Crazy as this may sound, it’s come to the point where I would put the Fast and Furious movies in the same class as the Disney live-action remakes: Even before the newest film is released, the battle is already won and the war is already lost.
Each new film in the newly-christened “Fast Saga” is going to make money, guaranteed. The brand has become so thoroughly entrenched and universally known that everybody knows exactly what they’re getting with each new entry and there’s nothing new to be said. Everyone is either on board or they’re not, and there’s nothing anyone can say that will move the needle one way or the other.
The bad news is, there’s definitely a limit as to how many more of these movies can be made. The original lead actor of the franchise has been dead for some time now, and it’s a lingering question as to when the cast will get too old or too restless to stay with the franchise after twenty freaking years. Hell, the ongoing feud between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson has gotten so open and ugly that it’s in constant danger of tearing the franchise apart from within.
(Side note: I’m pretty sure Johnson’s Hobbs is the only major franchise player who’s never even obliquely mentioned in the ninth entry. And I’m still laughing about the “Dom might have betrayed us” angle of the eighth movie that conveniently precluded Johnson and Diesel from ever being on set together.)
Word has it that the main film series will conclude with the next two films, shot simultaneously. Universal has apparently known for a while that their most lucrative cash cow was on its last legs, because they’re running out of options to try and keep it on life support.
Did you even know there was an animated tie-in series on Netflix? That show just released its fourth goddamn season last month! Either it’s more popular and successful than I was aware of, or Universal is that desperate to keep it around long enough to make it a hit. After the catastrophic theme park attraction and the numerous failed video game tie-ins, it wouldn’t be the first time Universal poured a fortune into a doomed and delusional effort at wringing supplemental cash out of the franchise.
Easily the best hope that this franchise has for any semblance of a long-term future is with Hobbs and Shaw, which got a decent reception and more than enough box office dollars to justify a sequel. But then the pandemic happened, and the status of the sequel is presently unclear.
Still, when the Disney live-action remakes inevitably run dry, at least they’ve got Pixar and Marvel and the various Lucasfilm properties to fall back on. If “Hobbs and Shaw” falls through after The Fast Saga has run its course, Universal had better hope they can squeeze another twenty years of billion-dollar profits out of “Jurassic Park”, because they’ve got basically nothing else.
So with all of that out of the way, what’s new with F9? Well, the big new addition is John Cena as Dominic Toretto’s estranged younger brother, Jakob. It’s a long story as to how and why they split up, and I won’t get into it here. Suffice to say that it involves an entire subplot’s worth of flashbacks involving the Torettos’ father (Jack Toretto, played by J.D. Pardo), and younger iterations of Dom and Jakob themselves (respectively played by Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole).
Bottom line: Jakob was already in the international super-spy game when Dom was still running illegal street races and stealing DVD players. But Jakob went rogue a while back for unspecified reasons and now he’s working freelance.
Jakob’s current employer is Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), the wealthy son of a diplomat from some unnamed country. With Jakob’s help, Otto plans to take over the world by acquiring and using a MacGuffin that will allow him to control every CPU in the world.
Yes, it’s another F&F plot that more or less treats computers as magic. Even better, now we’ve got electromagnets in the mix, utilized in such a way that our lead characters are practically telekinetic!
Oh, and a couple of main characters drive a car into orbit. Because at this point, why the hell not? Really, wasn’t it always destined to happen at some point in this crazy franchise?
Because we’ve got a new Toretto brother in the mix, of course Jordana Brewster had to come back as Mia Toretto. And while the filmmakers stop just short of bringing back CGI Paul Walker, they make it abundantly clear that Brian O’Connor is still perfectly active just out of frame. Specifically, Brian has been tasked with looking after everyone’s kids while the main cast is out adventuring. Not a bad use of an unusable character, I must say.
Speaking of bringing back dead characters, Sung Kang is back in the mix after Han was killed off earlier in the franchise. Yes, it seems that Han was secretly tied up with the MacGuffin of this movie, and his death was faked so he could take the doomsday weapon to his imaginary grave. The delivery is more than plausible enough, by the ridiculous standards of the franchise.
No joke, Roman (the perpetually godawful comic relief character played by Tyrese Gibson) earns his keep here by explicitly pointing out how the characters get into all these gunfights and car crashes and whatnot, only to walk away without a scratch or even a bruise. And the other characters simply laugh him off. Heaven help us all, the characters of the film are within a hair’s breadth of self-awareness.
Hand to God, there’s one point in the climax when Tej (that’s Ludacris’ character) says something to the effect of “Just as long as the laws of physics are in place, we should be fine.” I had to step out to the lobby, that line made me laugh so hard.
True to form, pretty much everything in this movie is laughably implausible. I couldn’t even begin to count the times when the plot made no sense and the stunts made no sense, but it was all so awesomely silly that I was having fun all the same. What it comes down to is that after eight movies (plus Hobbs and Shaw), the only way to keep going bigger is to completely ignore all rational thought. Bring in the magic electromagnets, bring on the stunts that could only be done with greenscreen and CGI stunt doubles, show Vin Diesel pulling down solid concrete with his bare fucking hands. At this point, anyone still on board with this franchise will have raised their suspension of disbelief clear to the goddamn sky. No laws, no limits, go bananas.
So what else is noteworthy? Well, though I’ve already alluded to it briefly, it bears repeating how much I appreciate that Tej and especially Roman weren’t nearly as unfunny and useless and annoying as they’ve been in previous entries. I was happy to see Charlize Theron come back — this whole “seductive and manipulative villain” thing is a good look for her. And of course it’s always a pleasure to see Helen Mirren come back to this franchise — every time she plays this character, it looks like she’s having the time of her life. Kurt Russell also comes back just long enough to collect a paycheck, and also to establish Mr. Nobody as a kind of all-purpose plot spackle. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Michael Rooker, whose brief presence is sadly underutilized, but welcome nonetheless.
Getting back to the subject of Han coming back from the dead, Gal Godot makes a brief reappearance by way of archival footage. And if you’re wondering about Deckard Shaw, the character who supposedly killed Han in the first place… well, the mid-credits stinger lasts just long enough to let us know that some vague sort of reckoning will be on its way quickly.
As I said earlier, F9 is critic-proof. Either you’ve already seen the film by now or you’re never going to. If you’re not on board with the series, there’s no reason whatsoever to start with this one. There’s no point in applying any kind of logic or rational thought to the movie, because this movie states loud and clear that any pretense of making logical sense has been literally shot into outer fucking space.
At this point, there’s nothing left to do but to ride out what’s left of the series. We’ve got two more movies of this, and that’s it. Until the franchise inevitably gets some kind of reboot in a decade or so. We might even get a soft reboot in less time, in the likely event that Universal gets desperate enough.