By now, audiences should know what they are getting themselves into with a new installment in the Fast and Furious franchise. Fast cars, explosions, and corny jokes all mixed together to create one thing, family. With nine films in the series so far, it’s hard to know if the next film will be able to top itself given the absurd links the filmmakers go to shock the audience with stunts they have never seen before. For some, the series hit a high point with Furious 7, which brought a lot of closure to the series with the sendoff of actor Paul Walker after his tragic death. Since then, the franchise has been in a holding pattern, trying to figure if it wants to grow into spin-off films, or just continue the main story and try not to run out of steam. And F9, it’s clear the franchise is still good dumb fun, even if the action is starting to feel like a greatest hits album.
The story follows our hero Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who is somewhat retired from the criminal lifestyle. He lives on a farm with Letty (Michelle Rodriquez) and his son, enjoying being a father and some peace for once in his life. But it doesn’t last long as members of his team (Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel) come to him needing help in tracking down Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and a device that has end of the world ramifications. As they go on their mission, Dom runs into a mysterious, highly skilled spy, who drives his cars just as fast as him and is always one step ahead of him. We come to learn that this person is Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s estranged brother who is not only looking to end the world but seek revenge on his brother for the events in their past.
With this newly added wrinkle into the fold, we flashback to moments in Dom’s life, highlighting the events of his father’s death, and the rocky relationship he had with his brother. This takes this entry into a whole other realm in dealing with the series main theme of family. We’ve seen Dom embrace just about everyone in his life, share a seat with them at his table, but this is different, this is brother vs brother. This is as personal we’ve seen him in this series, with anger driving his actions. Jealously runs through every decision made by Jakob, thus leading to epic showdown after showdown with nothing but destruction leftover. These two clearly have beef, and it’s enjoyable to see it played out on the big screen.
It’s also nice to see most of the team back together again, with even appearances from the members of Tokyo Drift showing up for a couple of hilarious scenes. They aren’t the only thing that is returning in this entry, and that’s series regular behind the camera, director Justin Lin. Known for being the man behind the wheel of this vehicle for the majority of the franchise, it’s clear Lin might be the only one in Hollywood capable of making this story continue. With his self-aware humor and distinct eye for set pieces, he just knows how to provide the right kind of energy need to make this engine run.
While it is fun to see most of the band back together, the one major problem this film has is it does feel like this is the appetizer entry in the franchise, setting up the ending we will be getting within the next two entries. While it’s hard to look past announcements for franchise closing up shop nowadays, one does take that into account when viewing this project and wonder if we are wasting our time for something bigger down the road. And yet, just when you start thinking this, they introduce magnet technology and send Gibson and Bridges to space, and you fall back in your chair and have a grin on your face. It’s a formula that is designed for you to have a good time, and that’s exactly what you will have with this.
Obviously, the acting is cartoonish like the action, music, and party scenes sprinkled throughout F9. Heck the title of this movie is a joke within itself. But nevertheless, as we get back into the mood of watching big-budget blockbuster spectacles on a normal basis again, there is no doubt that this franchise just brings as much enjoyment as any series out there. It’s not perfect, but nothing in life is, and after being stuck a year inside, we all deserve a silly night at the theater watching cars crash and bang into one another for two hours plus.