The term “too big to fail” has never been more accurately used when enlisted to describe Vin Diesel’s Fast And Furious mega franchise and right now, the ninth (!) installment of the main thread of movies seems to be as offensively large and prominent as Cthulu’s prostate.
Featuring an animated Netflix series, a ride at Universal Studios and a spin-off that saw Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham combine the raw power of their respective baldness to take down Idris Elba as an East London accented Terminator, it seems that gravelly voiced Dominic Toretto and his extended family have all but conquered popular culture thanks to endless nitro boosts and a willful ignorance to except physics as an actual thing that exists. So where else is left for this unstoppable juggernaut of a franchise to go?
Short, snappy answer: Up… Longer, truthful answer: I don’t know, kinda sideways?
It’s been a few years since granite-throated, driving deity Dominic Toretto settled down with Letty and his son from from another mum, little Brian, but when the old gang bring him a garbled message from government spook Mr. Nobody saying that super-cyber criminal Cipher has been busted out of secret jail he realises it’s time to get back into the game. The reason? The perpetrator of the heist is none other than his long lost, barely mentioned and massively estranged brother Jakob, who has been making a solid living for himself doing tech crime stuff off the grid and who now has his sights set on retrieving a special kind of do hickey that’ll bring the world to it’s knees with all the usual blah, blah, blah.
After a high speed skirmish in Central America ends up with Jakob obtaining the first half of said tech (why to all these things have to be some kind of deadly scavenger hunt?), the team splits up to track down the second which means roping in large amounts of random cameos from all four corners of the franchise to aid them in their task.
But while Cipher does her manipulation thing from behind the walls of the kind of plastic cell that at least 75% of all movie villians have spent time behind since Silence Of The Lambs, Dom is doing some soul searching in the form of excessive flashbacks that delve all the way back to 1989 that deals with his complicated history with his brother and the fiery death of their father.
While all this is taking place, old colleague Han, who was thought dead way back in Fast And Furious: Tokyo Drift (and technically again in parts 6 and 7 but from different angles) turns out to be still alive and whose unlikely resurrection turns out to be linked with the very tech the gang is looking for. The stage is set for a two pronged assault on Jakob’s final plan that involves lots of super powered magnets, an armoured vehicle that can shrug off direct missile strikes and even a trip to fucking space for Roman and Tej in order to try and manually fuck up the bad guy’s satellite – this very well be could be the most intense car wars Dom and his family has engaged in yet…
Well, after a series of films that’s seen our petrol head heroes successfully fight off tanks, drones and an actual submarine, it seems that the Fast And Furious franchise (now dubbed The Fast Saga) has finally surpassed the level of acceptable bullshit I was willing to tolerate. It’s not that F9 is any more far fetched than the last couple of installments (Part 8 featured Luke Hobbs shoving a torpedo off course with his bare hands for christ sake), it’s just that in this endless orgy of loud destruction and Cardi B cameos, it seems that the filmmakers has jettisoned some of the humour for the sake of speed.
Due to the plot having as many characters and moving parts than a fucking James Ellroy novel, things are little more po faced than usual and matters aren’t helped much due to the main series losing it’s more enjoyable or outlandish characters to either their own spin-offs or to more tragic circumstances. Painfully noticable by it’s absence is the necessary levity brought to the absurd proceedings thanks to the cartoonish charisma of Dwayne Johnson, the smooth cynicism of Jason Statham or even the boyish twinkle of the late Paul Walker – whose character is now understandably relegated to off-screen baby sitter – and the exhaustive cameos bizarrely up having more satisfying mini arcs than most of the main cast. Although it’s a testament to the sheer size of the movie that actors the size of Kurt Russell, Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron can casually drop in and out of the story simply to lay down some random plot shit before disappearing back into the ether.
However, even though the behemoth of F9’s length may mean you’ll look back with wistful memories at the time when Toretto used a rope bridge to swing a car across a chasm like Tarzan for it to suddenly strike you that it only happened two hours ago during the same movie you’re still currently watching, the many flashbacks actually manage to line up Dom’s racing punk past with his super-spy present rather neatly even though it ironically means that most of Vin Diesel’s emotionally heavier scenes actually feature the guy playing him as a young man and it’s telling that Vinnie Bennett adds more to the character in these extended flashbacks than Diesel has in the last couple of movies.
It’s obvious that returning director Justin Lin knows these characters inside and out and the outrageous action is still appropriately monstrous, but in the mad dash to cross the finish line in order to start prepping for parts 10 and 11, the sense of innocent fun has been lost in the mess of bland villians (sorry John Cena), crunching metal and massive plot twists that were all given away in the trailer.
The dumbness factor, while still in glorious effect (“Was that Jakob back there?” Asks Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty while her and Dom are actively still chasing him), is noticebly starting to become the numbness factor as even the much touted trip to space – despite ending with a killer minions joke – fails to break the seriousness.
At this point, short of having their cars combine to form a fucking Power Zord, I have no idea how the F&F gang can possibly go bigger – so maybe they shouldn’t, change down a gear and get back to making car flipping magnets and unkillable heroes more fun than this…
2 Vast, 2 Spurious….