An already preposterous franchise finds a new shark to jump
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | June 26, 2021
F9: The Fast Saga
It’s really easy to dismiss The Fast and the Furious saga. The plots are like two seasons of All My Children crammed in two hours (amnesia, resurrection, the works), the storylines are fundamentally interchangeable (chasing a McGuffin that’s often a person) and the events conveniently unfold in exotic locations because Universal Studios’ crown jewel has money to burn and movie stars like holidays.
Nevertheless, the franchise succeeds because the action scenes are cool, and people like the ever-expanding lore and earnestness. The audience knows this is thoroughly absurd but play along as the cast delivers ridiculous dialogue with straight faces (“I live my life a quarter-mile at a time”).
Death is a mild inconvenience and villains become heroes if they stick around long enough. It all makes perfect sense in this universe.
But in its ninth installment the wear-and-tear is showing. Director Justin Lin’s (episodes four, five and six) return gives the film extra “oomph” after the nothing-burger that was The Fate of the Furious but the saga is starting to poke fun at itself, breaking the unspoken contract with the fans. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) even threatens to go full Rosencrantz and Guildenstern mid-movie.
F9: The Fast Saga finds Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodríguez) living a quiet life after saving the world from super hacker Cypher (Charlize Theron doing a terrible Hannibal Lecter impression). They can barely disguise their boredom when a new mission materializes. A weapon capable of controlling every electronic device in the world is up for grabs and Dom’s never- before-mentioned younger brother Jakob (John Cena) is leading the chase.
The Toretto duel mixes heavy-handed family drama with high-octane chases around the world to profoundly by-the-numbers effect. A bit of life comes from Helen Mirren (at the wheel!) and a hand-to-hand combat sequence (sans Mirren) that’s a little too similar to The Raid.
I mentioned before that audiences are normally game for some trademark Fast and Furious absurdity. F9 tests the limits of our tolerance. It’s no surprise the film sends some of the heroes to space (it was in the trailer). Yet the sequence is practically an afterthought and the two characters on board can’t stop commenting on it. The whole thing is a joke at expense of the saga, and for the film to turn it into fan service feels wrong.
The Fast and the Furious franchise is past its prime. I would put its peak around episode 7, with Jason Statham as the villain and the farewell to Paul Walker. The stakes can’t get any higher and the payoff is increasingly smaller. With one movie to go, the ending can’t come soon enough.