Premise: Cipher enlists the help of Jakob, Dom’s younger brother to take revenge on Dom and his team.
The shifts taken by the Fast & Furious franchise over the course of two decades have been so bizarre and unexpected that you can’t help but be fascinated by its trajectory. What started in 2001 as a street racing, DVD player heist movie shamelessly patterned after Point Break (Point Brake, anyone?) has become a globe-trotting, doomsday device stopping, spy team-up franchise. It’s nothing short of commendable (and, to some, probably perplexing) how this franchise managed to become a box office juggernaut. But nine movies and one spin-off is enough to wear down the tread on any long-running franchise. And while F9: The Fast Saga does deliver on plenty of ridiculous physics-breaking spectacle moments, there’s no mistaking that everyone’s favorite film family is showing signs their adventures may need to be parked for good.
F9 is as off the walls silly as you’d expect. Characters escape near certain death in stylish (if unexplained) fashion, multiple vehicles are used to break the fall of characters as if the cars are made of pillows, franchise characters return in big and small ways, and street racer turned super-spy Dom suddenly has a super-spy brother who’s on the hunt for this installment’s potential world controlling macguffin. There’s certainly a lot going on in F9 and, aside from one or three too many flashbacks, the movie does a solid job at juggling a lot of threads.
Charlize Theron’s villainous Cipher returns in a more subdued role so that Dom’s brother and the rich financier of the operation Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) can take the lead as far as villains are concerned. We are also treated to plenty of franchise cameos and character returns including (but not limited to) Helen Mirren as Queenie, Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody, and of course, the highly anticipated return of Sung Kang as fan favorite Han. It’s a lot to take in and aside from Mirren’s segment feeling slightly shoehorned in and Mr. Nobody’s arc feeling like the film was working around Kurt Russell’s schedule, it’s fun that this franchise has grown into its own universe with a deep bench of players.
Fans of the franchise have been calling for “Justice for Han” since his death in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was retconned to be at the hands of Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw at the end of Fast & Furious 6. Cries for justice were amplified when Shaw became a franchise antihero and unofficial family member (as well as spin-off co-lead in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw). To say Han’s return is a convoluted mess of implausibility and retconning is a given. And to spend time nitpicking the fact would be to show you vastly misunderstand the franchise you’re watching. What’s noteworthy is that Sung Kang is back as Han and although the franchise doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with him in this entry, he performs the role well and is a welcome re-addition to the “family.”
Speaking of reintroducing family, the addition of John Cena as the never spoken of Jakob Toretto doesn’t break the film by any stretch. The revelation that Dom and Mia have a brother steers into the over the top tone and signature melodrama of the franchise quite well, in fact. What strains credulity and makes for a slightly dull stall in the film’s momentum is the incorporation of flashbacks detailing Dom and Jakob’s childhood. Centering the drama around the race in which their father died is compelling on the surface. But the things that come to light throughout the course of said flashbacks can best be described as cookie cutter drama and nothing really special. And while the flashbacks don’t change the narrative of Dom’s origin (of sorts) too heavily, actually showing the audience what happened does retroactively damage one of the better performances and monologues delivered by Vin Diesel in the first film.
However, Dom and Jakob’s plot and the flashbacks therein are not the worst sins F9 commits. That honor goes to the out of place meta humor and winking away of various story logic issues. By this point, the franchise has built a network of convoluted backstories and has retconned its fair share of plot elements. It would be asinine to try to untangle the narrative webs when you’re most likely there just for the spectacle. The problem with the various threads and retcons in F9, however, is the self-aware wink the film gives the audience. Having someone repeatedly point out how unlikely Han’s return is while Han is explaining away the retcon really only serves to break the illusion of the movie. Likewise, giving a character some lines about the team’s seeming immortality is good, cheeky fun. But creating almost an entire character arc around this theory draws negative attention to the endless implausibilities present throughout the film. It risks viewing F9 as less of an escape and even more of an eye-roll inducing experience.
Ultimately, the lackluster humor and overdone flashbacks only detract a little from the action and spectacle. There’s plenty of big set pieces scattered throughout the film and while F9 never reaches the height of insanity that was the submarine sequence in The Fate of the Furious, it does have magnets and fan service working in its favor. If you know what you’re going into with this franchise, chances are you won’t be disappointed. At worst, you’ll likely be thankful that the franchise has a two film finale on the horizon and who knows how many spin-offs in the tank.
F9: The Fast Saga is in theaters now.
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.
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