We have some earth-shattering news to report from our viewing of Fast and Furious 9 (also known as F9: The Fast Saga). Are you ready? Here it goes. Vin Diesel does not, in our recollection, say the word ‘family’ once during the entire duration. Not once! Hand on heart, we don’t recall it happening. But don’t fret because there are indeed fast cars and furious action to make up for this particular heartbreak.
At nine films (10 if you include spin-off Hobbs & Shaw, which we’re sure a certain Vinnie Diesel would rather not), a franchise surely has to just go for it. Hey, if you’ve made it this far, why the heck not? Be it the heart-devouring and worm hell souls of Jason Goes To Hell or the all-out kaiju madness of Destroy All Monsters, a ninth film has to go there! And for many sequels there, just so happens to be space. We all have made that joke about a series that keeps getting wilder haven’t we? “What are they going to do next, go to space?”. Well, about that...
Fast and Furious 9 sees Dom (Diesel) and his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) called away from their retired tranquil family life by their crew, as they all must seek out the reasons for a hijacking of Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russell) agency aircraft by rogue agents, after Nobody had captured cyberterrorist Cypher (Charlize Theron). What they find is a long-gone face from Dom’s past in Jakob (John Cena), who is at the head of a world-threatening plot.
Starting back in about 2009, this series has had an increasingly casual relationship with gravity, and even by the series’ own barmy standards, this new one particularly enjoys to flip off old Isaac Newton. Director Justin Lin's return to the Fast and Furious franchise conjures some pretty darn big crash, bang and wallop for your money, and a few excitingly assembled set pieces, even if the series is showing its age in some respects.
The story races back and forth, capturing a snapshot of Dom’s youth, to help introduce Jakob onscreen, all while in the present it not only advances a villainous tech-stealing world domination plot, but sees old faces return and rewrites some previously established lore to keep things rollin’. In this series onscreen death has been merely a flesh wound, and so it is again, and cars are also not just for driving (duh) but for flinging around like a swing ball across the cliffs of a country border. It’s bold as brass (a rocket car in space!!!) and overstuffed madness, that is more ridiculous than ever and yet it’s rather irresistible at points. In embracing the madness for some time now, this series has evolved and while this latest one’s problems cannot be ignored, they can be forgiven to a degree thanks to some undeniably entertaining scenes of cataclysmic chassis crunching carnage.
Lin knows what the audience is expecting and delivers the family-driven story, complete with constant fast-paced action and ante-upping set pieces and a plot filled with callbacks and some rewards for those who have been along for this ride since the beginning. That said, where this one goes more off-track than some previous instalments is in that core story. Despite the main Dom’s crew/Jakob’s crew showdown promised by all the trailers, the film cannot quite keep its mind on one main purpose and it doesn’t help that the screenplay has surprisingly stripped star John Cena of much of his well-proven cinematic charisma. Dwayne Johnson’s absence is sorely felt here already but to waste the WWE legend’s already proven onscreen energy with a rather dry character feels like a bizarre move, and as such the script leaves it to Theron to handle more of the cool villainy duties (and she also is rather underused here), leaving the villains and story feeling a bit limp this time and very predictable at points.
There is plenty to laugh at and with, and a tonne thrown at the screen, not to mention some obvious builds for avenues where #10 (a two-parter apparently) will be heading but despite some things not really igniting, there are a number of big moments perfectly equipped for the cinema screen experience. Not as fun as 5, 6, and 8 then, nor as heartfelt as 7, F9 still, by the end of its near 2 1/2 hour duration, sees the fast family gather again to ultimately deliver a fun, preposterous, action spectacle. Where next? The centre of the Earth?