F9 Fast & Furious

F9 is the biggest and dumbest Fast & Furious movie yet

“F9 is by far the most self-aware film in the Fast Saga, overtly raising the question of how ridiculous it all is with a certain candor.”

It’s a hacky joke trope in movies set in the future to trot out extremely long-in-the-tooth franchises as a sight gag. A movie from the ’90s set in 2021 might mention an Indiana Jones 12, for example. Granted, that joke trope is considerably less prevalent now that franchises seem to go on indefinitely — a fact that is truly undeniable when faced with the latest addition in the Fast & Furious saga, F9.

This particular franchise stands alone in the landscape in the sense that it functions almost entirely by addition, not subtraction — it never removes characters entirely and never truly resolves any of its ongoing soap opera plotlines. The series seems content to just constantly tack on more characters and plot strands on top of each other, a rather impressive feat of one-upmanship that has cemented the franchise as a not-so-guilty pleasure for many. Each episode is more (in all possible ways) than the previous one, an admirable gonzo quality that has nevertheless started to stagnate a bit by installment nine.

It’s not really that F9 doesn’t deliver exactly what you want out of a Fast & Furious sequel; it’s that it also delivers tons of stuff you don’t particularly want out of it, either. Turbo-charged full of new backstory (for a guy so focused on family, Dom Toretto should probably have mentioned the whole “my brother hates me and wants to kill me” in the last 20 years) and filled with endless tendrils of new characters, F9 is a pretty good example of how a lot of something doesn’t necessarily make it better. The whole series is already a completely decadent insanity burger, but F9 comes perilously close to being that decadent burger filled with another, slightly smaller but just as decadent burger.

Alloy rim repair

Dom Toretto is lying low after the events of the previous film, living in the country with his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and son. Dom’s retirement is almost immediately interrupted by the return of his acolytes (Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Natalie Emmanuel), who have intercepted a communication from their own personal Bosley, Mister Nobody (Kurt Russell) who appears to have been attacked by rogue agents — one of whom, upon closer inspection, appears to be Dom’s heretofore never-mentioned estranged brother Jakob (John Cena). Dom holds Jakob responsible for the death of their father some 30 years back in a stock car race; they raced it out, which led to Jakob being banished but nevertheless becoming a very accomplished secret agent and ass-kicker for hire. Somewhere in there, Dom and his crew figure out that Jakob is after a super-hacker device called Aries that has been split into two parts; when the two parts are joined, the device is an unstoppable hacking machine that can be used to take over the world.

From a relatively simple premise that essentially mirrors that of several superhero movies (what is Aries if not the Tesseract or Infinity Stones?), F9 soon spins out into a convoluted mess of backstory and timeline-scrubbing in order to maximize the amount of sheer ballistic intensity that the film can provide. It would be foolish to fault harebrained twists and implausible reveals in any movie about secret agents jumping modified cars across canyons and having bare-knuckle fights on top of moving semi trucks, much less the ninth installment in such a series.

The problem with where the series now stands is not one of implausibility or silliness — it’s one of saturation. There are already so many characters in this series that it’s impossible to give them all enough space to breathe within one movie, and F9 actually goes out of its way to resuscitate a long-dead character in order to further pack itself out with narrative.

F9 Fast & Furious
Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez

Though neither the Rock nor Jason Statham return (presumably because their Hobbs and Shaw spinoff is now entirely its own thing), the film nevertheless makes so much space for tertiary characters and hangs so much of the action on an equal division of tasks between everyone that the film starts to tread water even as hundreds of luxury cars explode in front of our eyes.

At one point, the characters played by Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster discover something that’s going to change the entire course of the film and the scene fades out to see what Vin’s up to — so far, so good. It, however, takes a full half hour before we see Rodriguez and Brewster’s characters again, this film-defining twist left hanging in the balance of all of the other plot strands that the film has to explore. 

What’s more is that Cena isn’t a particularly dynamic addition to the franchise. Forced to leave behind the comic chops that have defined most of his on-screen persona in the last few years, he’s mostly a glum villainous presence that could have been fulfilled by pretty much any other ripped actor.

That having been said, most of what is wrong with F9 is typical of modern blockbuster filmmaking — which means that most of what is right with it toes the same lines. The action scenes are beyond ridiculous in their one-upmanship, constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible not just in real life (the franchise has long abandoned that) but even within the context of a series where guys who used to make a living jacking trucks full of DVD players are now highly accomplished, quasi-invincible martial artists. Though the series has adopted a fairly tongue-in-cheek attitude since Fast Five, F9 is by far the most self-aware in the Fast Saga, overtly raising the question of how ridiculous it all is with a certain candor.

The fact that the ninth installment of anything at all is remotely watchable is an accomplishment in itself; the fact that F9 threatens to buckle under the weight of being the ninth installment isn’t particularly surprising, either. As big, bombastic entertainment, F9 certainly delivers, though it does make me wonder exactly how much more of this is left in the tank. ■

F9 opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, June 25. Watch the trailer here:

The trailer for the latest Fast & Furious film, F9, directed by Justin Lin

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