Although this was originally scheduled for worldwide release last year, releasing F9 this summer could not have been a better time as this year marks the twentieth anniversary of The Fast and the Furious. What was originally Point Break set in the world of illegal street racing, the franchise has progressed so much that the protagonists that were once car-jackers went from being spies to now superheroes. But first and foremost, these films are about family as Vin Diesel and his on-screen alter-ego Dominic Toretto keeps telling us.
The most recent years have been a weird time for the main series as The Fate of the Furious was more of a transitional installment that lost ignition, whilst the spin-off Hobbs & Shaw was more self-aware than what we usually see in these films. With Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham out of the way, F9 can go lean back into the goofy sincerity that is anchored by Vin Diesel’s performance, whilst Justin Lin – someone who previously directed four installments of the series – returns for the most ambitious one yet.
Now retired and raising his son Brian with his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom steps back into the world of espionage as he and his crew travel around the world once again to retrieve yet another weapon of mass destruction. Charlize Theron does reprise her not-so-interesting villainous role as Cipher, but importantly, John Cena plays Jakob, Dom’s secret evil brother who has been under Dom’s shadow for so long, he wants revenge by basically starting World War III… I think.
By this point, the plot in these movies doesn’t matter as from Furious 6 onwards, it’s usually about Dom and his crew off on adventures that are not far off from the Mission: Impossible movies, only their method of saving the day is usually driving cars that don’t obey the laws of physics, something that F9 jokingly acknowledges. Vin Diesel might be the only person involved to treat these films as if serious pieces about family, Justin Lin is definitely in on the joke, with the humor being more aware of the situations the characters have been through as Tyrese Gibson’s still-annoying comic relief wondering they are invincible.
The self-awareness doesn’t always land well; despite the funny pretension of subtitling the film The Fast Saga in an attempt to rival a certain space opera, there is one cringe-worthy moment where two characters argue which Star Wars character they are. However, like George Lucas’ creation, Fast & Furious is a soap opera with the central conflict being family itself as John Cena serves as a worthy straight-faced antagonist. Although the plot shouldn’t matter, there is surprisingly an awful lot of it, which you can direct towards co-writer/director Justin Lin, who continues this series’ tradition of retconning upon retconning, including an overly elaborate explanation into how the resurrection of Sung Kang’s Han Seoul-Oh.
With a running time of 145 minutes, there are plenty of sequences that just feel like fan-service, whether it is the return of three other cast members from Tokyo Drift, or an unnecessary car chase featuring Helen Mirren’s Queenie Shaw. No doubt that the film is overcompensating, but when the action is so ridiculous that you are not among the fandom, there’s no point trying to embrace it. The car chases are so close to being like Road Runner episodes, you would think that Acme Corporation was involved in some way, whilst the fist fights are punchy and impactful, whilst again defying the laws of physics.
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