The Fast & Furious franchise returns in its ongoing quest for peak automotive ridiculousness.
In the twenty years since we first heard Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) evoke “fam-lee” in his rumbling baritone, it may have occurred to you1 that we know nothing about his own. This ninth instalment, the minimally-titled F9, seeks to remedy that. Directed by F3–6‘s Justin Lin, F9 introduces us to one Jakob Toretto (John Cena, having a good year of it presumably intended as a longterm replacement for the spun-off Dwayne Johnson), Dom’s long-estranged younger brother turned nefarious operative. With the backing of Eurotrash daddy’s-boy Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), he’s out to recover the franchise’s latest MacGuffin and reshape the global order.
F9‘s script, written by Lin and Kin scribe Justin Casey, is so by-the-numbers that is should probably be included on the GCSE Maths curriculum. Every single set-piece to varying degrees feels pre-formatted – driving through landmines, dull; fun with magnets in the streets of Edinburgh, pretty good. The long-mooted space launch feels like a missed opportunity, given how secondary it is to the main plot. Only F9‘s flashbacks outlying the origins of the beef between Dom (portrayed as a teen by Vinnie Bennett) and Jakob (portrayed as a teen by Finn Cole) feel new; ironically, given they’re set in ’89 and feature street-racing.
A scene where Helen Mirren, reprising her role as Cockney gangster Queenie, speeds down The Mall in a sports car with Dom in tow draws unfavourable comparisons with Transformers: The Last Knight, which instead swaps out Dom for a robot butler and has Anthony Hopkins flipping the V. That film was overlong at two and a half hours and there’s a comparative death of imagination here, despite the similar runtime.
It’s hard to generate anything resembling tension when even your franchise’s characters are having to acknowledge their apparent invulnerability. The line “As long as we obey the laws of physics we’ll be fine” cannot coexist in a film where a car in free-fall hooks onto the suspension cable of a falling bridge and swings to safety.
Fate of the Furious‘ main villain, Cipher (Charlize Theron), spends most of the film in captivity, Hannibal Lecter-style, playing up her genius, only to be released an immediately do something really stupid. The return of Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) is nice2 and the neon-lit return of fan-favourite Han (Sung Kang) drew a cheer, but what does it say when your franchise keeps trying to roll back the miles?
F9 is so wilfully lowest common denominator that it ends up zeroing itself out.