The Plot: Just when he thought he was out, Dom (Vin Diesel) is pulled back in. This time it’s really personal. His estranged brother Jacob (John Cena) re-emerges on the wrong side of the law having broken Cypher (Charlize Theron) out of jail. Teaming up with her for a double dose of revenge on Dom, he tracks down the missing pieces of a super weapon that could have serious implications for the safety of the planet. Dom calls in his crew to put things right once again and come face to face with Jacob over a grudge match…
The Verdict: ‘Damn, they got a magnet plane?’. The most ludicrous (or should that be Ludacris?) line from the trailer for Fast & Furious 9 is something that only The Fast Saga (as it’s now being dubbed) could get away with. Nine films in and the franchise is threatening to overtake Star Trek and Star Wars in the number of entries it’s clocked up as it keeps on revving away to the tune of millions of dollars. It’s surprising then that this highly quotable line is missing from the final cut. Did returning director Justin Lin realise that the franchise is becoming a parody of itself as it reaches new heights – quite literally? Too late, it seems. For a franchise that is now two decades old and originally started as a straightforward cops-and-robbers thriller with fast cars, there’s a distinct sense of deja vu settling in and comfortable laziness taking over.
Lin was responsible for Fast & Furious 5, undoubtedly the best of the franchise. It was a welcome shot in the arm for the ailing franchise, introducing Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Hobbs to thrilling effect. In a sense, it turned Dom and his roughneck crew into a Bond-style outfit hopping about the globe and getting into all manner of scrapes. Knowing what works for an audience, the production team have taken that magic formula and photocopied it repeatedly for the subsequent entries. It can only work so many times before the magic starts to wear off and the photocopy fades and blurs. This is where Fast & Furious 9 comes in, trying its best to keep up with the fifth entry but sputtering away and just about creeping over the finish line with a Diesel-style smug grin on its face.
It’s not hard to pinpoint the issues here. We’re back to Dom’s cornball philosophy of family, something which has been palatable before but is now shoved in an audience’s face. Lin gives too much time to extended flashbacks that don’t add much to the story. It’s enough to know that brothers Dom and Jacob have some serious beef going on, leading prime beefcake Cena to look far too serious for this franchise. He’s better at plying his talent for comedy rather than coming across as some arch villain intent on activating a doomsday device. Let’s leave that to a smooth Bond-style villain like… well, Cypher. Unfortunately, Charlize Theron is given little to do here. She’s mostly stuck behind various screens quipping Star Wars references. At least she gets the best line of the film. If only there had been more of that throwaway humour.
Most of the laughs here, whether intentional or unintentional, come from the action setpieces rather than the characters. They’re so over-the-top that there’s only one place left for the series to go. The franchise might as well go there at this stage, as it throws everything but the kitchen sink at the audience in a desperate attempt to paper over the gaping cracks in the gravity and logic-defying script. There’s fun to be had here (preferably with a big bag of popcorn in your hands) as the team hops around the globe but it does get exhausting as it pushes well over the 2-hour mark. Minor characters from previous films make a return – including ones from the black sheep of the family, Tokyo Drift. Though the absence of Johnson and Jason Statham is certainly felt – they were busy on their own side adventure. There’s only so much an audience can take of Diesel and Cena glowering at each other but not actually having a good punch up.
Fast & Furious 9 is the beginning of the end, as there are apparently two more films to go before this mighty box office engine is revved down and switched off. It’s clear now that franchise is running on empty, a great idea stretched out too long to last the journey. Lin and his team have some work to do if they’re going to salvage what they can and go out on a high. While not a disaster, Fast & Furious 9 is creaky and showing the strain. This franchise is pretty much bulletproof at this stage anyway, so it’ll make millions regardless of what reviewers say. There’s a scene that sums up the film. Ramsey, Roman and Tej are talking about how they’ve survived this long without a scratch (or killing thousands for that matter). Roman thinks he’s invincible. Does Universal have its own band of superheroes now? If so, then the franchise really is a parody of itself at this stage – and that’s not a good thing.
Rating: 2 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
In short: Running on empty
Directed by Justin Lin.
Starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, John Cena, Charlize Theron, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel.