Of all the ridiculous things associated with the 'Fast and Furious,' maybe the most absurd is simply its longevity. Seriously, it's been 20 years since 'The Fast and The Furious' hit theaters, based on a Vibe magazine article of all things, turning the character of Dominic Toretto and his team into global icons and launching an ever-metamorphizing franchise capturing the hearts of both racing fans and general audiences alike.
This is my lead-up to saying that I never thought much of the series growing up. It seemed more focused on spectacle than character, with all the nonsense of something like the 'Transformers' series and a bit of a "car bro" sheen going through it, neither of which were ever my thing. But it's success meant I'd inevitably have to take the bait, so, I actually went back and watched all eight 'Fast and Furious' movies prior to this (nine if you include 'Hobbs and Shaw').
In short, I get the appeal. The films are progressively more ridiculous, rarely maintain consistent world-building, and could certainly stand to be a bit more subtle. But I would also argue they pull their weight when they need to with a great rotating cast of characters, spectacular stunt work, mostly consistent soundtracks and, every once in a while, legitimate heart and sincerity (yeah I bought into the "family" stuff, what of it).
Now, we're at 'F9' and there's a few things to keep in mind here. Justin Lin, who directed four of the previous films, is back in the director's chair, but isn't being joined by his usual writer, Chris Morgan, who was busy with 'Hobbs and Shaw' at the time of production. In addition, while the 20th anniversary of the franchise results in a lot of familiar names reprising their roles, perhaps the most notable to fans is the return of Sung Kang as Han, who seemingly died at the end of 'Tokyo Drift' (here's the timeline if that sounds at all confusing).
That all sounds interesting to an extent, so what does 'F9' actually result in? Here's the thing: 'F9' is about as bonkers as the franchise can get, not to mention that it's way too long, makes some disappointing choices, and is maybe the most "lore" packed of the recent movies. If you don't fall into the camp of diehard fans, I can see this feeling really bloated, really fast. Yet, to that last point, as a new fan, I AM invested in the characters and the lore. To that degree (and the usual smorgasbord of well-executed stunts), I found a lot more to enjoy about 'F9' than I thought.
Some time after 'The Fate of the Furious,' Dom (played by Vin Diesel) is retired and living a quiet life with Letty (played by Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, Brian. That changes when the two are visited by their old team - Roman (played by Tyrese Gibson), Tej (played by Ludacris) and Ramsey (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) - with an S.O.S message from their former benefactor, Mr. Nobody (played by Kurt Russell).
Led to a plane crash in Central America, they learn that Mr. Nobody was transferring the cyberterrorist Cipher (played by Charlize Theron), along with half of Project Aries, a device that could be used to hack any technology on Earth. The group are ambushed by a mercenary who steals the tech and is later revealed to be Jakob Toretto (played by John Cena), Dom's estranged brother. After being joined by Dom's sister, Mia (played by Jordana Brewster), the group learn that Jakob is working with Cipher in an attempt to reboot the world's technology using the device.
They also learn that their old teammate, Han (played by Sung Kang) not only survived his supposed death, but also was working with Mr. Nobody regarding Aries. The full team goes to London in an attempt to stop Jakob and Cipher's plan, both of whom are aided by the wealthy son of a dictator, Otto (played by Thue Ersted Rasmussen).
I really need to limit myself in this review because, contrary to what the stereotype of this franchise is, there is a LOT to dissect with this movie. The big question is, of course, "how does the action step up here?" I don't want to spoil anything huge, but needless to say, the action does take a pretty substantial step forward, between the hand-to-hand combat, the all-out set pieces and plenty of absurdly wonderful car chases. This series has always thrived on varying up it's action sequences every movie and the ridiculous highs here rival James Wan's efforts in 'Furious 7.'
In addition, as someone who thinks 'Fast 5' is the best this franchise has gotten, I love the echoes of that film in here with a massive group of characters just get to be idiots with each other (I say that as a compliment). As for that massive group of characters, for fans of the franchise, there are plenty here, new and old. Obviously, Sung Kang's return as Han is the big story and the added complexity in this movie only makes the character more likeable (plus his return is explained mostly well, I was expecting worse).
There's also plenty of cameos, everyone from Shea Whigham's Agent Stasiak to Helen Mirren's Queenie Shaw to basically the entire main cast of 'Tokyo Drift' pop up here. I can't say I loved all of them and it certainly leads to a more packed movie, but for fans, they're some of the most enjoyable bits of the movie.
Make no mistake, this is a movie about the Toretto family, specifically Dom and his estrangement from Jakob. I'm not thrilled about John Cena's casting here (nor the film's attempt to defend casting a white actor as a person of color), but to his credit, there are a few moments where I legitimately bought into the deep-seeded rage of the character.
Oddly enough though, the one character I find myself conflicted on is Mia who, for so long, has felt defined as either Dom's sister or Brian's love interest. On the one hand, she gets actual agency in this movie (and shares potentially one of the best scenes of the series with Michelle Rodriguez), as sort of the hesitant mediator of the Toretto siblings. But I also can't help but wonder why it took so long to pivot her this direction, nor why she never gets the sense of presence or invincibility of her brothers.
But let's be real: this is a 'Fast and Furious' movie, even with Justin Lin back and Chris Morgan gone, it's still going to appeal to those broad strokes the fandom loves. The stunts that continue to defy most laws of physics and worldbuilding, the bare-bones explanation of how certain things get to where they are, and the insistence on "family" as the only thing these movies can possibly tackle with any nuance.
This isn't going to change any naysayer's mind of the franchise and it really has no interest in doing that kind of thing. That's also to include myself in those naysayers even as someone with a newfound appreciation for the series; I'm sorry, that's not how steel chains, magnets or human bodies work, no matter how much tech jargon you throw in.
I'll condense 'F9' as such: if you're a fan or just appreciate some ridiculous action prospects in your movies, this is the thing to see, especially with theaters opening up to emphasize the experience. If you're not that, I can totally understand this seeming simple-minded at best and laughably atrocious at worst, especially in trying to complicate it's own storytelling.
Full transparency, this is a bit of a lightning-in-a-bottle moment for me, I'm not sure where this will wind up by the end of the year. But 'F9' is a blast, it knows and loves what it is, can pull it off with style, and brings more than enough new things to keep interest, something I can only respect.
Overall, I give 'F9' 7.5/10.
'F9' will be available in theaters starting on June 25th.
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