Justin Lin gets the franchise almost back on track with ‘Fast 9’

The Fast and the Furious franchise has gone through quite a journey over the past twenty years. From humble street-racing beginnings to bank heists to globe-trotting international adventures, this high-octane adrenaline rush led by franchise star, Vin Diesel, has been an entertaining fixture in the Hollywood action genre for many years. However, long running series start to lose sight of what made them great after a while. Returning director Justin Lin rediscovers the franchise’s over-the-top integrity and its core, even if too much is going on.

(This review is spoiler-free.)

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their team find that the past is not far behind when Dom’s younger brother, Jakob (John Cena), comes seeking revenge.

Several things happen fast and furiously in the early parts of this movie as we catch up with where our heroes currently are, called again on another mission from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). Everyone is driving a vehicle that expresses their inner being, staying true to their characters. It doesn’t take long to be introduced Dom’s brother and we are off to the races to go around the globe and stop Jakob from a world-threatening Macguffin.

What worked for this film is the unexplored layer of Dominic Toretto’s character. If you return to the first film twenty years ago, Dom delivered a monologue about watching his father’s death. Given that a brother that was never mentioned in any of the previous films, exploring this layer of is necessary and ties into the common theme of family that powers this franchise. No matter how ridiculous this movie franchise becomes – trust me, it does in this entry – I’m happy to see this core has not been forgotten. By this point, you are invested in these characters and what they go through. Despite the return of Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) and the once-thought dead, Han (Sung Kang), this is truly Dom’s story coming full circle. I’m not a fan of a new sibling coming out of thin air like a soap opera will do during a late season, it just seems to work in this sense to tell this unexplored story in the Fast franchise.

(from left) Dom (Vin Diesel) and Jakob (John Cena) in “F9,” directed by Justin Lin.

John Cena is the first Fast antagonist since Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs who’s big enough to bodyslam and be a physical threat to Diesel’s leading man. The physical threat packs a visual punch as Jakob and Dom do square off. Whenever they are together, it reminds you of the muscular and physical craftsmanship that director Justin Lin brought to his previous Fast films. It’s the grounding that this movie needed to keep it from floating too much off the Earth. Despite the physical nature of Cena’s character, I felt like that’s all that he brings as Jakob is just robotic in nature and appearance with tunnel vision to accomplish his goal.

The female characters have more to do, which was a great addition written into this film with Ramsey actually driving a car, Letty and Mia getting physical with the bad guys, and Helen Mirren’s Lady Shaw getting behind the wheel in London. I think this is what I missed about Lin the most as a director; his ability to make minor characters shine like the leading stars. Even if it’s for a short amount of time, Lin is generous about doing this. Joining the franchise with the 2006 endearing entry, Tokyo Drift, Lin also brought a stead hand on the CGI-heavy installments, F9 included. He makes it easy to follow the tight quarters combat among a life-threating situation. His Tokyo Drift characters return as well, showing what they have been doing which is actually kind of outrageous… but it’s the Fast and the Furious, so are we really surprised?

However, there is always something that threatens to lead these films off the tracks. There is too much going on with this movie: from outrageous use of magnets, the complicated way of how Han returned, and one part that fans have joked about could have the opportunity of happening. The biggest problem I found is that that something special was drained from the franchise. While evolution is required to remain relevant, I don’t like the idea that the Dom’s family have basically become pseudo-spies. Much of the plot is moved by the direction of Russell’s Mr. Nobody, much like the previous two films. It’s still enjoyable to add the family twist into it, but I feel like the family ties or basic, passionate needs or desires is enough for these characters.

Lin is sticking around for two more sequels, which this movie confirms is a sequel tease. By the end of the movie, you know it’s telling you “see you next movie”. And you know there will be devoted fans, including myself who will be in attendance. Despite how ridiculous this film is, F9 is a lot of fun. It’s what you wanted to go back to the theaters to see and the escapism we have been searching for as we come out of the COVID-19 Pandemic fog.

What are your thoughts about F9: The Fast Saga? Do you think this series has enough left in the tank to reach its ultimate finish line? What could happen in the next entry of the long-standing franchise?

Leave a comment and don’t forget to give my Facebook page some love! Until next time, readers! Stay safe and enjoy a movie!

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