Let’s get something straight right away: I am EXACTLY who these movies are made for. I love everything about the “Fast and Furious” franchise, and I genuinely revel in the ridiculousness of all of them. The escalating absurdity where physics don’t exist and Family Toretto & Friends are basically the Avengers of street racing is the perfect recipe for pure, unadulterated popcorn action.
“F9” should’ve been all of these things and more, and love letter to fans craving the most bat shit crazy things you can imagine. For the most part, the action has all the ingredients for just that; rockets strapped to cars, vehicles continually being used as safety nets, characters inexplicably back from the dead, and magnets. Lots and lots of magnets. Unfortunately, “F9” puts the least interesting character front and center, and bogs the action down with mopey family drama that drags the run time without any NOS. It is disjointed, and sadly kind of boring, being neither fast nor furious. For a film that prides itself on abusing magical magnets as a sonic superpower, that’s is really disappointed.
Justin Lin returns to direct “F9,” and also serves as writer with franchise newcomer Daniel Casey. I would venture to say that a good 70% of mistakes made in the film fall solely on this new writer. Chris Morgan served as the main writer for 7 films in the franchise including “Hobbs and Shaw,” and his absence is felt here. Casey (and Lin too I guess) seems to miss the heart of the franchise, forcing 3 different films into one. The formula for most “Fast and Furious” films is usually pretty simple: the crew is relaxing, they get called in to save the world, insanity and implausibility ensues, everyone goes home and has a Corona.
This has literally worked for 5 films, and allows the action to breath and quite literally take flight, completely untethered to reality. Here, Lin and Casey trade out the simplicity for Dom centric self indulgence, making “F9” all about Dom and very little else. Every time we think we’re about blast off into the stratosphere of silliness, the film rips you back down to Dom and estranged (and never, ever mentioned before) brother.
Sure, you could argue that “The Fast and Furious” has always been about family, but it’s always been about the family at hand. Even threats that come in from Dom’s past have a major impact on everyone in the crew in the present. This feels like a Vin Diesel vanity project, one that includes a flashback heavy prequel film we never asked for and certainly don’t need. I don’t say that lightly either. Young Dom flashbacks account for probably 45 minutes of this 2 hour and 23 minute film, and constantly rips you away from the best parts of the film and draws unnecessary attention to things you’re already willing to accept. Every single time something insane is about to happen or is currently happening, “F9” shuts it all down to take us back to the past or zoom on Diesel’s sad, mopey, growling face. I get it, Dom is the leader, but the franchise has long since outgrown his individualism, and has provided us with an array of characters and personalities that are far more interesting and deserve better.
“F9” feels empty despite bringing back just about everyone who is currently alive or retconned back to life. We get cameos from the “Tokyo Drift” crew, Brian’s buddy from the FBI makes an appearance (spoiler alert: his nose is still broken), Helen Mirren makes a wonderful appearance, and yes, Han’s back baby! But even with all of these familiar faces and poor attempt to string everything together, it all ties back to Dom and Dom alone. No one else matters because this isn’t an ensemble film like the previous entries. It’s a Vin Diesel solo film that happens to features characters from a franchise he’s in. This muddles their inclusion, makes returns and appearances confusing even in the midst of explaining it (not gonna lie, I watched it and I still have no idea how or why Han is alive….magic?) and no one really has a purpose outside of Dom. They aren’t really team here, and that seems strange to say for an entry in this franchise.
Everyone is having fun except Diesel, who seems to be the only person who takes this series seriously. He has progressively shed the charming, smiling, overconfident Dom from the first one and become something else entirely. His brief interaction with Mirren shows glimmers of the old Dom and it’s one of the best scenes in the movie, but the minute she exits he goes back to taking everything way too seriously. Diesel doesn’t seem to understand that he’s in a ridiculous action franchise. He thinks he’s in a drama, and with everyone else around him chewing through scenery with self awareness, it makes Dom out of touch, out of place, and downright uninteresting. Truthfully, it’s the women that steal the show in “F9,” with both Mirren and Charlize Theron absolutely crushing their brief screen time. I don’t know if they could only afford them each for a day, but goddammit did “F9” need more of both of them.
While you can’t wait for the dumb Dom stories to finish so you can get to the next action scene, the action has a lot of potential to be the craziest the series has ever gone. I don’t think its over stating the use of magnets in “F9,” and it’s a really clever trick that is used in some pretty fun and ridiculous ways. There are plenty of “so implausible you can’t help but laugh out loud” moments, and I will never ever forgive the series for treating cars like safety nets. I can suspend a lot of belief, but ever since Fast Five where Letty utter’s the dumbest line in the entire series, “How did you know the car would break our fall?” I simply cannot buy the constant use of this tactic. And holy shit does it happen in “F9.” Like, A LOT. I’ll take launching a car with a rocket strapped to hood into space with a little more than duct tape and scuba suits before I believe Dom speeding up to catch someone flying through the air with the hood of his car going over 80mph.
Personal gripes aside, the big action set pieces are still Justin Lin’s wheelhouse. They look good and exciting, and Lin knows how to make the most absurd seem like a reality in this very unrealistic world. He struggles a lot with hand to hand combat in “F9,” with close quarter combat being over edited so much so you never really know what the hell just happened. It’s really jarring, and with an already disjointed backdrop of confusing and unnecessary plot points, these things become far more noticeable. It ALL becomes more noticeable, because “F9” doesn’t give us anything to root for during these scenes. Sending characters to space in a Fast and Furious movie should be a gleeful experience, but instead it never gets its chance to really breath and get to the level it should. It comes close, but you’re always pulled out of it before it really gets there.
I can’t even believe I’m going to say this, but this very well may be one of the worst entries into the franchise so far. “F9” is boring, dull affair that refuses to indulge itself in the right things and delivers a script feels strung together from a series of abandoned treatments. This is a less of a film and more of a collection of disconnected scenes. That simply shouldn’t be the case for something so simple.
Less Dom, more Queenie. Less Dom, more Cypher. Less Dom, more literally anything else that you could want from the franchise. This puts the wrong thing at the center and the entire film suffers for it.
“F9” owes me a 10 second car.