It may seem like a strange question to ask, what with Universal still rightly basking in the massive opening of “Furious 7” in the U.S. and abroad.
This has been a remarkable run for the “Furious” franchise, which seemed all but done for when the third film cratered in 2006, yet has renewed itself with a kind of manic vigor capped by the huge opening of “Furious 7” over the weekend.
But in an era when screenwriters are regularly hired for sequels before the first movie has even come out, it’s not too soon to ask what happens next. Where does the “Furious” series go, narratively and otherwise? Also, when does it go, with whom does it go and — important to the philologists among us — can it continue to find new linguistic combinations on the same two key words?
First, the narrative side. There was little plot-wise at the end of the new film to directly suggest a sequel. (Spoiler alert, please skip to next paragraph if you’d rather not know.) The franchise doesn’t kill off the main antagonist of the new movie — he’s at a CIA black site — which means said bad guy could return, especially given that he has some box-office power.
There may be yet more to mine elsewhere in the franchise. After all, there's still some more potential drama from Michelle Rodriguez's Letty and Vin Diesel's Dom, some juicy new missions from Kurt Russell's black-ops sharpie Mr. Nobody (we still don't know much about him), and some added intrigue with Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey, appealing to filmmakers not least because the actress’ stock is on the rise with “Game of Thrones.”
Diesel, at least, has hinted that Mr. Nobody will be a factor, but without a shooting script it’s far too early to say how much of a factor.
There was also a sense, with the tender farewell to Paul Walker's Brian O'Conner character, that an era had ended and a new one could begin. It's rare that a studio comes off such a massive hit with so many choices — or so little clear direction, depending on your point of view. It's even rare when that franchise is seven movies old. In fact, it's not even certain director James Wan will be back.
And given that the franchise had already gone through a wholesale reinvention from a street-racing series to a globe-trotting action one, there are few limits on what filmmakers might do, or what fans would embrace. This may be the most mature franchise ever to be handed a blank canvas.
The other questions are less of the creative variety but no less interesting. Like, how fast does Universal go? The series had been quickening — after three years between the second and third and third and fourth movies, Nos. 5, 6 and 7 have all come at two-year intervals. In fact, this film was supposed to debut barely 12 months after the previous installment, until Walker’s death and the ensuing shutdown prompted a postponement.
Does the studio step on the gas, as many might in this franchise-hungry, keeping-up-with-the-Marvels world? Or, given the emotional gut-punch of this movie and the need for a new direction, does it take things at a slower place?
And does it try to grab an even bigger brass ring and go summer or holidays?
Cast is a question too. Diesel's Dom has been the anchor for many a hit. But there are subtle ways this franchise has of moving characters from foreground to background, and vice versa, and it wouldn’t be surprising or unprecedented if it made sure someone else shared center stage with Toretto, especially now that foil O'Conner is retired.
More than almost any franchise in Hollywood, “Furious 7” has a history of maintaining the brand while staying fresh. (The James Bond series is perhaps the only contemporarily relevant franchise that trumps it.) It’s why the qualities of an eighth movie are as unexpected as those of a second one. And it’s why even after all the closure offered by “Furious 7,” the intrigue goes on.