Review: “F9: The Fast Saga” (“Fast & Furious 9”)

The “Fast & Furious” movies are nothing short of ridiculous at this point upping the ante with every new entry more in terms of pulse pounding action than good writing and story. Back in 2017 I posted my first review of one of these movies for “Fate of the Furious” which I felt was a step back for the franchise while the spin-off “Hobbs & Shaw” felt more like a superhero movie than a car-based spy thriller. The latest entry in the series, “F9” or “Fast and Furious 9” or “F9: The Fast Saga” was initially supposed to be released in 2019 but was moved to accommodate “Hobbs & Shaw” and then its 2020 date was pushed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s finally here and behind the scenes feels like a reset of sorts for the series with Justin Lin returning to direct for the first time since “Fast & Furious 6” and new writer Daniel Casey on board replacing longtime writer Chris Morgan. Much of the expanded cast returns with John Cena welcomed as the newest antagonist, Dominic Toretto’s brother Jakob, as the film explores the brothers’ backstories and Jakob’s attempts to obtain a weapon that would give him control of every electronic device and weapon in the world. As over-the-top as you would expect, “F9” doesn’t redefine the series in any way but does bring it back on stronger footing after a pair of middling features closed out the last decade.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

Going in to “F9” I had low expectations. After all, as previously stated, the past two movies didn’t impress me too much and well, it’s a “Fast & Furious” movie so it’s not like I felt high art was the standard. I actually think this helped me enjoy this movie as much as I did. “F9” has an engaging story combined with some of the most ridiculous action scenes and elements this franchise has churned out to date. The narrative in a nutshell sees Dom and Letty, once again played by Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez, come out of retirement with their team, Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) to take on Dom’s estranged brother Jakob (John Cena) who teams with “Fate of the Furious” antagonist Cypher (Charlize Theron) to locate a device that would give him control of the worlds digital media and computer controlled weaponry thus giving him and his client a monopoly on the world order. Flashbacks also explore Dom and Jakob’s young adulthood and the events that tore them apart. The result is a heavy action spy adventure film that is surprisingly self-aware and effectively mixes the heart, humor and insanity that, when properly blended, helped create some of the best movies in this franchise.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

Despite its long runtime of around 2.5 hours, “F9” never felt like a chore to get through like some other movies in the franchise, especially recently. It rarely goes more than fifteen minutes without a major action set piece, whether that’s racing through the jungles of Central America, flipping an armored truck, or using freakin electromagnets to drag a sportscar through a freakin building, but it also takes time to breath allowing for some interesting character building and some fun levity to shine through. There are some other surprises I won’t spoil here in terms of how far this movie pushes the limit, but let’s just say the lengths this movie is willing to go to give fans the adrenaline-pumping mix of practical and CGI action we’ve come to love from the series is out of this world. Plus, it does it all with probably the most self-aware approach this series has ever seen using Tyrese Gibon, who by the way puts in probably his most truly invested take on Roman to date, to comment on some of the most ridiculous elements of the franchise proper including how these people keep getting involved with such insane missions and somehow escape usually unscathed. I can appreciate the crew’s willingness to poke fun at what critics like me have been saying for quite some time and owning the fact that, yes, this franchise can take itself too seriously sometimes, and yes the action is ridiculous, but in the end this is a series where if you overthink it then you’re missing the point entirely.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

However, that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten or completely forgiven those film and franchise’s lack of respect to reality or it’s consistent lack of true stakes. There were so many times in this movie where I laughed because of how literally unbelievable it all was. It’s important to acknowledge that while it does poke fun at itself and the extension of disbelief is a big part of what makes these movies work, it’s blatant disregard for physics and the fact that none of the heroes seem to ever get hurt or die from scenarios where their opponents are easily disposed of (I mean we even get an unbelievable return of a previous-thought-dead character that most of you probably saw in the trailer) takes some of the tension out of action. When your heroes can easily survive landing on top of a car from a midair fall or somehow drive across a tumbling bridge despite the impossibility of traction or walk away from a massive truck that just tumbled down a ravine a thousand times with barely a scratch where a fistfight made you bleed an hour earlier, then all of the risk of loss or the inherent danger of the scenario dissolves and all you’re left watching is a bunch of immortal people taking on a bad guy destined to lose. You can poke fun at it all you want, but this is the reality of the series and it’s hard to overlook how this franchise is painting itself into a corner of predictability with two movies left (for now) and no real evidence that the heroes can or ever will lose. Of course, we still have those two movies to look forward to, but this franchise continues to lack its “Infinity War”, a movie that shows these people aren’t invincible and despite what they’ve gone through there is genuine risk in what they have before them.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

So okay, there’s my must-have critical slamming of a “Fast & Furious” movie but bringing things back around, despite all of what I just wrote I found myself genuinely engaged and invested in “F9” and part of that was because of the backstory about Dom and Jakob. First off, as a race fan, seeing this movie start off at the race track revealing that the brothers used to work with their father who was a stock car driver and the attention to detail in this scene, from the car designs to the use of the moniker Busch Series (today the Xfinity Series but WAS the Busch Series in the 80s when the flashback takes place) and even how a wreck would look on the track impressed me and drew me right in to the movie. Besides that, exploring Dom’s younger life and why Jakob wasn’t spoken of until now has genuine weight to it and feels justified rather than shoehorned in to the movie and you can see how their separation could have evolved them into the men they became. I would have liked to see Jakob’s motivations be more developed. While it is implied many times that he does what he does to avoid living in his brother’s shadow, the fact that he is seeking out a weapon to establish a new world order could have been delved into more maybe using his insecurities to show that his motives are to destroy the power of nations over each other and to balance out the world in a way his life never was. Maybe that’s too much depth for a “Fast & Furious” villain, but still. Also, the numerous callbacks to past franchise films, including the return of characters from “Tokyo Drift”, makes “F9” feel like the glue that’s helping bring everything we’ve experienced to date together properly building up to the final showdown to take place in the last two movies. “F9” is as ridiculous as a “Fast & Furious” movie can get, but it never forgets the heart that keeps this franchise afloat and balances it properly with the action that drives the plot, something “Fate of the Furious” failed to do, frankly.

Screenshot Courtesy of Universal

“F9” is, in many ways, a stupidly entertaining movie, but it’s the right kind of stupid mixing some of the most insane action elements ever seen in a “Fast & Furious” movie together with a story driven by the heart this franchise was built on to create one of the most shamelessly entertaining and watchable entries in a franchise that still has no right being as successful as it is. My advice though, leave your common sense and knowledge of physics at the door because this movie doesn’t care how much you want to overthink it. It’s made to entertain, and it knows it. It even spends a decent amount of time reminding you of that through its self-referential humor time and time again. In the big picture I do have a problem with the continued lack of stakes for the heroes in these films and although we have seen deaths in the past it seems to be reserved for minor characters while major characters always seem to have a method of survival or resurrection. I also feel like Jakob could have been a more developed villain in terms of his motivations, but overall, I think he’s a good addition to the cast now and for future films. On its own “F9” does what it needs to do and does it proudly and loudly and felt like a true blockbuster experience. I can’t help but give it all the credit it deserves for that. Is it the best “Fast & Furious” movie? Not by a long shot, but it’s a huge step back in the right direction for a franchise that desperately needed it.

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