If you can tolerate the macho melodrama, the Fast and Furious films are ludicrous big-screen ballets with cars shooting out of buildings and aircraft that are, at their finest, the right kind of dumb.
In 20 years and ten films, the Fast and Furious franchise claims that its narrative is genuinely about family.
Fast & Furious should be a fully established cinematic universe in a spectacle-making groove, with eight sequels, a spinoff film, several video games, an adult coloring book, a Funko board game, and one animated Netflix series (with a Mr. Clean-like cartoon Vin Diesel) in the rearview mirror. However, Fast and Furious 9 discovers long-running series director Justin Lin doing doughnuts in the franchise parking lot.
I gotta disagree, with all due respect to Vin Diesel’s Toretto clan. The Fast and Furious films are all about venturing into new nitro-infused worlds of lunacy. If you can stomach the macho melodrama, these films are crazy big-screen ballets with vehicles exploding out of skyscrapers and aircraft that are at their finest the perfect kind of dumb. They’re about the movies’ whiz-bang propensity for absurd grandiosity — for pushing on the accelerator and leaving rationality in the rearview mirror.
This was not always the case. The Fast and Furious movies, which have proceeded at such a breakneck pace that their original articles have vanished somewhere along the line (the first entry was 2001′s The Fast and the Furious), began relatively modestly on the road-racing streets of Southern California. However, by the time of Justin Lin’s Fast Five, the series had become ever vaster, traveling all the way around the world and, eventually, into space with Fast and Furious 9. The franchise has sought new, impossible routes for gravity-defying mayhem and unexplained traction as if continually looking for another gear of outrageousness. There are vehicles here and cars there. There are cars everywhere.
For a franchise that used to be all nitro-injected street cred and grease-monkey automobile culture, the Fast & Furious films feature just two speeds. You’re quick, and you’re furious. Over 20 years, the storylines have devolved into globe-trotting espionage foolishness — and these muscle vehicles have definitely jumped, sometimes with their own parachutes — but the white-hot melodrama has soared in tandem. Stunts have become larger, glossier, and phonier, yet they’ve always been fast and deadly even at their worst. And, perhaps most importantly, Vin Diesel’s every remark about family has a heavy seriousness to it. That is the part that makes me angry.
That isn’t just the fumes speaking. Justin Lin, who mastered the technique with 2011’s deliriously stupid Fast Five, is back in control after a two-lap hiatus. The production dealt with the tragic loss of co-star Paul Walker and some intra-actor squabbling. Lin’s Fast & Furious 9 feels revitalizing. (It feels great to be back in front of something large and noisy.) The picture is a return to fundamentals, and even when it deviates into sheer nonsense — almost irredeemably at one point — it retains an ethos.
The film isn’t bad — Lin’s physics-defying set-pieces are more polished and exuberant than anything in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious — but it’s two and a half hours of action drama that lacks drive. Dom is to blame for this since he is doing a poor job of keeping the family together.
Scratch that: all that counts is that things start blowing up and never stop. In Fast and Furious 9, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges remarks, “We’ll be OK as long as we respect the rules of physics.” He fails to explain that these are the rules of physics as established by Looney Tunes cartoons. I’m not even joking when I say that several of the set pieces in this film are constructed around an actual gigantic magnet. It might as well be delivered in a container with the word ACME scrawled on the side. You’d think that Fast 10 and 11 would finish with Vin and his pals painting a tunnel on a mountain and driving through it. And then, of course, blowing it up.
When he’s around, Fast and Furious 9 is the Dom Show, delving into his family history and reinventing the ex-DVD-player thief as a god-touched Herculean hero.
Dom is a fully-fledged blockbuster superhero after 20 years of Fast flicks; he can swing a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat across a Central American gap like he’s freakin’ Indianapolis 500 Jones. He never feels like someone his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), our friends Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges can rely on — or even look in the eyes. (Close your eyes, he’s too much man for human minds to comprehend!) But give him the floor during a family meeting, and he’s out.
In Diesel’s alter identity, Lin and Casey’s overinvestment introduces Dom’s lil’ bro Jakob Toretto (John Cena), the Fast franchise’s Cousin Oliver. Legend has it that while Dom and Jakob were baby-faced 20-somethings working for the pit crew by day and Street Warring at night, their father died in a vehicle accident. Jakob was responsible for the sabotage that killed him.
After Dom ran Jakob out of town, the brothers had never seen each other again – until the Fast franchise needed to Make. Things. Personal. Years later, with Dom and Letty living off the grid with Dom’s son, Jakob reappears as the muscle for a shady Baron Zemo who wants to steal Project Ares and hold the globe hostage. Despite his pledge to remain out of the game, Dom wrangles his family once again to stop his fam-nemy. It’s a standard scenario, but through Lin’s theatrical, soap-opera lens, it’s like Ocean’s 11 with a dose of NOS.
On some level, the film’s solid foundation allows it to do what it has to achieve. Dom’s crew is whisked away to a thick forest, neon-lit back alleys of Tokyo, and crowded streets of London in a cat-and-mouse game of stealing (and continuously re-stealing) Super High-Tech Glowing Computer Dongles. Lin’s pockets are filled with the currency of imagination at each site, which he cashes in with glee. Whereas earlier episodes drew influence from The Italian Job, The French Connection, and Mad Max: Fury Road, Fast and Furious 9 looks to the Harlem Globetrotters for inspiration.
Fast and Furious 9 is essentially post-human entertainment, such as Godzilla vs. Kong or The Lion King. The cars use amplified magnets to catch falling spectators, turn over hostile off-roaders, and execute elaborately planned attacks. This time, we find out that team hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) doesn’t even know how to drive, but that’s fine since the vehicles are practically Transformers, and Lin gives his automotive stars every money shot they deserve. Nearly.
With Jakob in the picture, Lin and Casey decide it’s time to go back in time and investigate Dom’s origins. As our own Joshua Rivera noted in his early impressions on Fast and Furious 9, the Fast and Furious franchise became rather disjointed following the loss of co-star Paul Walker. While Furious 7 was designed as an homage, a slew of appearances from previous Fast and Furious actors filled the picture. The Fate of the Furious, proving no substitute for the genuine stars coming up – Diesel required Walker’s enthusiasm.
Making Dom’s persona come to life through flashbacks shows a massive void in both the series’ Marvel-lite mythos and Diesel’s human qualities. Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole play young Dom and Jakob with aplomb but only have backdoor-pilot levels of drama to chew on. Lin is trying to make this work, changing up the cinematography to infuse the 1980s scenario with the roughness of Ford v Ferrari, but the confrontation falls flat. What a surprise! Apparently, there was a lot of shouting and racing when their father died.
To make sure the audience understands, the screenplay takes them through this area twice: once as a sequence of realistic flashbacks and again when Dom has a near-death experience. Dom “drowns” in an underground bunker after CG Vin Diesel goes Full Hulk on a group of SWAT thugs, floats into the white light of death, recalls the terrible day when his father died on the track, then quickly recovers so the clan can get back to destroying armored cars. Dom may or may not have needed to dry off after getting out of his wet would-be tomb. Is there going to be another superpower?
Fast and Furious 9 undermines any character development by dedicating an excessive amount of time to meta-commentary on its own absurdity. Roman faces the existential aspect of the family’s inability to be hurt on this lap of the series. How do they avoid being shot? How do they manage to survive every automobile accident? Have they been selected? Suppose they were the nonsensical mutterings of a guy always on the go. In that case, they could be the perfect seriousness-deflating banter to end any given action set-piece.
However, full dialogue-driven scenes are dedicated to delving into the probable supernatural powers at work in the Fast franchise.
Suppose the asides are intended to build up the series’ eventual crossover with Diesel’s Last Witch Hunter world (come on, it’s fantastic! ). In that case, the film fails to take the magical aspect seriously enough.
If it’s merely filler, it falls flat — but not as flat as the five-minute skit about which Star Wars figure Charlize Theron’s nemesis Cipher would be the moment Fast and Furious 9 goes full cringe.
The self-awareness eventually diminishes Han’s (Sung Kang) comeback to the series. The long-awaited reversal of the fan-cheap favorite’s post-credits demise is as mispronounced as, well, his cheap post-credits demise. Nothing matters, Roman basically explains throughout the film, and Han going back into the light doesn’t either. Han recounts to a group of stone-faced “friends” how he faked his own death to save himself and a girl named Elle (Anna Sawai), who is the key to unlocking Project Ares. Any emotional outburst is suffocated by plot gobbledygook, which turns out to be a reoccurring interfering factor.
By dispersing the crew throughout the globe on various tasks, there isn’t enough time to give everyone a meaningful arc — other from, you know, letting them drive faster than ever before — and every character interaction feels like a half-measure. Before meeting Han, Letty and Mia had a lovely moment in an izakaya. Still, their ideas on life and love seem torn from an eighth-grade diary. Lin and Casey are aware that the viewer wants to care about the family. Still, they are unable to establish any type of bond between the actors.
Dom flops into a heavy-duty vehicle with Ramsey and Tej in one scene, giving them a look as if they’ve never met. Wait, did they? Even when the family is in the same room, everyone seems secluded, with King Dom conducting court in his own close-up. (And nothing sparks with the addition of Cena, who is terrific at shouting orders and sneering but can’t develop a 30-year persona from behind the wheel.) This team’s rhythms have no precedent.
The bloat that makes this chapter fail has nothing to do with cartoon action – Lin has enough of it, and it’s frequently great. It’s the fact that, with Dom in the driver’s seat, Fast and Furious 9 doesn’t pick a lane. Fast and Furious, for example, featured tight screenplays that connected together actor-focused action sequences and successfully drew attention away from the notion that the Fast family was little more than one-liners and muscle.
The new film dares to view 2D caricatures as three-dimensional humans, exposing the farce in the process. Diesel’s Dom is a supposed family man who lacks warmth and wise remarks.
He’s a superspy with no tactical edge or anything to give up. Shakespearean tragedy does not appeal to him. Getting alley-ooped by his long-lost brother to drive a sports vehicle into a machine-gun-blasting drone while his wife rides by on a motorbike. In some ways, Diesel as Dom is similar to the vehicles in the film: long-lasting, gleaming, and capable of reaching speeds of up to 150 mph. We don’t need to see him in the park or find out how he got off the showroom floor. How many times does Letty have to say “ride or die?”
At this point, it’s a cliche to marvel at how far these crazy action sequences have strayed from the comparatively grounded first picture – which was inspired by a genuine tale! However, Fast and Furious 9 emphasizes that gap by incorporating a prologue section depicting the Toretto family’s genesis narrative. Yes, this is the Fast and Furious sequel’s Godfather II.
While the flashbacks make the villain a compellingly intimate foe, John Cena is one of the film’s weakest connections. Unlike Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whose entrance a few films ago sent the franchise onto a new path, Cena is an uninspiring opponent.
Still, it’s great to have such a stereotypically macho physique undercut by such emotional vulnerability in a steroid-jacked film like this.
Yes, you heard me correctly. I mentioned “Godfather II” and “emotional fragility” in a Fast & Furious movie review. Did you see that one coming, didn’t you?
With its vast ensemble, predictable soap opera twists, and unending computer-enhanced nonsensical violence, Fast & Furious 9 may be a genuinely awful picture. But, man, is it a fantastic time at the movies. Fast and furious! Family! Vroooommm!