When it comes to the laws of reality, physics, and any sense of characters being grounded in a world that contains at least a decimal point of tangibility and realistic consequences, F9 certainly feels like a franchise that has perhaps reached the finish line. So why is it so unbelievably easy to love?
By doing what most summer movies on the big screen are supposed to do, F9 practically laps its tired predecessor, The Fate of the Furious, which contained only a small handful of memorable moments while running on fumes when it came to its ongoing spy-game redux of racers-turned-superheroes trying to save the world from hammy villains who are honestly just happy to be here. It reunites the cast — sorry, family — with director Justin Lin, who already helmed the two best of these movies, Fast 5 and Furious 6. But the film loses screenwriter Chris Morgan, one of the true architects behind the “Fast” franchise’s rise to global dominance since the fourth entry in 2009.
At this point, characters in Universal’s “Fast” movies are practically collectible action figures. Dom Torretto (Vin Diesel) is still the franchise’s de-facto G.I. Joe, a profoundly uninteresting, steel-skinned shotcaller whose lack of nuance is only redeemed by the company he keeps. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) return as the series’ go-to comedic duo, often serving up the film’s pale attempts at meta humor, which admittedly pay off with a good laugh half the time. And some of your usual favorites are back as well, including Dom’s wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and even a few surprise cameos that will likely elicit cheers from the fans who plan to speed to the theater just to see them. Last, the new big bad in town is Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob (John Cena), who enters this world of missions and mayhem about as gracefully as expected.
Is it asking too much for some of these characters to have personalities and signature touches beyond their vague connections to a frankly convoluted lore? Either way, Lin and his pit crew understand what the fans want, sometimes to the film’s detriment, choosing to serve up set pieces that don’t even try to justify themselves outside of what must’ve been a seriously off-the-wall writers’ room meeting. And if that’s what this franchise has expanded into by the ninth film (plus spinoff), then so be it. These movies are still confoundingly watchable and enjoyably frenetic, where even the use of something as goofy as electromagnets on the side of cars can be optimized to its full effect in terms of staging and stunt work.
Speaking of which, much of the actual craft of F9 does feel like a reasonable step up, with some of the biggest set pieces opting for more practical effects that blend nicely with the competent CGI utilization. In terms of writing, co-screenwriter Daniel Casey joins Lin to splice in a mostly serviceable backstory for Dom and Jakob’s troubled relationship, which gets padded just a little bit too much with frequent flashbacks that feel a bit unnecessary and distracting from the momentum built up by the film’s fittingly fast-moving plot mechanics.
Where F9 predictably veers off course is in its abundance of characters and setups for more films and spinoffs, as it’s easy to see the filmmakers remotely cranking the juice on these plot threads from the sidelines. The fist fights are about as low-tension as ever, with the added bonus of seeing walls and even metal signs break themselves against rubber combatants without so much as a momentary bout of dizziness. It works in allowing the action to keep going unfettered, and for us to drift off into the next big chase, the next high-speed, high-stakes showdown. But when you look back on the journey of F9, it’s no wonder the destination feels like a total dead end.
F9 cruises into theaters starting June 25.
Photo: Universal Pictures