Fast and Furious 9 review: F9’s swerve into melodrama is what renders the movie into a train wreck
Ride or die
There are a distinct set of expectations when it comes to sequels. You see: years of movie-watching have conditioned us into thinking that continuations rarely outdo the original. It always lacks, in some sense — falling short in terms of dialogue, pacing, or whatever indescribable quality that made its predecessor quite so charming. And so, we have learned to temper our desires. With each convoluted continuation, we ask for less. All we wanted from Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker was a plausible plot behind the return of Emperor Palatine. In Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, we requested the portrayal of realistic cheekbones. The bar is barely above the ground. Somehow, we still end up disappointed.
Fast and Furious 9 is no exception to this. Being the ninth part of its extensive franchise meant we barely had any hopes for its latest iteration. Maybe a logic-defying car chase or two, featuring one very ripped, muscle-tank-wearing John Cena! Or, hey, some moments of levity from series regulars Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson! It's an easy mark to hit; a formula the Fast saga regularly employs with aplomb. And yet, all efforts at emulating its winning strategy fell short in F9.
It's ironic, seeing how this movie sees the return of beloved director, Justin Lin. His previous efforts include the relatively well-received Fast and Furious 6; a sprawling action-adventure piece which successfully introduced the Fast crew into the world of international heists and super spies. His vision for F9 proves a lot murkier, a detraction from unabashedly flashy action scenes to melodrama surrounding Dominic Torreto's estranged brother, Jakob.
Jakob (Cena) is how I'd imagine a mind-controlled Dom to be, if the Fast franchise ever decides to go down the Terminator route. He has all of Dom's stoicism, but none of his heart — we aren't treated to cheesy platitudes about what family entails, or even a lingering camera-shot focused on his, uh, single micro-expression. His characterisation is wafer-thin at best; an attempt at the misguided anti-hero trope that falls flat seeing how his motivations aren't convincing in the slightest. His turnaround from jaded, bitter crone to misjudged brother is so abrupt, we're midway through an action scene before its mentioned that he is assisting Dom in his efforts.
Poor characterisation usually begets some gratuitous shirtless scenes, but we're treated to neither. Instead, you get comically-bad flashbacks to Dom and Jakob's shared past; Valencia-filtered clips spotlighting the fiery end to their father's racing career alongside the eventual dissolution of their relationship. The penultimate race between the duo concludes in Jakob's loss, a moment punctuated by him screaming "No!!!" in the car, like a thwarted villain from a Scooby Doo cartoon. Is this scene actually intended to be satire? Comical, even? We're feeling generous, so let's go with that.
Still, none of it is comparable to the mortifying quality of F9's dialogue. Think one too many references to minions, Harry Potter, and superheroes; the living epitome of that one, "how do you do, fellow kids?" gif. Jokes and one-liners are tinged with desperation — if you squint, it's likely you'll see the fear in Gibson's eyes as he drops yet another pun that discloses the film's intense desire to be relevant in 2021. We half expected someone to do a TikTok dance for plot purposes, but alas.
The horde of lacklustre action scenes is the final nail in the coffin. It's not about the completely irrationality behind each sequence ("cars fly!"), but rather, how low the stakes are in for every skirmish. It's hard to care that Letty is weaving through a field of landmines on a bike when you just know that Dom is there to save her with a well-timed charge of his Dodger. Roman's seventieth near-death experience — this time involving outer space — doesn't feel remotely impactful, either, seeing the franchise's tendency to revive long-dead characters. See: the very twisty, senseless tale behind Han's return.
All in all: it's time to admit that the Fast franchise has run out of steam. In its place, we present a moment funnier than the movie's 145-minute run-time, surprisingly enough involving a mistaken case of identity re: Cardi B.