There’s been something of a small, but vocal, outcry in the Fast & Furious fanbase for the series to return to its roots. “It’s gotten too outrageous”, “I miss when they were just stealing DVD players and street racing”, etc. F9: The Fast Saga is not the film for those fans. With longtime series director Justin Lin back in the driver’s seat, F9 boldly embraces the ridiculous. It not only jumps over the shark, it hits the E-brake, turns around, and does it over and over again. And somehow… it really works.
The plot of F9: The Fast Saga is decidedly ambitious. Taking over for mainstay Chris Morgan, who jumped ship with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for the Hobbs & Shaw spin-off, new screenwriter Daniel Casey doesn’t test the waters with a safe installment. Instead, the film brings together all the loose ends from previous films. It doesn’t, however, stop there. F9 pushes further into the neo-sci-fi territory it’s been flirting with since Furious 7.
After receiving a distress call from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), the Fast Family goes on another globe-trotting mission. This mission leads them to the ruthless Jakob Torretto (John Cena), the long-lost brother of Dom (Vin Diesel). At first glance, this is a typical Fast & Furious plotline. The team gets together, fights new bad guys, explosions ensue. Yet there is a multitude of ways that F9: The Fast Saga sets itself apart.
The first is escalation. It’s easy to wonder how we got here when suddenly we’re talking about ultra-powered magnets, machines able to take over the whole internet, and cars with rocket engines strapped on the back that allows them to travel to space. Ever since Fast Five, the series has been playing a dangerous game with toeing the line in regards to how unbelievable these situations can get. In honesty, it was time to say to hell with that line. Casey and Lin know that the fans are on board with whatever crazy direction they choose to go next, so why not go all the way?
Similarly, F9 rewards longtime viewers with pay-off. As one can surmise from the trailers, Han (Sung Kang) is back, and the explanation is a notch above serviceable. Moreover, characters and plotlines that have been on the backburner since as early as 2006 finally get their payoff. It’s not simply fan service, it unites the entire franchise together. And to further that, the best aspect of this film’s plot is one I can’t even discuss here because it’s been hidden from the marketing entirely, despite taking up a significant amount of the runtime. Let’s just say some significant lore is added for the Family that provides a newfound understanding of one of its principal members.
The screenplay threatens to be messy at a variety of points due to juggling so much. Thankfully, Lin moves things along at such a steady clip, and everything that happens is so important, that it doesn’t matter. There’ll be a new reveal, character moment, or action sequence around every corner. Speaking of, the action in the film is where audiences will be the most polarized.
Things get ridiculous. Way more so than usual. It repeatedly breaks the laws of physics. A shining example would be when Dom swings his car across a canyon like Tarzan. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) even at one point has a theory that the crew might be invincible. A potentially eye-rolling meta moment for some, sure. To me, it highlights why the bonkers nature of its all doesn’t bother me. Like James Bond, Indiana Jones, or the various superheroes before them, the Fast Family has become defining members of the cinematic canon.
The real fun of these movies is seeing which over-the-top caper this crew can survive together. And Lin always brings in a bottomless pit’s worth of hijinks. F9: The Fast Saga has the goods in the action department, for sure. Shot by mainstay Stephen F. Windon, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better-looking blockbuster. All the wacky situations play out clear as day, with Lin and Windon joining forces to wring every moment of adrenaline out of the proceedings. It’s simply cool. No other way to put it. Watching these action sequences made me feel like a teenager again, jaw agape at the absurdity I was watching. How could you not have fun with this stuff?
As always, the film is grounded by a spectacular cast. It felt like in The Fate of the Furious a lot of the cast were phoning it in, treating it as just another entry in the series. Here, everyone came to play. As much as a contentious figure as he is in light of recent comments, Vin Diesel is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of his generation. His Dom is a hulking brute, but also a deeply empathetic figure flanked by the tough-as-nails Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez).
Tej (Ludacris) and Roman’s banter remains the highlight, while Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey finally feels like a proper part of the team, joining in on their bickering. Although Jordana Brewster’s Mia is a wee bit underused, it’s great to see her back and Han… well, he’s the fan-favorite for a reason. All eyes are on John Cena as Jakob Toretto, not only filling a The Rock-sized void but also being connected to such a legendary figure as Dom. His performance exceeds all expectations. Despite his large frame, his character is a complicated, emotional one that opens all sorts of questions as to what constitutes family. To say the least, he is a welcome addition.
F9: The Fast Saga is a whole lot of movie. For a lot of fans, it may be the moment where the Fast Family went a trip to space too far. For others, like myself, it is a grand realization of all the potential the continuing story has been building. F9: The Fast Saga brings everything to a head, fully embracing its status as a grease-monkey soap opera. Now the stage is set for an epic two-part finale. I know I’ll be there. – James Preston Poole
F9: The Fast Saga hits theaters on June 25, 2021.