At this point, 21 years and nine films into the Fast & Furious franchise, if you’re not recognizing and having fun with what it is, then the problem is on you. I don’t usually like to be that stern with a statement these days, but it was rather amusing reading reviews of the latest installment, F9, and people being snarky about it. The franchise knows exactly what it is and isn’t trying to be anything else.
Yes, it initially started as two dudes Dom and Brian (played by Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker, respectively) being thieves (well, Brian was a cop first), racing cars and stealing DVD players. Everyone knows that meme. Then we switched to Tokyo Drift after the two major stars left and nobody has seen that one. Sorry.
Then, both came back for the fourth one, and then Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson came into the franchise for, arguably the best of the bunch, Fast Five to reinvigorate the franchise. From that point on, the franchise has leaned more into these guys being The Avengers with fast, cool cars. They’ve picked their lane and it’s worked to enormous success.
These movies are absurdly ridiculous, but they’re fun and perfect cinema for the big screen. That’s part of what makes movie-going fun. Suspending your disbelief. In a way, as one author argued, the franchise is the most pro wrestling movie franchise for that reason (along with a few others). Sometimes the spectacle itself is more worthwhile than the nitty-gritty logic.
That said, the franchise and the latest here, F9, is very much winking and nodding at the logic issues and the superhero aspect of its characters, primarily through Roman (played by Tyrese Gibson), who keeps wondering, “How am I still alive? How have I (and we) survived all of these impossible scenarios?”
But also, it’s not just the spectacle that makes these movies what they are; it’s the heart. They try to inject a lot of, “We are family,” and one love sort of thing into these films and that sentimentality works. It’s never quite overdone and it took on a particular resonance after Walker’s unfortunate death. His death did hurt the franchise, though, because he was a good balancing act to Dom’s character. If anything, it was Brian that threaded the group together more than Dom. One minor criticism I do have of F9 and the franchise more broadly is that we rarely get Dom interacting with Roman, Tej (played by Ludacris) or Ramsey (played by Nathalie Emmanuel). He sort of seems like a solo hero who has these minions around him.
So, like most superhero films, there’s a world-is-in-danger plotline, and in this case, it’s driven by the surprise that Dom has a brother, Jakob (played by John Cena), who is the one trying to capture some device to control satellites and thus, the world. It’s not exactly clear what Jacob’s motivation is.
However, we also get a sort of “prequel” feel here, as we flashback to 1989 when Dom and Jakob were kids (and are played by correspondingly younger actors, Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole, respectively) and their father died in a racing accident. Dom believes Jakob intentionally killed their father and forces him to go away. I guess that was enough for Jakob to form a vendetta against his brother.
Seeing Bennett and Cole in the prequel scenes, it makes me want a full-fleshed out prequel movie to add to the mythos of the franchise. In particular, Bennett was a fantastic young Dom. That was inspiring casting by the casting director. Cole was a little small in height for young Jakob, but maybe he hit a growth spurt.
Perhaps the best scene of the entire film was the parkour chase and subsequent fight between Dom and Jakob. That was exciting and brutal. Sometimes “less is more” even works with superhero films. That is, I want to see the fight and clash in an intimate setting more than the huge spectacle.
The “small army” Jakob was working with turns on him and the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” aligns the Fast crew with Jakob to take them down and save the world. In that moment, I get Jakob “teaming” up with the Fast crew to take on the guy who double-crossed him, but overall, this was a major issue of the film for me. For one, the films too often do that trope: The guy who was the foil for the Fast crew comes into the fold. It happened initially with Brian, then Hobbs (Rock’s character), and then Shaw’s (Jason Statham’s character). Now Cena’s character presumably going forward.
I mean, Jakob was, without known motivation, working toward gaining a world-controlling technology. Nothing about that changed other than the person he was working with to do that double-crossing him. He’s not a good guy unless it turns out he was secretly CIA or something since he does kept hinting that he’s better at the spy game than Dom.
Some other items worth highlighting from the film include Mia (played by Jordana Brewster), Dom and Jakob’s sister, coming into this one. Throughout the franchise, she’s basically played Brian’s wife and Dom’s sister, with nothing much more to do. Here, she actually gets to fight and contribute. I enjoyed that.
As a long-time professional wrestling fan and in particular, of John Cena’s, it was wild to see him sharing scenes with Academy Award-winning Charlize Theron (who plays Cipher, another baddy). Cena did good in his role.
The use of electromagnetics throughout the film made for some fun action sequences and fights. In particular, I thought Ramsey driving the truck while the Roman and Tej were fighting in the back with the henchman was both fun action and hilarious.
ROMAN AND TEJ TAKE A CAR TO SPACE AND SURVIVE. Enough said. (In all seriousness (lol), it was cool and I think it’s a neat touch for Roman to continuing ruminating on his potential death.)
Oh, and I can’t finish this review without mentioning that Helen freaking Mirren (who plays “Queenie”) drove a fast car like a bad-ass.
Overall, if you’ve been a fan of this franchise, then you know exactly what you’re going to get and I see no reason why you won’t enjoy it. The action, set pieces and characters are all here for you, and for me, I gravitated the most toward the prequel aspect. That was something different and fun for this franchise. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the other films in the franchise, so I can’t “rank” them right now, but I would give this a solid 8.5 out of 10; ironically, I can’t as high as nine.