Review: ‘F9: The Fast Saga’ Has Its Moments, But Ultimately A Weaker Entry In ‘Fast & Furious’ Franchise
Jun 25, 2021, 7:37 AM | Updated: 8:11 am
SALT LAKE CITY — Few movie franchises have the kind of connection between its creators and its fans that “The Fast and the Furious” franchise does. Vin Diesel and crew have been rolling out movies for two decades now and the series has a fiercely loyal following, to the tune of the saga grossing over $5 billion worldwide while its protagonists evolved from street racing bandits in southern California to James Bond/Mission: Impossible-level superheroes.
As Diesel, who has also been a producer of the series since the fourth movie, likes to point out, it’s also one of the few blockbuster movie franchises not based on a pre-existing intellectual property (novels, comic books, toy franchises, TV shows, etc.), so story, characters, everything comes from scratch — because there’s no source material to lean on.
Whatever your personal feelings about the “Fast & Furious” series may be, there’s no denying that it’s impressive that we’re now on movie number No. 9 of a franchise that has grossed over $5 billion because they did not have a built-in audience to begin with. They had to earn it with each movie.
“F9: The Fast Saga” was originally supposed to hit theaters in 2020, but was yet another blockbuster that was postponed into this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this chapter, we pick up with Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty (played again by Michelle Rodriguez) and his son, but they live uneasily, knowing that because of their past, danger is never far away. This time, it’s a ghost from Dom’s past that threatens the world (because anything less would be a letdown at this point in the series) and the crew must get back together to stop the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: Dom’s long-lost-and-forsaken brother, Jakob (played by John Cena).
Fans have high hopes for “F9” with the return of director Justin Lin, who also helmed the third, fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of the series — pretty much when “Fast and Furious” transformed into a global blockbuster. The action hurtles around the globe once again — to London, Tokyo, Central America, Scotland and even Azerbaijan.
You can see Lin’s signature imprint both in the action scenes and character interactions — it’s obvious that he’s intimately familiar with the franchise. He brings back pretty much any character who’s been in the series before that’s still alive (minus Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs, who had his spinoff movie in 2019), a character who we DIDN’T know was in the franchise all along but apparently WAS (Cena’s Jakob Torretto), and even a character who we thought WAS dead (Sung Kang’s Han Lue) — but much like the other major characters in the series, reports of his death were apparently greatly exaggerated.
While key story points connected pretty well with earlier plot threads in the series, I was surprised how clunky much of the dialogue was. I would have expected better from a franchise veteran like Lin, who co-wrote the script, and how some of the scenes felt like they were written by high school fans of the franchise who said to each other, “You know what would be cool? THIS!”
The strength of “F9” lies with its cast and their chemistry. Returning again along with Diesel, Rodriguez and Kang are Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster and Kurt Russell, as well as Academy Award winners Helen Mirren & Charlize Theron. Most of the actors have inhabited these characters for so long now that long-time fans of the movies feel like they actually ARE family, and based on the actors’ comments in media, most of them feel that way too. Despite the movie being as much about loud & fast car chases and explosions, it’s the little moments and character interactions that help cement that feeling.
But make no mistake, the loud & fast car chases and explosions are there too: including the creative use of giant magnets, a car jumping a cliff and being caught in midair by a fighter jet, cars driving almost vertical up broken wooden bridges, and … to avoid spoilers let’s just say some driving really high in the air. Lin and his production crew certainly didn’t cut any corners on the action and stunts.
But that brings up the biggest struggle I had while watching the movie. Lin or co-writer Daniel Casey decided to put in a bunch of dialogue where some of the characters acknowledge to each other how ridiculous it is that they’ve survived the things they’ve done over the series.
Yes, fans discuss this all the time and it’s one of the fun quirks of watching “Fast and Furious” movies. I’m also not opposed to an occasional weakening of the fourth wall by characters, but this was so blatant that I expected them to say that it’s almost like they’re fake characters in a world written by someone else. It’s one thing to not take yourself too seriously, but they got too close to the line between winking at me as an audience member, and insulting me for being an audience member. In addition, the villains are almost a joke, their motivations vague and changing.
At the same time, Lin’s decision to bring back the character of Han Lue was highly welcome, and a perfect example of that relationship between creators of the “Fast & Furious” franchise and its fans that I mentioned earlier.
(A quick refresher: Han was a member of Dom’s crew who supposedly died in an earlier movie in the franchise, and who we later learn was killed by Jason Statham’s character Deckard Shaw. Therefore, when Shaw becomes part of the team in “The Fate of the Furious,” many fans were upset that a series about family welcomed in the killer of one of the family members.)
As an article on The Ringer points out, the hashtag #JusticeForHan began almost immediately after the release of “The Fate of the Furious” in 2017, and it apparently worked. When Lin came on as director and writer he decided to find a way to bring back the character. Other than “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” I haven’t seen a fan movement impact a major movie series like the #JusticeForHan movement did.
Just like it’s almost impossible for characters in “The Fast & The Furious” to really die, it’s just as impossible to say only a few words about the franchise. But unfortunately, with so many entries in the saga, some are bound to suffer by comparison — and in my opinion “F9” does just that. It will feel comfortable and familiar for fans and it DOES have its moments, but I think it’s one of the weaker entries in the series.
As far as warnings, content-wise you get about what you’d expect from the series. “F9” is rated PG-13 for language, car-related mayhem and violence — both with guns and fists. It’s almost two and a half hours long and includes a mid-credits scene. But despite the length, it rolled by pretty quickly after a somewhat sluggish start.
But the biggest drawback is that you really need to watch multiple prior “Fast & Furious” movies, especially “Tokyo Drift” (No. 3), “Furious 7” and “The Fate of the Furious” (No. 8). I’m sorry, but you just can’t start your “Fast & Furious” journey with “F9.”
Having said all that, this movie will still make a bunch of money and have plenty of fans who love it. Universal has already announced that the series has two more movies coming to wrap up the saga. I do worry though, as someone who really enjoyed earlier entries in the series, what else they can do to finish the story. When you try and top yourself with each new movie in a series, at some point the level of ridiculousness is going to be too much to overcome. “F9” didn’t quite get there, but it came close.
“F9: The Fast Saga” is playing exclusively in movie theaters.
FINAL RATING: TWO OUT OF FOUR STARS
Hopefully you & your family found this review helpful! Andy Farnsworth is the movie and pop culture guy for the KSL 5 Today morning news show and also hosts the Fan Effect podcast for KSL NewsRadio. Check out some of his other in-depth reviews of movies and streaming TV series on KSLTV.com