It’s time to call a spade a spade.
The Fast and the Furious series, now nine films and one spinoff deep in a 20-year period, isn’t in the action-adventure genre anymore.
The Vin Diesel-led F9, which debuted in theaters Friday after sitting on the shelf due to the coronavirus pandemic for over a year, cements the legacy of the franchise as comic-book level superhero franchise fodder.
Realism left the franchise long before Dominic Toretto and his “family” of maverick car thieves stopped street racing, but director Justin Lin’s return to the franchise ramps up the incredulousness in yet another pointless need of self one-upsmanship. F9 is so blatant in its exploitation of its origins that characters point out how unkillable they are and one villain even resorts to a quippy comment that begins with “if this were a movie….”
There are certainly those who will feel right at home in this over-the-top heist/racing/superspy feature, a generation of pre-teens conditioned by the Marvel Cinematic Universe to toss cinematic convention out the window.
But even film lovers who accepted the franchise’s transition from small-world crime drama to full fledge international thrillers will find that Diesel and company drove their vehicles off the cliff with “F9,” jumping the shark as they freefall into a pile of cash.
This iteration of the franchise finds Toretto pulled back into action as a long-lost relative resurfaces in the pursuit of “Project Ares,” a device created to hijack and override any computer-based device it can connect to. Incredibly, this MacGuffin is separated into three parts – two digital pieces and an encryption key – that drive the film’s three act narrative structure and allow Lin and co-writer Daniel Casey to completely reconstruct character arcs from the entire franchise.
Not only does this hinder the cohesiveness of F9 as a true narrative, but it reinforces the fact that nothing that happens in the film really matters in the long run as it will get wiped away or explained differently to suit the needs of an even more spectacular blunder of logic three years from now.
Over the course of the franchise, Diesel has taken his Dominic Toretto and willed him into being a mumbling, white tank-top wearing version of the Incredible Hulk, a brutish imp of a mountain man whose relentless talk of family conflicts with just how vapid and vain Toretto has become. He’s portrayed the role seven times, slowly consolidating the character down to its simplest common denominator.
Every performance in the film becomes a caricature in this mold, whether it’s Michelle Rodriguez’s ride-or-die girlfriend with the excessive bravado or Tyrese Gibson as the resident buffoon. With 10 main characters and at least another six significant supporting roles, the plot has to become overly complicated at the expense of character development in order to justify the wildly uneven storytelling involved.
The sole newcomer to the series – sure to be integrated into the already announced 10th and 11th films – is John Cena, a capable strongman actor whose comedic talents and charisma are largely wasted as Jakob. His presence in the film fills the two requirements of any new character – following in the footsteps of Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Charlize Theron before him – be a big name star with the box office presence to drag viewers to the theater and keep things vague enough to bring back and expand the pencil sketch of a character created in their debut.
F9 is made for the big screen and perhaps the first true blockbuster action film that could be worth a trip to theaters given the scale of all the CGI-heavy stunt sequences there are. Driving through landmine fields and across the streets of major European cities in cars equipped with supercharged magnets create moments that are too loud and boisterous to be enjoyed for the first time on a home television.
If there’s a time to enjoy the franchise in 2021, seeing it now is probably the best opportunity as this is the fastest and most furious that F9 will get. Audiences who can turn off their brains to ignore the massive leaps in logic or young enough not to care will find a lot of enjoyment from the spectacle.
Those who can’t will likely find it to be on par with The Fate of The Furious as perhaps the worst in the entire franchise and not worth the time, effort or money.