Call it what you like, Fast & Furious 9 – or F9, or F9: The Fast Saga – is no good, a terrible disappointment in a franchise that in a 20-year run has managed to be one of the most reliable suppliers of screen fun, banter and action.
However, F&F has proved to be totally bombproof thus far, having survived the permanent loss of franchise mainstays (Paul Walker), temporary absences (Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster), a reverse takeover by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham (who have now been shunted off to their own spinoff, the Hobbs & Shaw franchise). It even survived the loss of director Justin Lin, who picked up the series at a low ebb at F&F3: Tokyo Drift and took it on to glory, becoming one of the best action directors in Hollywood as he did so.
By the time Lin had got F&F6 in the can – probably the best of the lot – he’d transformed the oily road racers and their sudsy babelicious girlfriends into an A Team of elite operatives, the sort of people who might be on nodding terms with James Bond. The bad guys, meanwhile, had gone from being traffic cops to megalomaniac evil masterminds.
After taking a break for F&F7 and 8, Lin is back as director here, and as if to reassure us that all is once again well, delivers an action sequence in the early minutes of the film that is so audacious, ridiculous and novel that it’ll make you either gasp or laugh out loud, or both. That’s after a quick bit of “getting the gang back together” and an even quicker bit of introduction of the international megalomaniac bad guy, Charlize Theron returning in her familiar “because I’m worth it” Dr Evil role.
What does she want to do? Blow up the world, or something, of course. How’s she going to do it? Tech something something. It’s not necessary to know more and in any case F9 is far more interested in the backstory of Dominic Torreto (Diesel) and his dead race-hero dad, and the source of his beef with his estranged brother (John Cena), all explained in extended flashbacks seemingly designed to introduce Diesel’s son, Vincent Sinclar Diesel (who plays the young Dom), to casting agents.
Dom’s dad and brother, his daughter, his wife Letty (Rodriguez), the extended family of his crew, it’s all about Dom this time round, to the franchise’s detriment. Between still-breathtaking stunt sequences things really sag, with Brian Tyler’s soundtrack an aural analogue of what’s wrong – Tyler just has no idea how to fill in the gaps and so see-saws away with swathes of meaningless vamp. The cast manfully and womanfully do the same with a script full of corny wisdom about blood being thicker than water, bruh. This is the longest F&F yet and it feels every minute of its two hours 23 minutes.
There are still good things. Nice to see Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges aka Ludacris’s comedy double act being better integrated into the plot. This time they have agency! And also nice to see the women doing more action work – there’s something called “Untitled Women-Led Film” in the works, so Wikipedia tells us, so there’s a commercially cynical reason for that too. And Han (Sung Kang) is back from the dead. He was always one of the more enjoyable side characters and there might be a feeling that, Statham and Johnson having gone missing, a charisma injection was necessary.
In the “barely in it” category are Jordana Brewster, Kurt Russell, Helen Mirren (again with that terrible cockney accent) and Lucas Black, who was the main man in F&F3 and who, for unexplained reasons, was re-introduced in a cameo in F&F7 and seems to be being gradually folded back into the mix. Gal Gadot appears in a flashback intended to keep her place warm.
But never mind all that, there are car chases in a jungle, through a minefield, across a disintegrating bridge, and through the cities of London, Edinburgh and Tibilisi. And a car that blasts off into space! With that last one, the F&F franchise seems to have gone all a bit Roger Moore-era James Bond. There might be hope for it yet.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021