Fast & Furious 9 review: An entertaining ride
James R | On 25, Aug 2021
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Vin Diesel, John Cena, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Charlize Theron
Released as the franchise turns 20 years old, Fast & Furious 9 is as inevitable as it is unlikely – an improbable combination that fuels the charmingly ridiculous nature of this strange, unstoppable series.
“As long as we obey the laws of physics, we’ll be fine,” declares Tej (Ludacris), as he and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) prepare to jump the proverbial shark and take the franchise to new extremes. The laws of physics have long seemingly departed this particular corner of cinema, after director Justin Lin stepped in to direct Fast Five and transformed the franchise from a string of street-racing films into full-on blockbusters that take cars away from the race track and put them, well, anywhere else they can think of.
Lin is back at the helm here for what feels like another course-correct, after a period of wheel-spinning chaos that followed the departure of Paul Walker, who played co-lead Brian, a cop in a Point Break-style double act with Vin Diesel’s bad-boy-gone-good Dominic Toretto. With Dom joined by Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson in an attempt to up the macho ante – even leading to a spin-off between the two, Hobbs and Shaw – it’s refreshing to see those add-ons stripped away from the franchise chassis, taking us back to its core: family.
Vin Diesel loves nothing more than to bellow that word out loud, preferably at some kind of communal BBQ, but Fast & Furious 9 leans into that credo, introducing us to his estranged younger brother, Jakob (John Cena). Flashbacks to their dad, a racing driver who ends up the wrong side of a nasty car crash, makes it clear why the duo haven’t spoken in years – or, indeed, spoken of each other.
We catch up with Dom as he lives off the grid with his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and his son – but an SOS message from Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) that suggests cybercriminal Cipher (Charlize Theron) is back in business draws them out of hiding to save the world. Along the way, we meet rude rich guy Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), who fancies himself a Bond villain, there’s a cameo from Helen Mirren’s crime baron (Fast & Furious 8), who slinks about in a car chase through London, and even an appearance from Lucas Black as Sean Boswell (Fast & Furious 3: Tokyo Drift).
The script from Lin and Daniel Casey is deceptively streamlined: knows which bits to cherry-pick from the previous instalments and which bits to leave in the rear-view mirror, to the point where a newcomer could step into this vehicle and still take it for a spin without getting confused. There is, for example, #JusticeforHan (Sung King), but it doesn’t derail events, and you don’t need to be familiar with everyone’s back-stories to appreciate Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster firing on all cylinders as Letty and Don’s sister, Mia, who form their own double act that’s hugely satisfying to see in motion.
That’s because the characters all wear their back-stories on their sleeves – and, most of time, they show rather than tell their feelings through their actions. Actions involving cars. From the opening sequence, the deliriously daft set pieces still find ways to surprise, whether it’s a rope bridge stunt that somehow reimagines Indiana Jones if Harrison Ford were replaced with Lightning McQueen or a thrilling race through a jungle over landmines – complete with them calculating the speed needed to clear the blast radius if (well, when) they’re triggered.
“How are you still alive?!” Tej exclaims to Roman (both veterans from 2 Fast 2 Furious) early on, which brings a knowing humour to the madness. But the whole cast play things straight and committed, which means that rather than becoming archly self-aware, there’s a sense that these characters are as surprised as we are that they’ve made it this far. Discussions about how they’ve been lucky to survive everything they’ve been through underline the implausibility of it all – even as the movie keeps things rooted in some laws of physics through the more inspired use of magnets since Breaking Bad.
And yet the film’s decidedly ensemble approach is where the real physics lie – the gravity the keep things grounded is Dom’s repeated mantra of “family”. By leaning into Vin Diesel’s charismatic sincerity – an effective contrast to Cena’s brooding resentment – the film manages to let the heart and melodrama accelerate to keep pace with the silliness. Even as the franchise threatens to reach the absurd heights of Moonraker, Fast & Furious 9 recalibrates things so that the next sequel can take us back down to earth – as long as it obeys its own laws of physics, this franchise hasn’t run of out fuel just yet.