F9: The Fast Saga
Director Justin Lin returns to the Fast & Furious franchise for F9: The Fast Saga, which is familiar in plotting, but constantly upping itself in terms of pure cinematic insanity. This is hands down the most over-the-top installment yet, providing longtime fans with enough pure popcorn entertainment to bring them back for more. F9 rotates the tires and realigns the characters to make for grade-A escapism cinema.
Longtime series director Justin Lin (Tokyo Drift – Fast & Furious 6) returns to the Fast franchise for F9: The Fast Saga, which is no-doubt the most absurd entry yet in this never-ending thrill ride of driving fast cars, blowing things up and over-dosing on the soapy melodrama. F9 hides nothing as it becomes the the biggest and wildest Fast & Furious film yet, boldly pushing the Hollywood blockbuster landscapes to new heights as Vin Diesel & Fam take the expression “ride or die” to its most pure literal translation. F9 is the welcome back to big screens that we’ve been desperately waiting for.
F9 follows Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) as they continue to live their new quiet life, trading in fast cars and shotguns for toy trucks and farmland. But something’s wrong as both seem to be uncomfortable with their new adjustments, despite finally being able to settle down with Dom’s son.
Things get thrown into a frenzy when Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) show up with a hot tip that Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russell) plane, which was carrying the cyber-villain Cipher (Charlize Theron) has been targeted and taken down.
Now, there’s some shady tech that if slipped into the wrong hands, could easily make for global catastrophe.
To make matters worse, Dom discovers that his brother (whaaaat?!) Jakob (John Cena) has a hand in this, which makes plenty of room for questionable flashbacks and a complete side-story, full of dream-like scene transitions and secondary motives as Dom must now face his past head-on, because we all know, all roads eventually lead home.
The series’ eighth installment, The Fate of the Furious, to me, represented a low point in an otherwise continuously entertaining slice of greasy cinema cheese. The Fast & Furious series has never been without its flaws, but Fate showed a sense of silliness that felt a bit too far and off and started to allow franchise fatigue to creep in. Luckily for us, Universal saw the opportunity to spin off with Hobbs & Shaw, but I still had my doubts that Vin Diesel could carry the franchise without the late Paul Walker or the force that is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
But it turns out that the real key ingredient is director Justin Lin. And that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since Lin was responsible for the series’ best film, Fast Five, not to mention the under-rated Tokyo Drift. Lin also lead Fast & Furious and Fast & Furious 6, which proved that there are ways to make these movies worse.
Lin’s guidance is welcomed back in F9, which feels like a return to form, combining familiar concepts of past films, while also pushing the series to new heights. F9 feels very much like previous films in terms of how Lin introduces old characters, both as key components and wink-and-you-miss-them cameos. They serve the greater plot just fine, which again, feels like a retread of previous installments, only this time with the added dynamic of Dom’s past.
And boy is his past a doozy as we now learn more about his father and his younger brother, which makes for some of the film’s more cringe-worthy moments. I don’t know who was responsible for casting younger Dom, but man oh man did they do a terrible job — the dude looks like he’s in his late twenties, while the guy playing young Jakob looks like a spitting image of a younger John Cena.
Speaking of John Cena, the Fast & Furious franchise is no stranger to welcoming professional wrestlers turned actors into the fray. Some might argue that Dwayne Johnson‘s involvement in the series helped expose the series to outsiders looking in. Fast Five truly lifted the series up to global juggernaut status as it went from a series about cars to a series about cars and family and heists and globe-trotting like no other.
John Cena‘s presence isn’t nearly as dominating as Johnson’s was in Fast Five, initially. But he grows into the role and makes for a believable and somewhat interesting villain that’s simply fueled by jealousy and the lack of love — there’s clearly some deep daddy issues between Dom and Jakob and F9 sorts it all out in spectacular fashion.
In a sense, F9 rotate the tires and realigns the characters in a way that moves things forward towards an eventual climax that we’ve been told is going to happen very soon. Think of F9 as a tune-up, after Fate all but blew the engine and burned the tires down to nothing more but a hollow shell of the Charger that once was.
Yes, the writing is all over the place, occasionally terrible and soapy, while sometimes hitting the mark and reminding us why we keep coming back for more of these damn movies. It’s all about F-A-M-I-L-Y!
The action is addicting and explosive, never grounded in reality, but always putting a smirk on your face. Lin knowns what we want and how to give it to us, even if he lacks the true visionary approach of someone more seasoned behind the lens, like James Wan with Furious 7. Still, Lin dials things in and creates memorable set piece after set piece that shows just how far we’ve come since the original film.
At this point, you’re either a ride or die or you’re not — there’s no real in between when we’re talking about a series of films that is on its 9th installment, with a spinoff to boot. I once rolled my eyes at the unbelievable stuff being pulled off in these movies, but now I mostly embrace the cheese with smiles and laughter.
F9: The Fast Saga is far from the series best, but it’s a hell of a lot better than a bulk of them and a solid setup for what is surely to come — make sure to stay through the credits as there’s a little something for those patient enough for long-form storytelling.