For the last three or four Fast and Furious films, I’ve sat down to watch them with utter awe that this franchise even exits. The confluence of events that brought us from a low-budget, 90s crime thriller starring two mid-market celebs focussed on street racing to one of the largest franchises in film history with massive stars like Charlize Theron and physics-defying action is pretty damn preposterous. But here we are, with F9: The Fast Saga finally hitting theaters a year after a (COVID-19 related) delay.
With Justin Lin back at the helm, the man responsible for steering this franchise into what it is today starting with Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, the movie is set to bring the series back to its incredible highs after a slightly disappointing turn in The Fate of the Furious. Did he bring the franchise back to the glory he left it in with Fast & Furious 6 or has the #Family finally lost all of its fuel?
F9: The Fast Saga
Director: Justin Lin
Release Date: June 25, 2021 (Theatrical)
For those paying attention, F9 picks up after the events of Fate of the Furious forced Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) into hiding with Dom’s newly discovered son. The pair are living a simple life when Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) pull up and inform them that Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) is missing after his plane crashed and Cipher (Charlize Theron) has escaped. It turns out that she’s actually been kidnapped by Dom and Mia’s (Jordana Brewster) long lost brother, Jakob (John Cena), who has become an international super spy gone rogue and is looking to activate a supercomputer thing that can wipe out all electronic things in the world… or something.
For those not paying attention, F9 doesn’t really care. If you haven’t been keeping up with the twists and turns of this increasingly absurd “family,” the film isn’t going to do much to clue you in. In the past, that hasn’t been much of an issue as you could basically sit down and watch the cars go fast without too much background knowledge other than to know that everyone knew each other. However, F9 ties into so many of the previous films in so many ways that if you haven’t been paying attention, you’re going to get a little lost. This has become especially true since the film doubles down on referencing or featuring nearly every damn character that’s ever appeared in the series (except for Dwayne Johnson, of course).
This isn’t to say that you can’t go in and just turn your mind off and pick up on things but a lot of the movie’s big moments are centered around the audience understanding the franchise’s history. Those bits will hit less if you don’t know about the past. Part of the magic of these films is their incredible earnestness when it comes to how they treat the increasingly ridiculous characters and this film is really earnest about it. That means there is a lot of dialog about family and coming together and all the staples that have permeated the films since the beginning. Possibly too much. I can’t believe I’m going to say this about a Fast film, but I could have used an extra action sequence and ditched some of the talking.
Part of that is because Lin is back directing and it makes it all the more painful that he ever left the franchise. He has an eye for action that most directors don’t and might be the only director working at the moment who can handle just how ridiculous the car chases in this film are. The concluding chase- involving electromagnets, a jet plane, a multi-section armored vehicle, multiple sports cars, and fistfights- is probably only trumped in terms of quality by the vault chase in Fast Five. That’s incredibly high praise but the movie just doesn’t give enough of it as we’re treated more to humor and outlandish situations (yes, they go to space in a car) than solid action.
It’s worth pointing out that Roman, who has become the franchise’s comic relief and audience stand-in over the years, gets a much larger boost in this movie than before. The film’s comedy is often self-referential and he’s the one to say it all, often pointing out just how ludicrous situations are and developing a theory that every character in the movie is invincible considering no one ever gets a scratch on them despite doing things like swinging a car over a ravine by attaching a metal wire to a wheel while driving. The heavier slant on meta-humor is pretty welcomed and surprisingly well done as a franchise that can’t play with itself ten films in (if we count Hobbs and Shaw) isn’t much fun to watch.
All this may sound a little critical but F9 is a Fast & Furious movie through and through. It’s also better than the last film by a long shot just by having Lin return to direct. There is a certain magic to these films (which are a genre unto themselves) now that seemed to be waning with the last movie but it is back in full effect here. F9 might not be top-tier Fast & Furious, but it features all of the action and, yes, family that has propelled this franchise into the superpower that it is now.