In Furious 7, Nathalie Emmanuel’s super-hacker sizes up the entire Fast gang in a single short monologue pegging everyone’s roles. When Roman is relegated to “joker” status, he corrects “Wrong. Double alpha,” before getting into a snit with Tej about whether or not there’s even such a thing as a “double alpha.” In the world of dogs and lions and other pack animals, the double alpha isn’t real, but it sure is in the world of the Fast and the Furious. When the newest film, Fate of the Furious, promotes Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw to the team alongside Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, the series even manages to be a triple alpha scenario. (Sorry, Roman, you’re left out again.) If you want proof, look no further than this absurd statistic — in eight films, none of its leads has ever lost a fight.
Before you chalk that up to being the way things go in play-it-safe blockbusters, consider that not even Marvel heroes win all the time. Daredevil got his ass kicked up and down by the Punisher in his own show. When Captain America teamed up with Bucky Barnes in Captain America: Civil War, they left Iron Man beaten bloody on a concrete floor. Jessica Jones put Luke Cage in the hospital when she scrambled his brains with a point-blank gunshot directly to the cranium. Sure, all these good guys rose to fight another day, but at least they had moments of humiliation and failure along the way.
Not so in the Fast universe, where you never have to worry about seeing one of your faves go down. Of course Brian was going to triumph over a baddie played by Tony Jaa in Furious 7 — even though he’s Tony freaking Jaa — because Jaa was a henchman and henchmen never win in this series. But even when the main characters fight each other, the narrative has to go into contortions to avoid insulting any of the heroes’ manhoods. Something always happens to make each fight end in a draw. Brian and beta-thug Vince get into a tussle in the first movie, but it ends with Dom pulling them apart. Dom definitely would have beat the hell out of Brian in Fast and Furious, but an emotional appeal from Brian ends the fisticuffs before real blood can be shed. Dom comes close to beating Hobbs in Fast Five, but before he can deliver the coup de grâce he finds himself surrounded by Hobbs’s backup team.
You see a similar thing happening in the female fights. Michelle Rodriguez, whose scowl could wither the souls of mortals, fights both Ronda Rousey and Gina Carano to a draw. The Rousey round in 7 concludes with a mutual knockout, while the Rodriguez-Carano duel in the Underground in 6 ends with Letty running away. Rodriguez does win their second fight by shooting Carano with a harpoon and throwing her out of a plane — not every fight ends in a draw.
If you thought you saw either Hobbs or Toretto or Shaw beat each other in a fight, you’ve been fooled by some great cinematic sleight of hand. Every fight between the series’ A-listers is staged with such bombast that we’ve been enchanted into thinking they have real consequences. One of the best promotional images for Fate of the Furious is the Rock standing toe to toe with Jason Statham. Oh wow, you think, a rematch! But remember, no one really won that first fight either: Yes, Hobbs ended up getting exploded out of a window, but only because he put himself between his partner and an explosive to save her life, always the most heroic way to get blown up. And — spoiler warning — we don’t get a clear conclusion to their second fight either. The two have barely squared up before a whole lot of lawmen show up and prevent them from throwing one good clean punch. And whether because of real-life bad blood or simple ego preservation (or both!) Fate never gives us the Hobbs versus Dom rematch the plot seems to require.
Maybe, though, the series is trying to tell us something deeper. Recall the climax of Furious 7, when Toretto and Shaw go up against each other in a parking garage that gets hit by a missile. In that moment Dom reveals who the true champion of the bout will be. “The thing about street fights,” he says, “the street always wins.” Even if it does, you can be sure that in the Fast and Furious franchise, the heroes still won’t lose.