Not 20 minutes into Fast & Furious 9, when Dom and Co are driving over a minefield trying to outrace the explosions, you’ll realise that, yes, this is exactly what we’ve been waiting for.
Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984 might have brought tasty nuggets of blockbuster-sized action in late 2020, but this year has been completely devoid of any such moments to date. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and A Quiet Place Part II were both great, but they didn’t have a car hovering precariously over a landmine.
Vin Diesel was the target of some lighthearted Twitter gags when he enthused about “the movies” in a recent Fast & Furious 9 promo. However, there’s no doubt that the series, in all its ridiculous glory, is made for the big screen and, arguably, only the MCU can match it for sheer scale.
That Fast & Furious 9 hasn’t turned out to be one of the high points of the series is almost moot. Its release signals that blockbusters are finally back where they belong and it means that every logic-defying stunt will be as comforting as a warm blanket.
Where Fast & Furious 8’s main hook was ‘What if Dom went bad?’, Fast & Furious 9 goes the route of ‘What if Dom had a long-lost brother?’. Of course, Dom (Diesel) chilling over some Coronas with Jakob Toretto (John Cena) wouldn’t make much of a blockbuster, so Jakob obviously had to be a bit of a wrong’un.
Dom is living the quiet life when we reunite with him in the movie, living off the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, little Brian. Again, not much of a blockbuster, so he’s soon forced back into action to stop his brother from acquiring a device that could change the world as we know it.
If that plot sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. The most recent outings in the series seem to always find Dom and his crew chasing after some technological MacGuffin. This time, it’s a “weapon so dangerous it shouldn’t exist for another half-century” according to Cipher (Charlize Theron).
Even with the added wrinkle of a long-lost brother, Fast & Furious 9 can feel a bit stale plot-wise, especially when some reveals add to the feeling of ‘been there, done that’. There’s a fine line between giving the fans what they want and just retreading old ground, and you’re left wishing that as much thought was put into making the plot as creative as the outlandish stunts.
Though after the past year of uncertainty, maybe there’s some merit in comforting familiarity. More than most other franchises, a Fast & Furious movie can feel like hanging out with old friends and F9 certainly piles on the returning cast, with appearances from across the entire series.
Tokyo Drift apologists will absolutely feel satisfied, and it’s fun to think of newcomers who will be baffled by a brief appearance by Shea Whigham. They mostly exist as fan service, along with the nods to previous movies, so if you do want to make this movie your introduction to the series, you won’t be completely lost.
Of course, the main returns are Jordana Brewster’s Mia, who missed out in the last movie, and Sung Kang’s Han, who supposedly died in Fast & Furious 6. The secrets of how Han exactly returns might not be completely satisfying and do have an unfortunate echo of Rise of Skywalker’s ‘somehow, Palpatine returned’. Fans will forgive that for how good it is to see Han back, and you might find yourself getting emotional at his reunion with Dom.
Mia’s return was much simpler to navigate for returning director Justin Lin, but fortunately, this isn’t the Mia who was left on the sidelines in Fast & Furious 7. As Rodriguez had praised beforehand, the female characters actually get involved in the action this time around. The movie might feel familiar elsewhere, yet this is a definite improvement on past outings.
John Cena doesn’t fare as well, as the main newcomer to the cast as Fast & Furious 9 doesn’t spend enough time on Jakob’s antagonistic relationship with Dom. Instead, the movie gets bogged down in some uninteresting flashbacks that show why they parted ways. There are no major revelations here so they mostly exist to pad out an already-bloated runtime and show things that Dom has spoken about before in the series.
Cena does, however, get to flex his considerable action chops and whatever flaws the movie has with its plot, the action sequences never fail to deliver. It’s saying a lot when Jakob zipwiring around Edinburgh as Dom gives chase on rooftops is one of the subtlest action beats in the movie.
Even the crew trying to outrace landmine explosions feels low-key when they’re messing around with magnets and, in the literal high point of the series, heading into actual space in an outrageous finale. It’s ludicrous and makes no logical sense, but the Fast & Furious series has earned it over the years. (There’s also a fun self-awareness here as Roman questions their invincibility.)
They’re not just doing these sequences for the surprise factor – it’s baked into the DNA of the series and it’s supremely entertaining. And in a series where Han has come back from the dead twice, is it really too much of a leap to have a rocket car?
Had Fast & Furious 9 come out in March 2020 if things had been ‘normal’, perhaps we might have been more critical of its overly familiar plot. But by delivering the cinematic adrenaline that’s been sorely lacking over the past year, it’s easier to give it a pass for being so much fun.
With a two-part finale on the way (something that’s set up with a delicious credits scene here), we’ve no doubt the series can course correct and come up with something fresher for the epic conclusion. Welcome back Dom’s familia, it’s so good to see you again.
Fast & Furious 9 will be released in UK cinemas on June 24 and US cinemas on June 25.
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