Vin Diesel and Company Blast Into yet Another Wild Adventure
DIRECTED BY JUSTIN LIN/2021
Welcome to our two-shot review where two reviewers from ZekeFilm discuss their take on F9: The Fast Saga, the 9th film in The Fast and The Furious series.
ERIK YATES: With this being the 9th film in the series, not including the spin-off of Hobbs & Shaw, there is no point in rehashing a lot of the plot from the previous installments. If you aren’t fully invested in this series by now, the chances are you won’t be jumping in with part 9. If you are jumping in at this point, just know that a group of street racers, once targeted by the FBI for their high-speed thefts in Los Angeles have become a close-knit family group who are now super-spies being recruited by shadowy government agencies, led by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). After increasingly more and more far-fetched missions, where no one is ever hurt despite the amount of carnage and destruction they endure, they always seek to get back to their familiar roots, settle down, and try to just be a family. That is where we begin the latest entry with Domonic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) living on a farm, off the grid, when Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) show up letting Dom and Letty know Cipher (Charlize Theron) is coming for them for what happened in The Fate of the Furious, the last installment.
The Fast and the Furious franchise jumped the shark a long time ago, so now you might as well just lean into it and appreciate what it is, not what it was. Now, it is about topping the previous entry with more and more spectacular stunts, and adrenaline-fueled action with characters you have grown to love. To that end, F9: The Fast Saga tops The Fate of the Furious, though, in my opinion, only because they try to bring it back to a simple story about what happens to the Toretto siblings following the death of their father in a racing accident. We’ve known about the close relationship between Dom and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) for 8 films now, but in F9 we are introduced to their long-lost brother Jakob (John Cena). Director Justin Lin (who is responsible for the rebirth of the franchise with the third entry, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and who directed films 3, 4, 5, 6, and now 9) fine tunes this franchise vehicle from wreckage of the past two entries and continues the world building he began, bringing it all back to Tokyo…and space.
JIM TUDOR: Ah yes… space. For the past several Fast & Furious movies, things have, as you explained, gotten only more and more over the top. Since at least the seventh film, the joke amongst fans has been, “What’s left for these characters to do? Go to outer space!?” Well… Perhaps it’s something of a spoiler (though I’ve already seen it laid out in other reviews), but they’ve gone and done it. Literally a car in space. The fact that it’s only two of the myriads of characters that hit the cosmos on a mission hatched in F9’s final act only further underscores the notion that we’re watching the Moonraker of this franchise. The whole set-piece feels really tacked on; less an organic twist than the director proclaiming, “Challenge accepted!”
Another thing you bring up, Erik, is the ever-evolving history and continuity of this series. Not only are there too darn many characters already in the mix, but they also seem to be adding more. Was Michael Rooker ever in one of these movies?? Here he is, playing a crusty old mechanic who dispenses wisdom with a side of grease. What about these three poindexters who invent the rocket car? Add all of these folks to the already sprawling payroll; we’ll no doubt be seeing them again. After all, once you’re in one F&F movie, it’s a lifetime commitment. Just ask Kurt Russell, Helen Mirren, and Charlize Theron- all series veterans who are back (if only briefly), and still seem like fish out of water.
Although the business with Dom’s long-lost, only-now-mentioned brother is played for high drama (via Flashback City!), it’s obvious that the true focus of F9 is the filmmakers’ creative juggling act of characters, global locales, and crazy stunts. It’s also rather obvious that the film is reverse engineered from the question of “What cool things haven’t we done yet?” Which is fine as far as big-screen spectacles go (and F9 delivers when it’s not wringing out maudlin exposition and chasing long-winded leads), but this time there’s a certain self-consciousness baked into the proceedings. It’s as though Lin and company, in their serving up of what we came for, feel the need to clarify that they too understand that all of this is utterly preposterous.
ERIK YATES: Yes, with Justin Lin handling much of the writing, he seems to be saying through the characters, “we know this is insane…just go along for the ride”. It’s not quite a breaking of the fourth-wall ala Deadpool, who talks directly to his audience, but it’s close to maybe a sort-of third-wall breach where characters are wondering aloud to each other how they keep surviving such over-the-top death-defying shenanigans without a single scratch, almost voicing what the audience is definitely thinking at this point, even if they aren’t speaking directly to us. Interestingly, they themselves, never find an answer to that question.
You are correct that anyone who signs a contract has to know they are bound to the franchise for life. Even Gal Gadot’s character Giselle is seen in recycled footage, and one of the rocket poindexters you mentioned is the protagonist of Tokyo Drift, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). Rooker is new to the proceedings, but at least Mirren looks like she is having some fun dipping her toes further into this franchise after two previous cameos.
While this can all still be enjoyed via the sheer spectacle of it all- and I did enjoy much of the action pieces- the acting is starting to get very suspect as if each actor knows they’re going to be paid a lot no matter what. Vin Diesel simply flexes and talks with an even lower register than Christian Bale’s Batman, showing almost no emotion, especially when the situation calls for it. Letty just broods, and Tej and Roman stick to the same schtick of what has worked in the past, but it is starting to wane. The characters of Mia, Han (Sung Kang), Ramsey and Cipher seem to be the only ones really trying besides the new characters of Jakob and Ella (Anna Sawai). This may be simply because these are the characters that are either still new, or who have had a film or two off to recharge their batteries.
Still, Justin Lin is able to hit the NOS and power this 8th sequel almost back on track, setting up the announced upcoming final two installments of this storyline. Make sure you stay for the after-credit scene to see how they tee up the next installment. If Lin stays on board, moving from set piece to set piece, one quarter mile at a time, they may just cross the finish line for the win. Without Lin, however, the franchise might just be left spinning its wheels.
JIM TUDOR: As nutty as this movie is, there definitely is something nice about Lin being back. Yes, his main task seems to be upping the already considerably high ante, and you are spot on about the overall blah quality of the performances. But still, Lin solidifies that intangible something that this “Fast Saga” wants to be all about at this phase of the game: legacy. It’s a big loud bonkers legacy, but at this twenty-year-anniversary moment of the franchise, Justin Lin’s gotta be the only guy for the job.
All eyes are on F9: The Fast Saga to reignite the theatrical box office on this (hopefully) tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, of all the series entries I’ve seen as of now, (from Fast Five onward,) this is the least satisfying. When it’s fun, it’s a blast. But the in-between stretches of the trip can be a real slog. So much exposition, yet I couldn’t begin to tell you what the plot is. All I know is that it hinges on the world’s strongest weapons-grade electromagnet- a device that, despite its reputation, pulls anything metal into the car behind it (the bad guy one that’s giving chase) as opposed to the car it’s mounted into. Fortunately for the protagonists in the magnet car, the device has no effect on that car’s metal.
All that aired, I have to wonder what two more of these are going to look like. Dare I ask what else Toretto and his crew could possibly do? I’m imagining an exchange where Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges has to explain to Tyrese Gibson that with that film’s new tech, they can now drive a car backwards and forwards through time if they go fast enough. Then, they can go back and correct all their bad decisions. Except, these characters don’t make any bad decisions. They only survive other people’s bad decisions. And in doing that, they always excel.