Fast & Furious 9 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Justin Lin
It looks like movies are back (at least for those who can safely vaccinate, which if you haven’t and are able to then do it please!) and what a better way to kick off the summer season than with another Fast & Furious movie!? Gotta admit, I was not on the F&F train for over a decade and it wasn’t until Fate of the Furious that I finally gave the franchise a chance. It’s a mixed bag to be sure, but the latter half of the franchise has been quite impressive as big budget spectacles though and the more professional wrestlers they throw into the mix the more I look forward to seeing them! So after a year of global misery and despair, is this action blockbuster we need to celebrate our slow but sure recovery, or has the Fast Franchise gassed out right when we needed it the most? Let’s find out!!
Dominic Toretto and Letty Ortiz (Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez) have been living the quiet life with Dom’s son Bryan out in the country, but this peace is not meant to last as Roman, Tej, and Ramsey (Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Nathalie Emmanuel) show up with a distress message from the mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and they are forced to come out of retirement to find him and find what he was trying to protect. Sadly they don’t find the former, but the latter is a piece of some sort of doomsday device that is pretty much the SAME doomsday device these last few movies have had, and it gets taken right from under their noses by a mysterious jacked dude (John Cena) who also drives cars, has a cross necklace, and keeps staring menacingly at Dom. Turns out that this is none other than Jakob; Dom’s long lost brother! Not only must Dom and the crew stop Jakob and who he’s working for from getting the other pieces of the Doomsday Device, Dom must confront his past and perhaps even realize his own mistakes before they threaten to throw the world into utter chaos! Will Dom be able to face his brother and bring an end to his maniacal schemes? Who else has a stake in this Doomsday Device, and will they prove to be an ally or a hindrance to the Fast & Furious family? Speaking of family, are we sure Dom and Jakob aren’t actually cousins, or were their parents’ genes an ethnic roulette wheel?
You go into a Fast & Furious movie expecting a few different things and this film is no exception to that. It has some different notes to it that distinguish it from the other films, but make no mistake that you are going to get exactly what the poster says and if you’re not onboard with this franchise yet this is not the one that’s going to change your mind. Ranking it in the franchise this is right up there with the eighth film and might just be better the better of the two as some of the sour notes from there are either not present or are not as prominent. If there was one way to describe this compared to the last few, it’s the CATHARTIC one; a little more grounded to focus more on the characters and their relationships than the high stakes danger they all find themselves in. This is of course relatively speaking as the Fast & Furious movies are second only to actual superheroes in terms of larger than life stories and world shattering machinations, but credit where it’s do from taking it down from eleven to ten and a half.
I think we’re past the point where people are legitimately trying to denigrate the Fast & Furious movies’ descent into self-parody bombast, but in case the nay-sayers are still out there and reading this, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not a LAZY version of over the top spectacle as it takes a lot of effort to make something THIS silly still work on a cinematic level. Stuff like Sharknado where they wink at the audience while still producing low budget nonsense or even the supremely high budgeted Transformers movies which seemed to have contempt more than anything else for the audience who enjoys the spectacle are the better targets for that kind of criticism, and this because apparent as early as the first action scene. There are a lot of things in there that simply don’t work in real life and could be called ridiculous, but the way all of it is shot, framed, and paced ensures that the audience can grasp the drama and tension without relying on whether they buy it as something that could actually happen. The scene where Roman’s giant truck gets flipped and sandwiched between two huge rock formations was one of the silliest things I think I’ve ever seen in a movie (certainly a high bar for this franchise), but the ensuing scene of him trying to escape the truck that is slowly slipping downwards towards an active landmine kept the tension up and made the implausibility of the situation pretty much a non-issue. Aside from MAYBE the one part where Dominic Toretto uses his twenty-four inch pythons to wreck a concrete structure (which I’m pretty sure happened in seven as well), I was never bothered by the outlandishness of everything and enjoyed how well these sequences were executed with various interlocking parts to progress the story and keep things exciting. The hand to hand stuff falls a bit flatter which is mostly due to the shaky cam (they can convincingly have cars flying through the air yet can’t have Dom throw a punch without two or three cuts?) but overall the action is fantastically executed. There are a lot of movies with giant budgets that are just no fun to watch, and Fast & Furious has consistently delivered when given the same resources to work with.
What really sets this apart from the last few films though is the focus on the characters and their past with Dom and his brother having a surprisingly strong dynamic that is fleshed out through similarly impressive flashbacks. Sure it’s a bit strange that we’re on the TENTH Fast & Furious movie (obviously, we’re counting Hobbs & Shaw!) without knowing that Dom has a little brother, but with this series you just have to take that stuff in stride and more often than not it rewards you with compelling drama. You’ve got to give credit to the younger actors who have to carry the weight of this tragic backstory on their shoulders and they manage to pull it off which allows the adult actors to throw themselves into their scenes without having to double back for overlong exposition. In addition to that, I think the scenes between Dom and Letty are the best they’ve ever been with Michelle Rodriguez in particular stepping up to the plate to sell some pretty dramatic scenes; as does Jordana Brewster who’s return to the series is greatly appreciated even if it makes the absence of Paul Walker THAT much more palpable. What I like best about the story though is that all this drama is still within the context of a very lighthearted film which is a vast improvement over Fate of the Furious. That one tried for a level of darkness that just didn’t work because it was shallow in its execution; using tired and frankly regrettable tropes to try and up the tension. This movie stays away from that; instead of relying on death and cruelty to get the emotional stakes across, it’s more about tragedy and heartbreak which can be healed and worked through whereas bullets to the head are less likely to mend. That, and there’s a bigger emphasis on humor and self-awareness here with Roman, Tej, and Ramsey getting a pretty beefy subplot that’s all about trying to figure out if they’re either in The Matrix or somehow real life Highlanders considering how much ridiculous nonsense they manage to live through. Where the eighth movie tried to be more mature by getting a bit grim, once again relatively speaking, this one feels genuinely mature with more emphasis on growth, pain, and regret, while also not forgetting that joy and humor are as intrinsic a part of life as sadness and strife. Again; relatively speaking! This is all still within the context of a movie with explosions, doomsday devices, and Tyrese Gibson!
If there’s one thing that holds this movie back, it’s the double edged sword of being such a big franchise; something that Marvel has been able to pull off with less awkwardness and burden then this series despite having far fewer films in its catalog. Then again, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is more easily designed to have self-contained branching paths what with its rotating cast of characters while Fast & Furious has done admirably well at keeping its core crew of actors together through thick and thin. Still, the movie feels the need to constantly refer back to that history and even I, as someone who has seen EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE MOVIES, felt a bit lost at points. Granted, I was VERY happy to see some of these people return and they add a lot of fun even if the circumstances for their arrival are tenuous at best. I never thought I’d want to see Lucas Black come back into this series, but him being a rocket engineer basically doing Myth Busters nonsense for reasons I still don’t quite fathom? Heck yes! Now I want to see a movie all about that! The same for Han who comes back with a new buddy, and no they don’t even TRY to make the retcon of his death the least bit plausible, but Sung Kang was fun in the non-Tokyo Drift movies, and he makes the most of his return. All that said, the moments where I was lost stuck out like a sore thumb. I’m still not sure who the woman in the Interpol van was supposed to be (was she the daughter of one of those dudes who was in the fifth movie?) or whether Lucas Black’s buddies were in any of the previous films, so there are moments throughout that are going to be lost to all but the biggest of super fans. Other than that, the fact that it feels a little bit lacking in ambition in favor of tightening the screws isn’t going to sit well with everyone. MAYBE the stakes feel a little low despite how big they TELL us the threat is, MAYBE the final action scene feels a bit scaled back from previous films even WITH the journey to… well you’ll have to watch it, and PERHAPS the villains are lacking some edge here. As much as I loved John Cena in this and how he portrays such a taciturn hunk of Pure American Beef, there’s a lack of menace there from the other villains he’s working with. The smug rich kid is never taken serious at any point, nor is his big “scary” bodyguard, and Charlize Theron is THERE but she’s not running the show and doesn’t get to be as devious as she was in Fate of the Furious. Can we just slap a devious mustache on Jason Statham and do the Long Lost Sibling twist for the next one? I know we’ve already done that TWICE for his family, but would anyone seriously question it for a second?
Still, I’ll take the somewhat better pacing and writing of this even if it means pulling a little bit back on the spectacle. We’ve seen how ridiculous these movies can get with the amount of money they pump into them and I’m glad they still came up with a few new and clever ideas for set pieces, but it’s the story that’s going to keep this one fresh in my memory where some of the others have started to fade. If you are able to safely see this in a theater, then I highly recommend going to check it out. You may want to brush up on your Fast & Furious lore before going, but you could hardly ask for a better movie to kick off a summer that will surely be filled with great movies and good times! Now if we could JUST get The Rock to show up in the next one? Please? Even if it’s for like one scene; I just want him and Cena to try and out glower each other, that’s all I ask!