Fast & Furious 9 (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 145 Minutes
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, John Cena, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson
The Fast and Furious franchise looking back over its 20 year long history in the movie landscape has certainly come a long way. From its early beginnings on the road in 2001, Rob Cohen’s octane fuelled action spectacle introduced the world to Vin Diesel’s Dom Torreto and focused initially on the concept of illegal street racing, but it’s following sequels ending at the mediocre Tokyo Drift almost made Universal’s newfound franchise run out of gas. However, in 2009 with Fast and Furious, Justin Lin stepped in and gave the series a new coat of paint, not only sending Dom and his family into the world of heists and espionage, but gave the series going forward with each entry a rule to lean more into the lines of absurdity with its action. So much so that the quirky zany silliness of these movies took a new life of their own under Lin’s protection and made Fast and Furious a true household name in blockbuster cinema. The reason to bring this all up before going in depth with the newest instalment, Fast and Furious 9, is mostly to bring attention to how far this series has put its focus less on immersing its audience in a strong story but more so into the realms of silly cinematic eye candy. It’s spectacle and quirky characters is what sells these movies to a lot of people, so to say that F9 after all this time finally jumped the shark and took itself too far into the absurd feels like a disappointing thing to note as we revisit Dom and his family again. This new film has a lot of solid narrative potential on offer here with new characters and set pieces that show legitimate promise starting out, but as the film goes on and loses its footing as it gets distracted in its own mindless void of laughable and cartoonish action sequences, it ends up with a mess of a film that loses its mark as a Fast and Furious film both for its creative team and the fans who have long stood by it.
F9 picks up quite naturally following the events of Fast 8. Dom Torreto and Letty have retired from their lives on the road to raise their son, Brian, until they are thrust back into the game as Cipher (Charlize Theron) reemerges once again with a new plot to hack into the world’s computer systems. What starts off as a usual gig for the family turns into something more personal for Dom as his brother, Jacob (John Cena) is revealed to be working for Cipher and is also out for revenge against him.
This movie as stated earlier opens with some legitimate promise and considering how far this series has come, it’s quite refreshing to say. The best thing that F9 has going for it is the shift to more personal story arcs with Dom’s relationship with his brother, Jacob. Though it’s rather silly and questionable in context of the narrative why Dom would have never acknowledged his own brother to any of his friends or even his wife over the course of 9 movies now, the history the siblings share is quite interesting. The film occasionally shifts between the modern day and the year 1989 where we see where the siblings came from and how their relationship turned sour following a family tragedy. Not only are the sequences perfectly shown on screen, being shot on film and replicating the rougher aesthetic of 80s time period (something that can also be claimed as a feeling of nostalgia for the Torretos), but they also serve for the film’s stronger emotional beats. It makes their feud in the present day interesting to see unfold at first, but at the same time, it does feel as though John Cena’s appearance in this movie is also a bit short lived. He isn’t in the film for very long and when he is, it’s mostly in service of an action set piece and not really to understand his character more in depth as a grown adult when compared to his separation from Dom as a teenager. It all feels a bit like wasted potential in a way because much like with a lot of the returning cast for F9, it’s now beginning to feel like the characters are getting brushed off more in favour for Justin Lin and his team to see how far they are willing to go to make the action as bombastic, stupid and unbelievable as possible to a massive fault.
Now don’t take this the wrong way. The action in this movie isn’t bad. Much like the other Fast and Furious movies since the 2009 film, the action is very well made on a technical level and when experienced on the big screen with a huge crowd of people, it can also be quite thrilling to watch thanks to the broad scope and great sound mix. Since Fast Five, the films have been pushing the lines of the general absurdity towards the action spectacle of these movies and for the subsequent films following it, though generally silly, it was hard not to deny that the stupidity of the car chases was part of what made the films fun to watch. But throughout the movies, they usually went across a certain line where they do embrace the inherent silliness of the situations Dom and his team go through but never cross it too much to the point where it’s simply hard to buy into the stakes. F9 after all these years finally feels as though it jumps the shark here and that is it’s biggest problem. Some of the action here is so over the top and so unbelievably weird at times where it not only breaks the line of realism, but completely turns Fast and Furious into the literal parody many fans have been claiming it to be. The film’s script (not written by mainstay Chris Morgan which might explain the problem) does have a hint of self awareness at times like with Tyrese Gibson’s admittedly funny remarks that he believes that the team is just kind of invincible at this point, but at the same time it gives the impression that the filmmakers are just trying to mess with the fans in a way that feels disingenuous. With F9, everything about the movie is a joke now. Most of Torreto’s family in this movie don’t have much new to offer here and it’s mostly in the way of fan service and contradicting earlier films just to try and appease the audience without earning their trust. This is especially apparent with Han Lue who was believed to be dead after the events of Fast and Furious 6 and was brought back into the limelight for this movie in such a weirdly contrived way. If characters like Lue are able to return to this series again after having initially established deaths and characters are thrown around like rubber-hose cartoon characters in the action scenes to the point where you know no one is really gonna end up dead in these films, it just removes all sense of stakes and tension that should make these movies fun. You can have all the zany cinematic spectacle you want in these movies from the insane car stunts and the cheesy self aware character banter, but if there’s no tension to engage your audience, all that’s left is fluff. And that’s unfortunate for a franchise that usually has such a great sense of pacing, style and a decent heart at its core.
Fast and Furious 9 is a film that starts off with some legitimate promise with a storyline that lingers on ideas of legacy and brotherhood that comes back to this franchise’s long standing themes of family and togetherness. But because the film feels so aggressively insistent on trying to top the other films in just how bonkers they can take the action and the overall scope, the joys that the Fast and Furious movies normally provide finally feels lost within all the carnage. It’s clear that the cast of these movies clearly had the time of their lives here and only ever wanted to provide a fun time at the movies especially after COVID stuttered them briefly, but there’s only so far the praise can go when the outlandish things that happen on screen stop any semblance of tension happening and just turns the end result into boredom. Whatever comes next for Dom Torrento and the others remains to be seen, but if they want to hook people into this series again, they really have to focus on where the heart lies in these films: in the theme of family. Because when there’s little care about the characters, the action isn’t going to mean much in the long run.
FINAL RATING:- 4/10 (WEAK)