When The Fast Saga first opened in June 2001 with The Fast and the Furious, I’m not sure many people predicted it would be a mega franchise spanning 20 years. Well, now the ninth movie once again tops box office, having already grossed $300M overseas ahead of domestic bow, so obviously it doesn’t show signs of slowing down.
Having followed the lead character Dom Torreto (Vin Diesel) for two decades, this movie finally gives him his origin story. In numerous flashback scenes, the movie took us to a particularly dark moment in Dom’s life involving his dad Jack and brother Jakob. Naturally, Jack Toretto is a race car driver and the events that happen that day creates a rift between the two young brothers and they go separate ways. I gotta say Vinnie Bennett who played the young Dom is pretty charismatic and can run circles around Vin Diesel in the acting department.
This franchise always emphasizes that ‘it’s all about family’… I suppose for better and for worse, so it’s to be expected that Jakob will eventually appear in Dom’s life again. At the start of the movie, Dom is enjoying retirement with his toddler son Brian (named after the late Paul Walker‘s character) with his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). But of course, soon Dom is pulled back to his old life once again when his former team mates Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) inform him news about his old nemesis Cipher (Charlize Theron, swapping her dreadlocks for a bowl cut). If you saw the previous movie, you’ll likely remember Cipher is a cyberterrorist mastermind who blackmailed Dom in her quest to start nuclear war, even went so far as killing his wife (Elsa Pataky). Well, this time she once again enlists another member of Dom’s family, his long lost brother (John Cena).
You don’t go to see a Fast & Furious movie for its strong narrative (or even just a sensible one), so it’s best not to dwell too much in the story. In fact, I find that when one approaches bombastic action movies like this one as an action comedy, I tend to enjoy it more and just go along for the ride. The plot is pretty much the same as the previous movies, it involves the villain trying to obtain a powerful device, called Ares (which interestingly is the name of the the God of War in Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot who was once part of the Fast family). The resident computer hacktivist Ramsey explains that Ares can hack into any computer weapons system so obviously it’s extremely dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. I find Emmanuel’s character quite boring generally, but here she at least gets to actually do some driving for once.
Justin Lin is back in the director’s seat after taking a break with the previous two and he’s got some really out of this world action sequences this time around, literally! I know Tom Cruise has been wanting to set the next Mission Impossible movie in space, well the Fast Saga got him beat! Now, the earth-bound action sequences are equally preposterous and ludicrous, which I guess is what one expects from this movie. I’m pretty sure the writers were all tasked to come up with the most grandiose and outlandish idea that would be absolutely improbable to pull off in real life. Whether it’s jumping off from one mountain to another, battling land mines, or strapping the car to rocket and shoot it in space, NOTHING is off limits! I mean they’re even still trying to DRIVE the car in outer space!! One of the eye-roll inducing plot involves an electromagnet in the wild car/truck chase through Edinburgh, Scotland that set off a reckless, destructive carnage in its wake. The amount of car wreckage is through the roof that in a completely different movie, Dom + team would be considered mindless villains.
Now, Lin and the writers team seem fully aware of the absurdity of it all and it’s as if this movie is spoofing its own franchise. Gibson’s character Roman constantly asks existential questions about WHY the team has always come out unscathed despite all the ridiculously dangerous missions they’ve been on. Roman is definitely the comic relief and the dynamic between Gibson + Ludacris is always fun to watch. I always find it hysterical that every time someone gets thrown from something, whether a motorbike or truck or whatever, Dom somehow always able to maneuver in such a way that the falling person can land ‘safely’ on his car hood!! That’s become the trademark of the franchise which makes me laugh every time!
The more serious stuff such as the tension between the two brothers Dom and Jakob are cheesy and predictable as they take themselves way too seriously. The supposedly epic mano-a-mano is kind of ho-hum, I had more fun watching Dame Helen Mirren driving (or pretending to drive) a fast car through London and you can tell she’s gleefully happy to be a part of this brainless franchise and not have to act in a movie. As the ultimate betrayal, Jakob is working with Cipher along with a Danish aristocrat Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), but given the theme is always about ‘family,’ you can see from miles away that the two brothers won’t be enemies for too long.
I have to say I had a pretty good time watching this and was laughing a lot watching the logic-defying action sequences. There’s also the escapism factor with the various filming locations that got me drooling to travel overseas again. This is easily the most outrageous movie in a franchise already chock-full of insane action scenes. Somehow Lin managed to keep the endless car chases to still be mostly exciting despite the 2h 25min running time, though I wish they’d trim down the repetitive flashback scenes.
Martin Scorsese compares the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise to theme parks, which I don’t think is fair as they still have compelling and cohesive narrative across multiple films. I think the F&F franchise is way more akin to a thrill ride as it’s as if you’re riding a roller coaster for 2+ hours. Speaking of mega-franchises, Star Wars fans might find it amusing (or annoying) to hear the banter between Cipher and Otto, though of course it’s not the only SW reference in this franchise. Its own Han (Sung Kang) also has its own resurrection in this movie, after having been killed in Tokyo Drift. I actually have not seen that movie, as I came to this franchise quite late.
Now, though I was entertained, I do wish it’d behoove the filmmakers and producers (including Diesel) to actually make an effort with at least a somewhat sensible story with the behemoth budget they’re given. I’m not expecting high art or anything, just a decent plot that offers more than incessant risible action set pieces. Alas, they seem to be satisfied for simply being a dumb, loud action flick running at the speed of bats out of hell. Diesel said they’ve got two more movies left before they hit the brakes on the franchise, let’s see if they’d even try to end on a high note.