One of the greatest pleasures of the Fast & Furious franchise is that the movies make absolutely no sense whatsoever. At a time where it can seem like making snarky comments about plot holes is the default mode of film discussion the world over, this series gleefully refuses to gesture even slightly towards any kind of coherent logic. This is a movie that dares to name-check ‘the laws of physics’ barely half an hour after showing us a high-powered sports car swinging across a canyon on a rope like a four-wheeled Tarzan; if your idea of a fun night out is nit-picking a film to death, you’ve got a long night ahead of you.
After the events of the last film, which involved a high-tech doomsday device, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and partner Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are hiding out in a farm with their son Brian. He’s named after Paul Walker’s character from the series, who is still alive in the series even though in real life Paul Walker is dead, which is why everyone keeps talking about ‘Brian’ but we never see him.
Meanwhile, another completely different high-tech doomsday device is threatening the stability of the world, because why not. Now the Fast & Furious crew (they are never actually called this) have to reassemble to stop it from falling into the hands of Cipher (Charlize Theron), because she is a ‘cyber-terrorist’ and easily the most boring reoccurring character in this series.
Initially Dom couldn’t care less because he’s got a tractor to fix, but then he (and only he) notices that in the final ‘save me’ transmission from spymaster Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell), who is the second most boring reoccurring character in this series, a background bad guy has the exact same cross necklace he does. Could this mean the bad guy is actually his never before mentioned younger brother Jakob (John Cena)? Considering the film opens with a racetrack flashback to the race day when a then-teenage Dom’s father died in a fiery crash and Jakob is right there with him, let’s go with yes.
What follows is initially the standard mix of jaw-dropping action sequences – this is a film that opens with a car swinging on a rope trying to catch another car that just drove off a cliff only to be grabbed by a plane using a big magnet – and endless references to ‘family’, both of which have been feeling a little flat of late. You can say the F&F series started to drift off course when director Justin Lin (who directed numbers 4,5 and 6) left, or you can say it lost its way when Dom and his crew went from road-racing super-thieves to physics-defying super-spies, but there’s little denying the fizz had faded from the franchise.
this is a film that opens with a car swinging on a rope trying to catch another car that just drove off a cliff only to be grabbed by a plane using a big magnet
Now Justin Lin is back, and over the two hours 20 minutes of this film he attempts to pull off something of a course correction. The silly gimmicks remain (fans of magnets will love the final hour of this film) and the stakes and cars are still larger than life. But for the first time in a while the human side of things gets enough of a look in to keep it all at least a little more grounded. The return of the previously-dead (seems he got better) Han (Sung Kang) and Brian’s wife / Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) definitely helps here, mostly because they both look like regular humans and not off-duty weightlifters.
Lin can’t walk everything back. Losing Paul Walker during the filming of 7 was a serious blow because with Walker around, at least some of the action had to stay human-scaled for him to be plausibly involved; with Dom the solo lead in the last film then sure, why not have everyone chased by a submarine? A bad guy with an actual human connection to Dom (why Jakob wants the doomsday device is never explained) means this is able to use the action to heighten the soap opera side of things. Increasingly the fights and the emotional stakes synch up; the twists might be telegraphed a quarter-mile away, but they’re fun to see play out.
This is still an extremely silly cartoon of a movie, and the franchise isn’t quite on solid ground just yet. The comedy comes from how seriously everybody takes everything, so a few mildly meta comments from Roman (Tyrese Gibson) early on threaten to destablise the whole wobbly edifice. And while Mr Nobody is useful entirely as a magical plot device, Cipher is a bad guy with nothing to offer – though presumably her link to Jakob means she’ll keep on coming back.
With even the muscle cars that were originally central to the series sidelined, this is now almost entirely Vin Diesel’s show. Increasingly implausible when it comes to expressing emotions or delivering dialogue, he spends the entire film pursing his lips and growling like his voice was coming out of the bass-heavy speakers of a street racer. But his ridiculously forceful posturing is what makes this franchise so entertaining; he plays Dom with all the leaden intensity of a Corona-swigging Macbeth with a fondness for fast cars.
3.5 Stars: ★★★☆
FAST & FURIOUS 9
Director; Justin Lin
Writers: Justin Lin, Daniel Casey
Producers: Vin Diesel, Justin Lin, Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, F Valentino Morales, Neal H Moritz, Joe Roth, Clayton Townsend, Samantha Vincent
Rated M, 2 hours 25 minutes
In cinemas from June 17 2021