Movie Review – F9: The Fast Saga
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This film was released the week of the 20th anniversary of The Fast and the Furious (2001). This is just by coincidence. The film was originally planned for release last year in the spring but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s technically the 10th film in this franchise, but the number nine in its title ignores the spin-off film, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019). I don’t know why it would be ignored or even considered a spin-off. It might be seen as such because it’s a film that doesn’t involve either of the two male protagonists in the original 2001 film. Director and co-writer Justin Lin first started on this franchise with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). Lin then went on to helm Fast & Furious (2009), Fast Five (2011) and Fast & Furious 6 (2013). Lin has directed half of the entries in this franchise.
In terms of franchises, this one wants to be seen on the same level as the James Bond franchise, the Mission: Impossible franchise or even the Avengers franchise. It took Bond 11 films before it went into outer space, which it did with Moonraker (1979). The Avengers franchise arguably took six films before it went into outer space. The Mission: Impossible franchise hasn’t gone into space yet, but that possibility is probably just around the corner. This is a series about people driving faster and faster machines. A rocket that goes into space would be the apex of that series. Too bad, going into space isn’t as prominently utilized here as in Moonraker. This film keeps most of its characters mostly on Terra firma.
Vin Diesel (Pitch Black and Boiler Room) reprises his role of Dominic Toretto or Dom, a criminal-turned-government spy who has now retired to live a quiet life in a rural area with his girlfriend and his son. He seems content and so does his girlfriend, but when another government mission arises, both jump back into action. There is some question of whether or not the quiet, rural life is one that suits Dom and his girlfriend. There’s a question of whether they prefer being in the thick of action or it might be more of a question of whether they feel like they’re hiding out from the world. It’s a dramatic question that doesn’t seem to have much weight.
The film doesn’t dwell on it because Lin predicts that not too many people come to these films for the soap opera aspects. It’s all about putting the pedal to the metal and watching as automobiles move at sonic speeds, chasing and crashing in spectacular fashion. With nine films under their belt, it’s surprising that none of the previous entries ever thought to incorporate NASCAR, but this film rectifies that situation. Again, anyone yearning for chasing and crashing in spectacular fashion will get that fix satisfied, but this time it’s in the style of cinematography meant to express the 80’s. The NASCAR stuff though is really just a flashback meant to introduce Dom’s back-story.
John Cena (Bumblebee and 12 Rounds) co-stars as Jakob Toretto, the brother to Dom and a part of that back-story that’s brand new. Just as the series incorporated WWE star, Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock, this film is incorporating another WWE star. Despite being an actual family member to the protagonist, Cena’s role feels less consequential than Johnson’s character when he was introduced in Fast Five. Cena’s role will most likely be more consequential in the next installment, but it’s strange how much of a non-entity he seems here. He’s set up to be the chief antagonist, but even the film can’t commit to that idea. Diesel and Johnson got to face off in an incredible fight scene in Fast Five. Here, Disel and Cena barely interact.
There is a chase scene between Dom and Jakob, but that scene ends with a whimper. Most of the action scenes end on lame notes. There was a sequence toward the end involving magnets that was interesting. I can’t say it topped anything in the previous installments in terms of being as memorable. This series is the king of doing over-the-top stunts or having over-the-top sequences that often defy logic or physics. The film comments on the fact that the scenarios and characters here are basically cartoon-like in their silliness and the characters ability to survive them. Lin is leaning into that cartoon-like nature. The series crossed that Rubicon with Fast Five, but one can feel Lin pushing the series more toward the Avengers and basically making this series more of a comic book, super-hero franchise.
This could certainly be entertaining, but he runs the risk of having the problem that the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU has. The MCU is the official name of the Avengers franchise. The problem that the makers of the MCU have is that they want to keep pushing things to be bigger and bigger and more cartoon-like as it were. The makers of the MCU might not see this as a problem, nor would the fans of the MCU see it as a problem. Yet, for me, the problem with making things bigger and more cartoon-like, especially with soap opera tactics like bringing characters back from the dead or not letting certain things go, is that it undermines my ability to care or engage with anything. It gets to a point that things are so big and so cartoon-like that nothing matters.
The film rushes from one action scene to another that it also doesn’t help with my ability to care or engage. It’s revealed that Dom has Jakob, a younger brother that the audience never knew anything about until now. That should feel more impactful. It should be something that draws the audience into this film. Yet, it’s mainly brushed over or sped past, as if it were just another plot point in this convoluted tale. Lin wants this film to be The Avengers that he spends too much time weaving into the narrative so many characters from previous films that he loses focus on the Dom and Jakob relationship.
Sung Kang (Power and Gang Related) reprises his role of Han Lue. He’s become a fan favorite in this series. It’s nice that his character was resurrected and can add some Asian representation to the ranks, but his presence here is totally wasted. Lin doesn’t really give Kang that much to do. If his character was removed, I doubt he would’ve been missed.
Rated PG-13 for violence, action and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 25 mins.