Speeding cars, ridiculous stunts, and family: That’s what “The Fast and the Furious” franchise has been about since its inception in the early 2000s. Twenty years later, the latest addition offers every ounce of entertainment viewers have come to expect from the franchise. But that doesn’t mean this will be the greatest hit. For a franchise built on fantastic and all-together unbelievable stunts, this one takes it a bit over the top.
Director Justin Lin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Daniel Casey, takes a franchise built on car chases and stunts, and hypes it up to about 15 — just past the window of believability in the latest installment.
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are retired to the countryside to raise Toretto’s son. But soon trouble comes knocking in the form of a plane crash carrying Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), of “Fast and Furious 7” and “The Fate of the Furious,” and they abandon the quiet life for an action-filled trip to somewhere in Central America with the regular crew to investigate why. A device, separated in three components, that can lead to the end of civilization is found. What ensues is a chase around the world to prevent the end of the world — and seemingly only a crew of crazy stunt drivers without the help of any country’s military can do the job. Chasing cars, avenging someone’s death, going after warlords and money have been elements forgotten about in the last few franchise movies. I don’t dislike the change, but I don’t think it’s where the franchise’s heart lies.
“Fast” fans will recall Dom talking about his father’s gruesome death. “F9” uses Dom’s backstory of family trauma as a backdrop through flashbacks, starting with the opening of the film with his dad on the racetrack in 1989. Now a brooding, wounded Dom faces his past in the form of his brother Jakob (John Cena), the long-lost sibling no one knew existed. It seems a little ridiculous to toss in a black sheep sibling nine movies and two decades into the series, but regardless of the incredulity of the revelation, especially since the resemblance is next to non-existent, there’s nothing that sets up a film like two warring siblings.
A surprise fitted for a soap opera will have regular viewers either gasping in shock or groaning underneath the weight of unbelievability — it’s a toss-up, really. And an out-of-this-world stunt shaves off far more of that believability factor, as well.
Regardless of some of that unbelievability weighing down the movie, Lin doesn’t miss the goal of entertaining an audience with car chases, crazy stunts, and a bit of storytelling. The whole warring brothers storyline plays well for Dom and Jakob, who can’t get over their sibling rivalry and the trauma of their father’s death, with sibling Mia (Jordana Brewster) trying to play peacemaker as the rest of the team tries to stop the end of the world.
I cherished watching Helen Mirren return as Magdelene Shaw, or Queenie, this time speeding from cops. It’s nothing more than a sliver of time, but it’s a sliver of the tastiest pie.
In the process of saving the world from destruction, more car chases and fighting ensues. Compared to the other franchise films, there were significantly more fight scenes compared to car chases and stunts. It’s not my personal preference, but those who like fight scenes will feel a little more validated with Cena and Vin Diesel throwing each other through furniture and into walls. And while the two bear really no resemblance, Cena was a good match for Vin Diesel in those fights.
The vehicle chases and stunts took a bit of a hit because of this, but there are still some highlights, including driving through a minefield, using magnetized vehicles and catching a car at the end of a rope. Visually, it’s fun and compelling to watch, and Lin’s eye for angles and spaces, both in the action and the locations, yields a great viewer experience.
In the years since the first “Fast and Furious” films were created, culture has changed in regard to how films portray women. In its choices of the attire and ways women are portrayed in this recent movie, it seems both our characters — and the filmmakers — have grown up and taken the cue from the “Me Too” era — a welcomed choice.
“F9” entertains in the way other movies in the franchise usually do: with a dash of issues to work through, a little humor, and a lot of shocking and crazy stunts and fighting. It may not be the greatest yet of the franchise, but it’ll be the action blockbuster of the summer, and fans will likely eat it up.