I’ll say it upfront right now, this is probably the most ridiculous installment yet in terms of what they try to get away with in this one. I mean even for a franchise where someone can crash a car through three skyscrapers and survive without a scratch, they do stuff here that just makes zero sense, and it’s incredibly laughable because of it. But let’s be honest, we know the franchise is going to try crap like this, because the filmmakers are blissfully aware about how stupid all of this is, and that makes it honestly a lot more acceptable.
In other words, they’re in on the joke about how over the top this franchise has become and decide just to give you more, like a $200M self-aware Sharknado B-movie. And because of that, it becomes a fun experience. It’s the reason I tolerate — nay — enjoy and welcome movies like this and Godzilla Vs. Kong over something like Mortal Kombat. The self-awareness that it’s stupid, but the ability to throw a bit of over-the-top expensive spectacle into the preceding to make the stupidity somewhat tolerable makes all the difference (versus the stupidity with zero spectacle or self-awareness).
**SPOILERS AHEAD, IF YOU ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE STORY OF THIS MOVIE**
In the latest installment, Dom and Letty have retired to a farm far away from their danger drenched, high-octane former lives, with little Brian. Roman, Ramsay, and Tej come looking for them because someone has killed Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), and taken Cipher (Charlize Theron). They discover the culprit is none other than Jakob Toretto, Dom and Mia’s long lost brother. Who is attempting to steal a random MacGuffin that will allow him to control all computers on Earth, or something.
Look it really doesn’t matter. F9 is a fun enough movie. Nothing more. Nothing less. It has nothing interesting to say, and tries to keep up the soapy nature of the franchise with long lost brothers and miraculous deus ex machina resurrections. Does any of it really matter? Not really. But, I suppose if you’re invested in the drama behind the Toretto family, or perhaps have always wondered about how Dom went to jail for killing a man with a wrench, you’ll be satisfied. Universal should be grateful that I’m one of the few probably interested in something like that, having been a follower of the franchise since the first installment. But was this something I needed answered in my life? Not really. Will I take it? Ok.
As such, I appreciate the effort on that front. Upon seeing trailers and seeing the whole “long lost brother” thing, I rolled my eyes and said “boy they’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel aren’t they.” Now that I’ve seen the whole thing, I can safely answer, yes they sort of are. But surprisingly it wasn’t something I had issues with. I just sort of let myself enjoy the ride. Getting to see aspects of Dom and Jakob’s childhood play out, from their relationship with their dad, to Dom’s arrest, their tragic relationship and why Dom has never mentioned him, and even good old Michael Rooker to make an appearance here or there, made this hackneyed storyline surprisingly palatable. It also provided some semblance of an arc for Dom, even if the real purpose was to provide some WWE star power to the franchise now that Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel can’t be in the same room with each other.
No one else really grows in the franchise with this movie. Roman has a subplot about questioning whether he’s invincible or not. Tej is just there to spit out techno-babble. Ramsay learns to drive. Mia comes back because she was closer to Jakob than Dom was. And, oh look! Helen Mirren’s Mama Shaw drops in for a drive and some exposition. That’s about as far as things go with the crew.
However, I will say bringing back Han and the Tokyo Drift bunch was a good move. I have no idea how or why Bow Wow, Jason Tobin, and Lucas Black go from the end of Furious 7 to where they are in this film. But seeing them 15 years later was entertaining.
But the pièce de résistance was Sung Kang’s return. Does it make sense? Not really. But this is the type of franchise where you can wave a “Mr. Nobody” deus ex machina at a problem to solve it, and no one will question it. Kang is a welcome presence to the team, and watching him get more action is definitely nothing I would ever complain about.
I’ll say from a narrative standpoint, as much as a lot of the plot and characters don’t matter, it gets a bit ridiculous that suddenly everyone has these secret histories and backstories that we’ve never known about even after 20 years of movie. It stretches the boundaries of what you can really do with this franchise when you start retconning things 3-4 times every movie. However, the reason I really can’t complain about something that crazy is because it happens on a regular basis in franchises like Bond, or even in comic books. If we can accept it with those things, why not an inconsequential franchise about super spy street racers? Especially if a) they weren’t really fleshed out from a backstory standpoint to begin with since the inception of the franchise, and B) they decided to introduce a random fantasy spy character like Mr. Nobody halfway through the franchise, and we all just accepted it anyway. It’s inconsistent, nonsensical, and messy, but such is the franchise we’ve chosen to love for 20 years. Why should we expect anything more?
Anyway, let’s stop talking about the stuff that really doesn’t matter and talk about the stuff that does: the action. As I mentioned before the spectacle is fun enough. The reason we love Fast Five is because the action was over-the-top ridiculous, yet still such a blast, from the fight between Hobbs and Dom, to the opening car theft scene, to the crazy safe scenes. It’s why the bar was set so high for this half of the franchise. And F9 still brings the ridiculous spectacle. There’s a lot of fun whiz-bang stuff from the beginning to the end. There’s a lot of fun with magnets. There’s a great scene in Tokyo where Letty, Mia, and new character, Elle (Anna Sawai) get to fight off some thugs in a really explosive and awesome way.
However, unlike The Fast Saga 4-7 though, things get way too ridiculous at times in F9, even further stretching credibility beyond the last installment, Fate of the Furious. I realize physics is not something anyone considers when making or watching these films, but it gets exceptionally cartoony, from Tarzan-swinging cars to (yes, you guessed it), space. Yeah, I realize they’re aware of how stupid it is too. But I realized for this film franchise, I enjoy it most when it does things that, while over the top, can still exist appropriately enough for this universe. F9 gets to a point where some things are overkill in the stupidity department, intentional or otherwise, even when our expectations are set to the impossibilities of The Fast Saga world. That’s why as crazy as the magnet stuff is, it makes more sense here than some of the other bits, like sending people to space in a rocket car. And thus, I had way more fun with the final chase against Jakob than anything having to do with rockets and satellites. Again there’s enough good stuff to get me to have fun with the action, but also too much stupidity for me to get as on board with it as I did installments 4-7.
That said there’s something to be said about how the action looks. As mentioned, much of the spectacle on display is still impressive, courtesy of Lin’s ability to make an action sequence fast-paced and dynamic. As corny as things can be, it’s a feat of sorts to still be able to make people go “whoa” at different scenes, even if other scenes aren’t as good. As previously mentioned, the final chase with Jakob features a really fun armored vehicle flip that, credit where credit is due, made me go “Wow. The Fast films still kind of have it!”
At the end of the day, you can only take a Fast Saga movie for what it is. And regardless of what this installment does versus the better chapters in the saga, it still manages to entertain, and kept me as just barely enough of a Fast fan to want to see the conclusion of this saga. But this one did come dangerously close to making me want to stop, because it was almost way too ridiculous at times. Sure I had fun. But let’s hope for something a bit more grounded next time guys — like the original The Fast and the Furious.
Overall Score: B-
F9 hits theaters this Friday, June 25.