MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action/Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron, Anna Sawai, Thue Ersted Rasmussen, Michael Rooker, J. D. Pardo, Jim Parrack, Martyn Ford, Cardi B, Lucas Black, Bow Wow, Jason Tobin, Don Omar, Shea Whigham, Gal Gadot, Jason Statham, Vinnie Bennett, Finn Cole, Cered, Ozuna/ Runtime: 145 minutes
I think it is safe to say that over the past 2 decades there has been a distinct rise and fall to the grade of quality of the movies that are found in the series that is The Fast and Furious franchise. That’s because the first one is, for all intents and purposes, Point Break but about street racers, the sequel is just like “really?”, and the third is actually not as bad as I thought it was when I was younger. Of course, the 4th one wasn’t exactly anything memorable, but then with the release of the 5th one in 2011 this franchise really took off to a whole other level entirely and the 5th, 6th, and especially the 7th films are seen by a lot of movie goers and fans as just damn good movies. Sadly, however, that amazing run was hit with a little bit of a speed bump in 2017 when The Fate of the Furious, whilst still fun if not slightly over the top (The Rock redirecting a submarine missile through the power of his giant muscles anyone?) wasn’t exactly on par with what had come before it though not for lack of effort. This now brings us to F9 where we see that Justin Lin, having not been at the helm for the last 2 movies in this series even though he was at the helm of 3 of the best sequels in this franchise, is back to helm this one. A fact that honestly gave me hope that we were in for something truly special. Well….about that….honestly there is still quite a bit of balls to the wall action in this that is really easy to get behind, this film also is stricken sadly with an absolutely lazy narrative hook that really does a number on how entertaining this film is to say nothing of how difficult it is to care about anything that happens in this film because any “stakes” that may exist in this have just been jettisoned like the passenger seat in 007’s Aston Martin. I mean this is most certainly not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same time it’s clear that there might be a few issues under the hood that this series needs to look at PDQ lest it run out of gas or worse before it gets to the 11th and final (purportedly), installment let alone chapter 10.
Of course it also doesn’t help matters that a decent chunk of this movie’s narrative feels slightly ripped off the far better 7th installment with some narrative tweaks placed here and there for good measure. Be that as it may be, F9 sees that, once more, our group of main characters have left their action-packed lives behind in favor of ones that are perhaps a bit more….normal dare I say? Yet while Dom and Letty have been trying their best to live a peaceful life with their little boy, we soon see that this peace is thrown for a serious disruption when “family members” Roman, Tej, and Ramsey show up to bring them back into the fold. This is because after acquiring an enigmatic call for help from their favorite government black ops agent Mr. Nobody, our heroes uncover that there is yet another piece of tech out there that they need to keep out of nefarious hands. Of course, the reason why our heroes getting involved in this mess is because “it’s personal” since the nefarious hands in this instance happen to be attached to the body of a man named Jakob….a man who also happens to be Dom and Mia’s long lost brother long since estranged from the rest of the family for reasons that may or may not have something to do with their dad’s death, but who has taken up the recent family occupation of becoming an international person of mystery albeit with the added goal in mind of no more and no less than world domination. Something that Dom and the team must now make sure he is not able to fulfill…….
Now it is not exactly the best omen in the world when a long-running series finds itself having to go down the proverbial rabbit hole of finding and utilizing long-lost family members in order to function as narrative hooks to utilize with 2002’s Austin Powers in Goldmember despite a game Michael Caine performance, and 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker being a pair of titles that right off the bat come to my mind when it comes to this narrative trope. Suffice it to say that F9 is not the slice of cinematic pie that manages to make this narrative wrinkle fresh by any means. Not only that, but it also seems like a poorly executed comedic bit especially when you look back and remember just how much of an emphasis this whole freaking franchise has placed on the idea of “family” and yet at no point in the 8 films prior to this, Hobbs and Shaw spin-off notwithstanding, did Dom or Mia think it pertinent to bring up that there was a 3rd Toretto kid somewhere out there in the world. I mean it really does give off the vibe of being the main idea that the film’s screenwriters came up because it’s seen as an easy way to keep this series moving forward. Yet worse than that is the fact that it also turns out to be a really disappointing utilization of John Cena who is actually not that bad in this, but who still has to tamper down his wonderful abundance of charisma and instead act all moody and menacing. Yet the introduction of Dom and Mia’s brother Jakob in this is not the only character dilemma this slice of cinematic pie is saddled with since the messiness of this film’s writing inflicts a lot of people who aren’t the 6 main characters in this. I mean one of the better aspects this franchise had for a while was its talent for being able to consistently grow out the character roster and flesh out this truly expansive universe, but in this it feels like a lot of the stabs made to bring back faces we may recognize into the narrative are more a mixed bag than ever before. This is most definitely the case not just in regards to the always enjoyable Helen Mirren’s Magdalene Shaw getting maybe 15 minutes of screen time if that whilst Charlize Theron’s wonderfully sinister Cipher spends the majority of her time in this film making snarky statements whilst stuck in a prison box, but tragically also bleeds into the bringing back of Han whose explanation for how he is somehow still among the land of the living I promise you is one of the most hilariously complicated explanations I have ever heard in a movie and that is saying quite a lot.
Now even though this film’s narrative has trouble keeping its foot on the gas, the material that is the main reason a lot of audiences go to see these movies thankfully is still in top-form as the action beats in this film are difficult to sit through if you don’t have a fondness for action that borderlines on the downright ridiculous. No this film is not able to, save for one moment in this film that I won’t say any more about, go as over the top as the leap between skyscrapers that the 7th had for example, but there is still a lot of enjoyment to be found herein. I mean sure a lot of it doesn’t seem to have any respect for physics, but you can’t sit there and tell me it’s not extremely enjoyable sometimes to just sit back and watch as a car goes zip lining off a cliff or see a magnet just wreak havoc on cars in its immediate vicinity. With that said however, there does need to be a line put in the sand as it were when it comes to the ideas of “fun” and “riveting” when dealing with the sequences in this film since they also inadvertently reveal a bigger problem at the heart of this franchise. Namely that the concept of stakes has all but been eradicated. I mean there is a recurring comedic bit in this movie where team motor mouth Roman finds himself pondering not only his existence, but also if he is still alive because he’s invincible yet to me this doesn’t just feel like a joke. Rather, it also feels like a low-key confession on the part of this series since there really isn’t anything riveting about this series’ moments of action when you know only the bad guys are going to go down and at no point do the heroes ever seem like the situation could go wildly out of hand for them. Incidentally, this is not just an issue I found with the action in this film, but also in the narrative as well with the key example of this being that the series brought Han back to life. I mean yes it works as a service to the fans of this franchise, but it also severely negates just how emotional Han’s death was in the first place though in all fairness Fate of the Furious didn’t exactly do it any favors either. Finally, I guess for me it’s also very difficult to see this film’s main antagonist Jakob as a serious threat thanks not only to flashbacks throughout which slowly but surely reveal more and more about a key moment from Jakob and Dom’s past, but also because this series has a tendency to bring in heavy hitting villains (Hobbs and Shaw ring any bells?) only to then proceed to change their allegiances in future movies in the franchise.
All in all I feel like there are going to be quite a few people, especially the immensely loyal devotees to this franchise, who are going to love and cherish this film just as much as they have with the other 9 movies in this franchise. However, with that being said I do feel that those people who might not be willing to give this film the benefit of the doubt based off brand name alone might not exactly be as satisfied watching this as the other group I previously mentioned. Then there is me who honestly can kinda sorta see both sides of the argument. Yes this movie is popcorn level fun in every sense of the word and there’s nothing wrong with that, but at the same time it has been shown time and time again in past installments that there is the potential for this series to give us narratives that are amusing, ingenious, riveting, and even emotional as well. Yet in order for those kinds of stories to be told there needs to be more substance to the movies than what we get with this installment. Thus this film isn’t a total loss, but all the same here’s hoping that F10 (or whatever they wind up calling it) manages to get this series back in top gear again. On a scale of 1-5 I give F9: The Fast Saga a solid 3 out of 5.