One of the hardest things for writers and directors is not just following a character across one movie, but taking them across several films. Not only does your arc have to be consistent with everything we've learned, but we have to see characters continue to grow.
Sometimes, with someone like Michael Corleone, it works out well, and there are a lot of stories to tell. Other times, with someone like James Bond, you have to keep reinventing the character or just never acknowledging there's anything for them to learn, just more adventures for them to go on.
Yes, the opus of Vin Diesel is Dom Toretto, a character who has changed across nine individual movies. Someone forced to deal with the past, present, and future over and over again. Every movie takes Dom to a new place, and every movie tests him until he grows.
Dom Toretto Has One of the Greatest Character Arcs of All Time
When we meet Dom Toretto in the first film, he already thinks he's the king of the streets and commands respect. But over the course of the movie, we see how little control Dom actually exudes over his realm. Rival gangs blow up his car, kill his friends, and he isn't even smart enough to sniff out a cop in his midst. Rather than go back to jail, Dom is allowed to run at the end of the movie, destined to live a life steeped in regret, one deeper than he already has lived for being up a mechanic and becoming an outcast from the racing scene.
Within the movies, we don't see Dom again until we catch a glimpse of him in the third movie and he steps back into prominence in the fourth. Dom is now a hardened criminal. He's not stealing DVD players anymore, but working with a crew to steal fuel tankers. His actions there lead to the death of his girlfriend, Letty.
Dom takes this anger and makes it internal. We've heard him talk about "family" in the first movie, but this is the first time we've seen him actually embrace the idea. In the first movie, he's selfishly using his family to rob trucks, now he's understanding that he led them to this life and has to make amends and get vengeance for Letty.
As Dom moves into the fifth film, he has to reconcile that his friends are now on the run because of him. They are international fugitives who he's brought into a life of crime. Dom wrestles with this, his arc for this particular film is taking them from criminals to heroes. People who bring down a cartel with a stranglehold on the country.
From Criminal to Hero
This is a huge moment for the franchise, and it's seen through Dom's eyes. He's no longer part of the criminal underbelly. And when we enter the sixth film, he and his friends are fighting to be fully exonerated, willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of goodness.
Letty is also back, and Dom is partially absolved of her death earlier. He does this by saving her life and trying to help her remember what it means to be part of the family. He does this not by brute force, but sensitivity, a new layer we have never really seen before. As Dom reconciles his feelings for Letty, we also see him grow as a man. He starts to understand that family is an evolving word. Not just about the people you grew up with, but the people you consistently bring into your life. This carries into the event film.
The seventh, which tragically dealt with the death of Paul Walker, juxtaposed that loss with the evolution of Dom as a person. It's a movie about him letting go of Brian, his partner in crime, and heroics.
As Brian goes off to start his family, Dom is directly dealing with the idea that families do not always stay under the same roof, they spread their wings. He wants Brian to have a life he thinks may have been denied to him as a younger man.
Credit: Universal Pictures
An Extension of the Family
The eighth movie is a direct continuation of this process, as we think Dom reverts to his life of crime. Why go back to that dark place? Why turn on family?
Well, we get a full subversion of Dom's central belief. He has to pick blood over family. Blood in the form of his son, who was born without his knowledge, and is now being used as leverage by a bad guy. Dom is not the same anymore. Now he has to prey on his friends' weaknesses as well as reconcile with them to plot a way to get his entire family back together at the end of the movie.
And lest you think he's done with the examination of family, the ninth movie in the franchise sees his long-lost brother come back to the forefront. Once again, Dom has to face whether or not family means blood, or if it means the people you choose to build your life with... or even a little of both. We see Dom examine his past in even greater detail, and face the pain of a betrayal that has haunted him for decades.
Added into the ninth movie is the idea that Dom has achieved what he wanted, a quiet and perfect life. Something he thought would always escape him.
Where Do They Go in the Future?
The entire ninth film forces Dom to reconcile his beliefs and his regrets with the reappearance of his brother, all while trying to stay out of the action.
If you told me that the guy who was suffering from burdensome grief in the first movie would suddenly be searching for a way to have a quiet, almost suburban life with a family in the ninth, I would have called you crazy. But you need the necessary leaps within the storm, and the chapters of him seeing different worlds and enemies, to watch Dom work on himself and become the hero we saw glimpses of in the first chapter.
Where can the writers take Dom moving forward? Who knows. But they've done an amazing job so far twisting his views on life, love, and family to meet the needs of an ever-changing character. That's a feat unto itself.
Did you see F9 yet? Let me know what you think in the comments.