Fast & Furious 9 throws absolutely everything at you to keep you entertained – with some success too, reports Ryan Lambie.
Never a franchise particularly interested in realism to begin with, Fast & Furious 9 marks the point where the series finally gives up on any attempt at simulating the laws of real-world physics. Cars are flung into one another like balls bouncing around in a tombola; characters fall several storeys or walk away from horrific crashes without a scratch.
At one point, returning sidekick Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) wonders aloud whether he and all his friends are invincible – it’s one of several scenes where the filmmakers give the audience a knowing and unsubtle wink. If you’re finding all of this stuff wildly implausible, then don’t worry: so is everybody behind the camera.
There is a plot beneath all the mangled steel and pulverised concrete somewhere, but you’d be hard pressed to follow it, even if you’ve religiously memorised every beat of the previous eight movies.
The broad strokes are these: street racer turned outlaw turned international super spy Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has retired to the country with his lover and partner Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez). Dom has only just begun tightening the nuts on his clapped-out tractor when several of his former teammates – Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and the above-mentioned Roman – show up with a new mission. It turns out Dom’s long-lost, never-previously-mentioned brother, Jakob (John Cena) is in the process of assembling the parts of a top-secret weapon, which he plans to use to take over the world. Swallowing his reluctance, Dom abandons his tractor – and his own young son, who’s barely mentioned again until the end of the movie – and heads off with his comrades on a wildly destructive journey across the globe.
This only describes only the tiniest sliver of a film that lurches violently all over the place, from long scenes of surprisingly earnest familial drama to action sequences so outlandish that they make the previous movies look like The French Connection. There are experimental spy planes, improbably large (and long) armoured trucks, exotic sports cars, rockets, and vast electromagnets, and all of these things interface with one another in just about every combination you could imagine.
At almost 150 minutes long, though, there are stretches where Fast 9 begins to feel decidedly overladen: Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham weren’t invited along for this particular ride, but the sheer number of other characters Justin Lin (who directs and co-writes with Daniel Casey) tries to stuff into the film threatens to bring it screeching to a halt. Faces from all corners of the franchise make a reappearance here – some immediately recognisable, others looking so different (or last seen so long ago) that some audience members might be left scratching their heads. While some of these are little more than cameos (like Helen Mirren, who might now be cinema’s best-paid taxi driver), most are hastily woven into the plot, meaning the film’s constantly flicking from location to location as various members of Dom’s crew (all split off into pairs for maximum banter potential) carry out their own sub-missions.
Things are so wildly overblown that Cena – who’s fine, by the way – is far from the only villain. There’s a suave billionaire’s son named Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) who’s given little to do but does at least get one of the film’s best lines. And then there’s a returning Charlize Theron, who spends much of the duration in a big Perspex box, insulting anyone who walks by.
After a while, the whole thing becomes so dizzying, with so many sudden reappearances, switches of allegiance, and flashbacks to past events, that it’s easier just to give up tracking everything and simply watch the pretty colours. This is just as well, because there are moments where Fast 9 shows a scrappy lack of attention to detail; most of the effects shots are top-notch, but one or two look unfinished. There’s a scene where Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) simply walks into the team’s secret underground base somewhere in the Caspian Sea with no explanation as to how she found it. And would it really have been so difficult to match John Cena’s eye colour with the actor who plays him as a youth, Finn Cole?
Since 2011’s Fast Five turned the series into a box-office juggernaut, every film has attempted to double down on the automotive spectacle of the last. With Fast 9, it feels as though the franchise may have reached its limit: once you have mortal characters pull off feats that might give Superman pause, it’s hard to imagine where the series can go next. In many respects, Fast 9 feels like the franchise’s Moonraker: a film that positively revels in its camp absurdity, even as it asks us to care about the central characters’ family issues, or be impressed by the scenes where Vin Diesel and John Cena glower at each other like surly action figures. By the end, Fast 9 threatens to become so outlandish that it’s more like watching a Wyle E. Coyote cartoon that anything shot with real cars and locations.
Despite all this, Fast 9 remains enormously entertaining, particularly if you’re willing to brave your local cinema and see it on the big screen. About 20 minutes into Fast & Furious 9, at the climax of an absurdly chaotic action scene, someone at the back of the cinema yelled an overjoyed “CINEMA!”. And you know what? They aren’t wrong. Fast 9 is corny, overstuffed, overblown, sometimes incoherent, even nonsensical, but it still has an unmistakeable, crowd-pleasing charm.
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