I have something of a love/hate relationship with the Fast and Furious films. Some of them I quite enjoy, some are okay and some are really bad. I’ll do a ranking article shortly after this (update, here it is), but before that let’s talk about F9 because I finally sat down and watched it. This movie is…rough. In fact, it’s a giant mess. Let’s dive into it.
F9 takes place sometime after the events of the last film and sees Vin Diesel’s Dom and Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty living off the grid, away from threats with Dom’s son, Brian. Their peace is short-lived though when Tej, Roman and Ramsay come knocking and bring with them a new mission. Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody has gone missing and has tasked Dom’s crew with solving the world-altering issue and to save the Macguffin of the movie, which in this case is a device that can override a computer called Ares. The only problem is the antagonist of this movie is Dom’s long-lost brother and he’s playing for keeps. Played by John Cena (cue the trumpets), Jakob Toretto is on the warpath and seeking revenge. Since he’s a new addition to the Fast family on-screen, there’s quite a bit of time reserved for flashbacks between Dom and Jakob.
Overwhelmed? That’s just the first fifteen minutes give or take. That’s not counting the return of Han, globe-trotting, ret-cons, going to space – should I keep going? The Furious films have never been known for their subtlety and that statement grows exponentially with each passing movie. This one is the most absurd entry but it’s also, unfortunately, not very fun. The term “jumped the shark” could definitely be applied to F9, whether that be going to space (yup) or bringing back Han, probably my favorite character in the series. He died back in Tokyo Drift and his death was later shown to be not an accident but a targeted hit by Jason Statham’s Shaw. But now it’s revealed that Mr. Nobody covered it all up so Han could play secret agent man and protect “the key” to Ares, who was a little girl at the time of Tokyo Drift. Her parents, the creator of Ares, used her daughter’s biometrics to secure Ares but now the bad guys want her. I’m not making this up. Going back to outer space, the movie brings Tej and Roman up into the vastness of the space where, ideally, no one should be able to hear them scream, but even that’s too much to ask for. Helping them get to space is Sean, Twinkie, and Earl from Tokyo Drift, who are now amateur rocket scientists and military aircraft pilots. Mhm. The contraption getting them into space: a car with a rocket on it. Mhm.
There’s just so much going on. I’ve never been a fan of the Fast movies when they’re in the whole “save the world/working with the government” angle. So the past few films have been something of a downturn for me for the franchise, with this one being the low point of the last three. I find the series worked best when it was smaller scale and about racing and thieving. Now it’s trying to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe meets Mission: Impossible but can’t hold a candle to either of them. It’s worth noting, though, that Fast writer Chris Morgan actually didn’t write this one and, dare I say, I miss his subtlety? Let that sink in.
While the story is always soapy, the action in F9 actually felt bloated, which made the almost two and a half hour runtime really drag (and not in a quarter-mile kind of way). There are fast cars zooming around and giant magnets yanking things left, right and center and yet, I shouldn’t feel this bored and no amount of PR can fix that. No one ever gets hurt in these movies and it’s hard to take it seriously, which in turn creates boredom. There’s also some poor CGI that sticks out. I could chalk this up to post-production issues due to the pandemic, but the end result still speaks for itself and are pretty distracting.
I also didn’t buy Jakob as a villain. Some past family trauma caused him to turn into a Bond villain and seek to take over the world? I just didn’t believe it. It was dumb and made no sense. A personal beef with Dom, sure, and he could’ve gone full Terminator on him, but instead he wants to literally take over the world, like an old Bond villain and Dom was the catalyst for this career path. Then, when that plan falls apart by the end of the movie, he just changes teams? Wait what? I also didn’t mention Charlize Theron’s Cipher being back, but she ultimately doesn’t do much in the movie so her inclusion isn’t really worth talking about apart from it’s a relief she doesn’t have those dreads from the last movie.
Where the movie does get interesting though is when it jumps back in time. Going back to the early 90s and seeing the race that killed Dom and Jakob’s father and seeing the fallout between the two brothers was interesting, especially with the street racing angle and how it reinforced scenes from the first film. But even these scenes aren’t foolproof, as it’s here where younger Dom makes the gigantic assumption that his brother killed their dad, simply due to him being the last one to look at the car before the accident. No investigation, no questions, just straight to “you killed dad” and thus a villain was born. But the two actors playing young Dom and Jakob, Vinnie Bennet and Peaky Blinder’s Finn Cole, are at least engaging to watch and their brief storyline at least feels grounded and smaller scale. I would be all for a new Fast and Furious spinoff that focused on Cole’s younger Jakob, set in the 90s as he navigates the street racing scene and the criminal underworld. This could be the refresh the franchise needs, which is ironic as it ties heavily into the themes of the original film.
In the end, F9 is dumb. Real dumb. A low point in a franchise that has plenty of highs and lows. Justin Lin returns to the director’s chair for this one, which may have been enough reason to strap back into this franchise, but even he can’t save this movie after saving the franchise. Lin now has the distinct honour of directing the very best and worst in this franchise. If you’ve enjoyed the last two films, then you’ll probably like this one, but for this one was frustratingly banal, dumb and uninspired and as a fan of many of these films, I can’t really recommend it.