for her boyfriend, Green Lantern, to find.)
It’s not difficult to understand why the makers of The Fate of the Furious thought it necessary to dispatch Elena for the plot; beyond giving Dom extra motivation to take down Cipher, they wisely wanted to avoid a Dom-Letty-Elena love triangle. But a stay of execution would have been the more creative choice and could still have resulted in a satisfying finish. Perhaps young Brian could have enjoyed a bi-continental upbringing, splitting time between his mom’s native Brazil and whatever country his father happened to be performing crazy stunts in. Or maybe Elena and former DSS partner Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) could take point on the next world-saving mission and leave Dom at home to handle diapers and naptime. (It’s not like Diesel doesn’t have babysitting experience.) Even if she joined Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster) in permanent retirement though, it would be nice to know that Elena is still out there fighting the good fight in the wider Fast and Furious world. As it is, we left The Fate of the Furious a little furious about her ultimate fate.
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