F9: The Fast Saga continues the series’ tonal mash up of dopey yet enjoyable car smashing action combined with awkward sentimentality. The series narrative has some surprisingly in-depth continuity it has acquired over 20 years and some of the pulls in F9 will only resonate with long-time fans. The fact this movie also adds a previously unknown family member makes it even more complex. But when everyone stops whining and vehicles are being used as magnets as are cars being shot into orbit is when F9 is stupidly rousing.
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew of fast driving super-spies are trying to find a killer device that can take over weaponry across the world from an orbital satellite. The villain chasing down the device is Dom’s estranged brother, Jakob (John Cena), much to Dom’s shock. Dom and Jakob split decades ago when Dom believed that Jakob was responsible for the death of their father. In the intervening years, Jakob became an evil super-spy who is working for the dastardly Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmauseen). Now Dom has to get the killer widget from Jakob and also deal with the surprising return of Dom’s long assumed dead friend, Han (Sung Kang).
With The Rock spun off into Hobbs and Shaw this Fast and Furious recruits a different WWE superstar. Cena basically settles for glowering at Diesel the whole time. A whole lot of their emotional backstory is based upon flashbacks to the death of their father with Vinnie Bennett as Young Dom and Finn Cole as Young Jakob. Bennett is supposed to be early ‘90s Dom which makes it a bit hard to believe that 10 years later Bennett suddenly morphed into Vin Diesel, ditto for Cole who is supposed to be a young John Cena. There’s a moment where the young brothers face off that is reminiscent of the street racing of the first film instead of the super-spy explosions the series has turned into and it’s a fun stylistic flashback.
Diesel himself often seems like he’s in a completely different movie than what the series actually is. He’s often looking stern, serious and ticked off about deep family problems when the actual point of the series is using cars as bungie cords. The antics have gotten so absurd its superhero movie action. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) even mentions that they go through all of this stuff without a scratch. (Which is a nice meta moment that a character finally acknowledges that they should have been exploded into a billion pieces.) Then his buddy Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) calls him a dumbass and they move on. But the movie is seemingly self-aware of its absurdity by sending those two characters literally into space to smash a spy satellite. In a car that has a rocket strapped to its roof. The space journey brings back Lucas Bridges who was the lead in Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift as a wacky gearhead who melds cars and rockets together in a fun bit.
There is a lot of franchise baggage by this point. The long-dead Han reappears and it’s cool to see him again, however, his return will only resonate for fans of the series. He gets a great introduction scene where he snipes a bunch of baddies then delivers a somewhat long story about why he’s still alive. The answer is not exactly satisfying. At this point, the series foregoes realism so much it would have been cleaner to make him a robot or time travel. Han gets saddled with a young charge, Elle (Anna Sawai), who is the biometrical key to unlock the evil technology which is dumb but not in a fun way. If Han was supposed to seem like a father-figure with responsibility by giving him an adoptive kid, it doesn’t pay off.
The cast is so sprawling most characters are relegated to brief roles. Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) get a side-quest to find Han and then are relegated to hollering behind the wheel of cars. Aside from Jakob, the villainy in the movie is supplied by the billionaire wimp Otto who Rasmussen makes easy to hate. Charlize Theron’s evil computer hacker Cipher returns to spend most of the film in a glass box as she psychoanalyzes anyone she talks to but she does get in a fun Yoda reference.
Still, despite how much of F9 features people jawing about melodrama the audience doesn’t care about, the selling point is the spectacle. When it eventually kicks in, is pretty awesome. The action defies any sort of real world physics and is better for it. There’s a whole thing involving magnets being used to yank cars through buildings which provides fantastic smashing. The opening action scene features helicopters raining down fire upon the speeding cars and one moment when a car impossibly goes entirely vertical to land safely. And the final action scene has a military armoured transport wreaking havoc as it plows through a city and featuring absurd moments like cars forcing it to flip upside down.
F9: The Fast Saga swings awkwardly between family melodrama and cars blasting into space. And the gaggle of continuity and returning characters are borderline incomprehensible. But still, when it does loud, dumb, silly stuff, F9 provides a jolt of spectacle.
F9: The Fast Saga
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, John Cena, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez