As both the long-running franchise and his career are beginning to lose steam, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is hoping to inject a much needed mainline of nitrous into each with his recently-revealed return to the Fast & Furious franchise.
This surprise development was first confirmed in the mid-credits scene to the recently released Fast X.
Therein, audiences are dropped into an in-progress raid of a theater by a heavily-armed and completely-masked unit of military operatives seeking to capture the still-fugitive Dante.
However, rather than finding their intended target, the unit instead discovers a bejeweled cellphone sitting in front of a single, solitary television set.
As the television set presents a video of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans performing their famous 1952 song ‘Happy Trails’, the phone begins to ring, prompting an agent to answer it.
“Hello partner,” growls Dante on the other side of the line. “You’ve done some dastardly, dirty deeds sheriff. You took the most important thing in my life from me.”
“Dom drove the car, but you, help me you pulled the trigger,” he continues as a clip of his father, Hernan Reyes, dying at the hands of Hobbs and Shaw in Fast Five flashes across the screen. “And now I’m gonna make you suffer.”
On cue, the room then lights up with an unsettling amount of televisions all playing the same ‘Happy Trails’ clip but at varying speeds and volume, with Dante taunting, “The devil is coming for you, lawman.”
Removing his helmet, the agent reveals himself to be Johnson’s Lucas Hobbs, who replies to Dante, “Well I ain’t hard to find, you sumb—h” – a reference to one of his classic wrestling catchphrases – before closing out the scene by crushing the cell phone in his hands.
However, as the dust eventually settled from The Rock’s surprise cameo, fans were left unsure of whether his appearance was a hint to something larger or merely a fun Easter Egg, particularly in light of his and series co-star Vin Diesel’s ongoing feud.
The beef between the two action stars first began in 2016 when The Rock, on his final week of shooting the then-in-production The Fate of the Furious, took to his Instagram to vent about how “There’s no other franchise that gets my blood boiling more than this one.”
“An incredible hard working crew,” said the actor in the now-deleted post. “UNIVERSAL has been great partners as well. My female co-stars are always amazing and I love ’em. My male co-stars however are a different story. Some conduct themselves as stand up men and true professionals, while others don’t.”
“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. “Bottom line is it’ll play great for the movie and fits this Hobbs character that’s embedded in my DNA extremely well. The producer in me is happy about this part?. Final week on FAST 8 and I’ll finish strong.”
In a follow-up post, The Rock would further declare, “you guys reading this know how much I believe in the idea of TEAM EFFORT. That means respecting every person, their time and their value when they step on to my set or partner with our production company.”
“And like with any team – that’s a family – there’s gonna be conflict,” he admitted. “Family is gonna have differences of opinion and fundamental core beliefs. To me, conflict can be a good thing, when its followed by great resolution. I was raised on healthy conflict and welcome it. And like any family, we get better from it. At the end of the day me and #F8 co-stars all agree on the most important thing: Delivering an incredible movie to the world.”
Though his post did not identify which of his male co-stars he had an issue with, it was later revealed to be Diesel, and from there, the two would spend the next couple of years hashing out their beef in the public eye, all the while assuring the world they were still close friends.
However, Diesel would throw fuel on the fire – no pun intended – in June 2021 when he explained to Men’s Health, “It was a tough character to embody, the Hobbs character. My approach at the time [as one of the series’ producers] was a lot of tough love to assist in getting that performance where it needed to be.”
“As a producer to say, Okay, we’re going to take Dwayne Johnson, who’s associated with wrestling, and we’re going to force this cinematic world, audience members, to regard his character as someone that they don’t know—Hobbs hits you like a ton of bricks,” said the franchise lead. “That’s something that I’m proud of, that aesthetic. That took a lot of work. We had to get there and sometimes, at that time, I could give a lot of tough love. Not Felliniesque, but I would do anything I’d have to do in order to get performances in anything I’m producing.”
Things would eventually come to a head in November 2021 when Diesel made a public plea to The Rock for him to return to the franchise.
“My little brother Dwayne… the time has come,” wrote the actor on Instagram. “The world awaits the finale of Fast 10. As you know, my children refer to you as Uncle Dwayne in my house. There is not a holiday that goes by that they and you don’t send well wishes… but the time has come. Legacy awaits.”
“I told you years ago that I was going to fulfill my promise to Pablo [Diesel’s nickname for the late Paul Walker],” he added. “I swore that we would reach and manifest the best Fast in the finale that is 10! I say this out of love… but you must show up, do not leave the franchise idle you have a very important role to play. Hobbs can’t be played by no other. I hope that you rise to the occasion and fulfill your destiny.”
Unfortunately for Diesel, his request was rebuffed by The Rock, who later accused the Guardians of the Galaxy voice actor of “manipulation”.
“I didn’t like that he brought up his children in the post, as well as Paul Walker’s death,” Johnson told CNN in December 2021. “Leave them out of it. We had spoken months ago about this and came to a clear understanding. My goal all along was to end my amazing journey with this incredible ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise with gratitude and grace. It’s unfortunate that this public dialogue has muddied the waters.”
“Regardless,” he concluded, “I’m confident in the ‘Fast’ universe and its ability to consistently deliver for the audience, and I truly wish my former co-stars and crew members the best of luck and success in the next chapter.”
Responding to Diesel’s comments in a subsequent July 2021 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, The Rock would then declare that he had no intention of returning to the franchise.
“I laughed and I laughed hard [at Diesel’s comments],” he said. “I think everyone had a laugh at that. And I’ll leave it at that. And that I’ve wished them well. I wish them well on Fast 9. And I wish them the best of luck on Fast 10 and Fast 11 and the rest of the Fast & Furious movies they do that will be without me.”
And that was where things remained until May 12th, 2023, when Fast X premiered in Rome, Italy and fans discovered his presence in the above-detailed stinger.
In the wake of the film’s premiere, the wrestler-turned-actor took to Twitter to confirm, “Yes, it is true. Hobbs is back in the Fast and the Furious franchise.”
After offering his deepest gratitude to all the fans who reached out to him in excitement after seeing his cameo, The Rock turned to explain the behind-the-scenes circumstances of his return.
“In terms of the why, despite us having our differences, me and Vin, we’ve been like brothers for years,” detailed the actor. “And despite having our differences, when you lead with the idea of, number one resolve, but then also you just think about the future, and you think about plans that are much bigger than ourselves, and those bigger plans are the bigger buildouts.”
“Those bigger plans are the ‘North Star’, as I like to say,” he said. “The North Star is my guiding light in whatever endeavor or opportunity that I’m in or passionate about, I always keep the North Star in my clarity and in my focus. And in this case, the North Star is the franchise that we love, the characters that we love, and the fans that we love. When you add all that up, it’s really not a hard decision to make.”
“So yes, cannot wait, and our Seven Bucks Productions [his personal production company] can’t wait to help produce the next installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise,” he further exclaimed. “And yes, at the end, it’s not even unfinished business between Jason Momoa’s character – who did a great job by the way, with his character of Dante – it’s business is about to pick up.”
“Oh s–t!” The Rock laughed. “Business is about to pick up. So if you thought that The Rock vs “Stone Cold” Steve Austin headlining three Wrestlemanias was earth shattering, wait ’till you see what happens when Dante and Hobbs collide.”
Ultimately acknowledging “[but] that’s for down the road,” The Rock concluded by assuring fans that he would “keep you guys updated on everything Fast and the Furious and everything Hobbs.”
“I wanna say congratualtions to my Fast family, the Fast and Furious cast, congratulations to Universal, who I started my career with I always consider them family, and most importantly, to the fans. I appreciate you, I love you, and in true Hobbs speak: Daddy’s gotta go to work. I love you guys and Hobbs is back.”
As noted above, this move comes at a time when not only has The Rock’s star begun to rapidly fade – as seen by the less-than-stellar performance and eventual discarding of his Black Adam solo film – but the overall Fast & Furious franchise is starting to follow suit.
Further, Fast X is currently sitting at a current worldwide return of $523,592,614 and is only losing its legs at the theater. In fact, the film only saw one one solid uptick in viewership, which occurred in the opening days of the recent Memorial Day weekend.
With a reported budget of roughly $340 Million and in light of the regularly accepted rule of thumb that a film must make at least double its production costs in order to break even, the eighth most expensive film of all time has objectively found itself on the precipice of being a box office miss.
Fast X is in theaters now.
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