As old as I’m becoming now, it’s hard to believe the Fast & Furious franchise has officially become an adult since the original came out 20 years ago that started with street races to become tangled up these impossible missions globally. With the ninth installment in the saga, F9, nobody would’ve seen this coming with it being the tenth movie overall that will go out its way to going beyond what expectations made it out to be that certainly goes fast and a little too stupid.
What’s the Story: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is living the quiet life off the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, Brian, but they know that danger always lurks just over the peaceful horizon. This time, that threat forces Dom to confront the sins of his past to save those he loves most. His crew soon comes together to stop a world-shattering plot by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered — Dom’s forsaken brother, Jakob (John Cena).
I might not love the franchise since there are a few entries that are at the bottom for a reason (2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift), but since Fast Five changed the game for the better, has been the source of an enjoyable set of action movies with each passing film, and I can’t lie when I say they’re a ton of fun to watch. You don’t even have to be the biggest car junkie to ease your way into them with the fast cars, action, and the importance of family within every one of these. F9 was originally going to be Universal Picture’s biggest moneymaker last year until they pushed it back an entire year back since nobody wants to watch it at home when it’s a billion-dollar franchise for a reason. Despite the somewhat lukewarm reviews that have been getting ever since early reception came out, I was still going in just wanting to have a blast knowing we’re finally getting another movie and just having a smile on my face. Sadly, though, this did little for me.
Convoluted as they may appear, you always have certain elements that make the watchable additions inside “The Fast Saga” work. Here, it goes both ways. Having Justin Lin back was exciting to me since he’s the most prominent director in the franchise with his return following Fast & Furious 6, and it was almost like he’d never left in taking charge of raising the bar after the other. Whether you’ve been on board with his direction or took a while to get there, I still sensed he knows how to put together the action with its impressive practical effects/ stunt work. More importantly, he knows where his characters are coming from while letting us know there’s fun to be had.
As for the performances, they’re what you expect from everybody if you’ve been following everything since the beginning. The part about them is they’re still able to carry over their chemistry with each passing film where you can get enough of them, bouncing off each other and still caring for these characters with whatever mission must be accomplished. You come to see the all-star players in Diesel and Rodriguez, as they’re pretty much the main stars now. There’s also Tyrese Gibson as Romance Pearce, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as Tej Parker, Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey, and more of Jordana Brewster this time around as Dom’s sister, Mia. It’s not going to be a problem seeing them on screen, even when you will not get award-worthy acting. With John Cena, though, was it believable he could be Vin Diesel’s brother despite the lack of resemblance? I didn’t think so, and it’s the type of performance one would think of if Cena was in an action movie, which doesn’t always show his true strength having this relationship feel unimportant. That said, Jakob wasn’t the most interesting villain, especially when he’s against his brother. Was there even a point of including Charlize Theron to reprise her role as Cipher in a glass box or even Helen Mirren’s “Queenie” Shaw when she only has three minutes of screen time? Nope, just think of them as extended cameos.
Admittedly, I was worried when to learn longtime series writer Chris Morgan, who wrote from Tokyo Drift to the spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, would not return to pen the script. Lin and co-writer Daniel Casey were to give their hand to handle the story, and it wasn’t the most inspiring writing to think of. It’s another globetrotting adventure where the crew has to get another MacGuffin to stopping the bad guy. You can kind of tell he was missing since while it can get crazy, there’s still a grounded aspect to them. Those brief moments at the start where the Toretto’s are keeping to themselves seem peaceful. F9 has some pretty weak dialogue you can’t take seriously when certain scenes call for it, and those moments drag the middle out when it’s already the longest-running film at almost two-and-a-half hours, which didn’t need to be.
Yes, you don’t go into these movies expecting the most groundbreaking plot in the world. But I kept wondering if they were throwing ideas at the wall to through a story together that forgot to bring an emotional side to it all that tries too hard to be like a testosterone soap opera. A lot was going on where it almost appears messy when the lack of tension was apparent. Bringing Dom and Mia’s brother into the mix sounds out of leftfield until this movie since I can’t recall Jakob ever being mentioned in the previous films before, so it’s like they pretend he’s the black sheep of the Toretto family. Remember that dramatic monologue in the original when Dom talked about how his dad died on the racetrack, leaving his life a quarter-mile at a time? We basically have ourselves the backstory of our protagonist and how the beef between him and his brother came about through flashbacks with Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole as younger versions of Dom and Jakob. Those flashbacks throughout could’ve been its own movie. Does this tell us about the importance of family? What Fast & Furious movie hasn’t? Out of all the recent movies, this was probably the least funniest yet where I only caught myself chuckling once, and the usual banter between Roman and Tej didn’t work this time.
Even when this was the movie to bring back one of the most popular characters, Han Lue (Sung Kang), great as it was to see him again because he’s cool, the explanation of how he survived his car crash in Tokyo was something I couldn’t buy into or there wasn’t enough time to understand it when there’s something serious about to go down afterward.
But how’s the action, you may ask yourself? The past movies clarified that it’s possible to suspend disbelief with the absurd, yet entertaining moments they’re capable of pulling off. They’re fun in all that’ll be the most pleasing to hardcore fans, but it was only a matter of time when it gets too over-the-top. I finally had to sit back and find what I witnessed realistic, accepting the fact it’s impossible to find these moments would happen in real life. Sure, this is the same franchise that took down an airplane and had a car crash through skyscrapers, but the logic in F9 is nonexistent. I still think the “Zombie Cars” scene in The Fate of the Furious (which doesn’t hold up upon a recent re-watch) is still the silliest moment out of these; though not only does this have car chases involving flipping and magnets to up the momentum to the max, this also come to the point of questioning if these characters are just invisible to everything that has happened to them since these scenarios are on the level of a cartoon. The opening act was thoroughly enjoyable, especially when the team goes through a minefield in a jungle. Even Roman brought it up and how they’re able to survive these dangerous missions, thinking they might be “invincible” with Tej thinking they’re just lucky. At this point, that’s self-aware enough to call it out.
Right when it reaches the third act, that was when I could’ve believed they had the audacity to take it to that level of going into… outer space (yes) after joking about it for many years. Nothing wrong with rocket cars, but space? Right there is [ure insanity. They did it, and I honestly didn’t know how to feel when all I could think of is they managed to take me out of the movie and wonder how they can go from there later on. Who knows? I can’t say it holds many surprises when you already know what’s going to happen, and that’s not because the last trailer doesn’t shy away at showing it.
Even though F9 didn’t leave me leaving the theater with excitement that’s eventually become a forgettable sequel, there’s no denying longtime fans are going to be entertained, not thinking about how it’s not taking itself seriously. Maybe this could lie out as a “guilty pleasure” in the future that requires me to turn off my brain. This was the first Thursday night showing I’ve been to at the movies, and it’s had the largest crowd in who knows how long. People are going to consider this one of the best or even the worst. For me, all the mixed feelings gathered in my mind puts this is somewhere near the middle, but it’s one I wished it was a lot better. I’m still down to see where the next two movies since I’ve been a part of the franchise for so long, as long as Lin stays on and has to show signs of change.
Final Thoughts: F9 goes all out as the summer blockbuster it gained to be. But this is one of the more disappointing installments yet in the saga. Though it was a nice return for director Justin Lin in still caring for what he brought, the weak script combined with the unbelievably stupid action sequences makes the entire experience the weakest sequel in the past decade.
Side Note: I saw it IMAX just so I could watch the five-minute preview of the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion, which comes out a year from now. I’m pretty sure I was one of the few people in my theater who knew they were going to show it, and I assure you some thought it was part of the movie. The footage that was shown looks impressive when it showed the dinosaurs roaming the Earth, with no dialogue. While I’m still hesitant with how the sequel plays out, all I’m hoping for is for this to be an improvement over the worst entry in the Jurassic Park franchise, Fallen Kingdom.