Synopsis – Cypher enlists the help of Jakob, Dom’s younger brother to take revenge on Dom and his team.
My Take – While finding life in 2001 as a subtle knock-off of Point Break (1991), starting with Fast Five (2011), the fifth entry in the series, the Fast and the Furious franchise outgrew its past dealings with car thieves, drug lords and drag races, and evolving into a fully-fledged action fueled international spy franchise rivaling Tom Cruise‘s very successful Mission: Impossible series.
Since then, with Vin Diesel leading the charge, along with a growing roster of supporting characters, every entry has had higher stakes, and backed by more absurd stunts, all the while serving its theme of family. Even if makes zero sense that a group of car fanatics with shady pasts are the only ones standing against global terrorism. Yet, the series has continuously earned its keep, by becoming more sincere in finding new and interesting ways to bring everyone out for their moment in the spotlight, no matter how dumb the reasons got.
With its 9th entry now finally releasing, following multiple delays, first due to the bumped up release of its spin off Hobbs & Shaw (2019) and then the still ongoing pandemic, returning director Justin Lin seemed clear to serve all undertakings of the series’ blockbuster standards by incorporating soap opera inspired origin stories, further confirming the Dominic Toretto’s near-superhuman invulnerability, and displaying death-defying set pieces that sees the gang going around the world along with the long rumored trip to outer space.
Though I would personally mark this as my second least favorite entry of the series (with 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious taking that honor), without a doubt, this one is also by far the biggest and most ridiculous installment yet, with its climax guaranteed to make one’s jaw drop just for its sheer absurdity. A factor which also unfortunately adds on negatively for a franchise that is determined to constantly to top itself.
Fueled by its own goofy energy, delivering comically grandiose chase sequences and shameless fan service all in the name of giving audiences an uncomplicated good time, here, director Lin takes a quantity-over-quality approach by balancing its somber proclamations about family with the outlandish action set pieces, but only delivering on what one would call a comparatively lesser good time.
After opening with a prelude, the story once again follows Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), a former criminal and professional street racer who has retired and settled down with his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and his young son, Brian Marcos, into a quiet life. That is until, they are approached by former team members, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), seeking their help to track down their former handler, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who sent them a distress message when his plane went down during the transportation of cyber-terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron).
Surprised to find Jakob (John Cena), his estranged brother, involved, Dom and team, which also includes his sister, Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) and presumed dead, Han (Sung Kang), begin their mission to stop him, Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), a European billionaire, and Cipher from stealing Project Aries, a dangerous weapons system and engage their notorious plan.
Yes, the plot sounds more fun than it actually is. However, to criticize the series for being ludicrous is in itself risible, especially considering how the films have managed to entertain by happily embracing the team’s physics-defying antics. As the director of most installments of the series, Justin Lin understands how these films work best, by widening out the action sequences to inhuman scale, which includes cars swinging through the air and through a landmine-strewn field so fast that the detonators can’t go off in time. Along with a fair share of wit on display which demonstrates an undefinable good use of high-powered magnets on streets.
Also keeping constant with its melodramatic tones and ponderous focus on the importance of family, especially Dom who just can’t go more than 10 minutes without talking about how family means everything, the introduction of the estranged brother in the form of Jakob is actually quite a good idea, making the stakes a bit more personal than before. And the film works best when embracing this sibling rivalry, which it explores through a number of lengthy flashbacks, starring Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole as the young Toretto brothers, who come to blows after their dad dies on the racetrack.
But the film begins to go down when it decides to engage in self-reflexively discussions on immortality between Roman and Tej, and goes on to focus on forced fan service by bringing back Han back into the mix along with fellow The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) characters like Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), Twinkie (Bow Wow) and Earl Hu (Jason Tobin), without giving them much to do.
Making matters worse, is the outer space sequence, which despite working in the established frame of the franchise, ends up feeling cringe-worthy, no matter how much humorous riffing both Roman and Tej add to the scene. Hereby giving the confirmation of the impression that in order to top each other with every new entry, the film is has also began to lose some of its freshness.
The performances are too as one would expect. Vin Diesel, who also produces, still continues to glower more than really emote. Tyrese Gibson and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges continue to provide the humor with Nathalie Emmanuel acting as the foil between the two, while Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster bring the best performances of the lot. Though John Cena lacks the charm he showed in his previous outings, he demonstrates enough magnetism to take on guarantee future antagonist roles, while co-antagonist, Thue Ersted Rasmussen is deliciously over the top.
In supporting roles, Kurt Russell, Helen Mirren and Sung Kang continue to be awesome. In smaller roles, Shea Whigham, Anna Sawai, Lucas Black, Bow Wow, Jason Tobin, Cardi B, and Michael Rooker are alright. J. D. Pardo, Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole make a strong impression in the flashback sequences. On the whole, ‘F9’ is the biggest and most exhilarating yet ridiculous installment yet delivering on the expected action and melodrama.
Directed – Justin Lin
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 145 minutes