I’m going to start out this review by explicitly stating that I have never seen a single film from The Fast and the Furious franchise, unless we’re counting the 2019 spinoff film, Hobbs & Shaw, which I admittedly found moderately enjoyable. But generally speaking, these movies aren’t for me. So, don’t come at me in the comments with your “how can you say these things? You’re not even a fan!” critiques. That’s right, I’m not even a fan of this franchise. And you also don’t have to read this review. But, speaking as a person who likes movies in general, even big, dumb, borderline incoherent action movies with little to no plot, I couldn’t find very much to like at all in F9.
Does the plot in one of these movies really matter? There’s a bunch of MacGuffins and bad guys that control the things that go boom and there’s the heroes trying to save the day. But I will copy and paste the synopsis provided by Universal Pictures because if I tried to explain this plot in earnest, we could be here all day.
Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son Brian, but they know that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, that threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he’s going to save those he loves most. His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Dom’s forsaken brother, Jakob (John Cena).
So, there are three things I know about the Fast and the Furious franchise before I walked into this movie: things that go boom, things that go vroom vroom and the wider theme of family – blood family, chosen family, etc. And for a film series that is so dead-focused on the idea of family, I think it’s absolutely hilarious that our protagonist has a long-lost brother who has never been mentioned before the ninth movie in a franchise. Vin Diesel and John Cena are competing in a game of who can out-macho who and this becomes extremely tiresome rather quickly.
Also, I guess it’s my own fault for never noticing this before, but Vin Diesel is a terrible actor! He can’t emote to save his life and he only seems to be skilled in the art of grumbling a terrible line and walking away. Also, John Cena, who has proven he can be delightful to watch in comedies, is absolutely unwatchable here. Any charisma or talent on display in other projects is entirely missing here and I found it very difficult to connect to either of their stories.
At one point a character jokes ‘what if we’re superheroes?’ after noting how much these characters have survived, and this certainly does feel like a superhero movie at certain points, and never in any good ways. It feels like a superhero team-up movie because we have a million characters showing up who get a few minutes of screen time each, but nobody really has a character arc. Kurt Russell and Helen Mirren show up for a few minutes each, and Charlize Theron is back reprising her villain role from a previous movie, and she really needs to shoot her hairstylist. That’s right, not even a villainous Charlize Theron hamming it up in a terrible wig could save this movie for me.
Justin Lin returns to the director’s chair after an absence for the past few movies, and I can’t necessarily say these movies are poorly made. A lot of skill goes into choreographing these gigantic action set pieces, but there’s also nothing interesting going on below the surface, and again, remarkably low attention paid to character development and any potential nuance is thrown out the window. While I guess these movies earn a few points for being self-aware, there are still many scenes where a character will jump from the roof of one car to another, and then another, and no one will comment on this or acknowledge how weird and dangerous it is. Who needs the laws of gravity in the Fast and Furious world, right? Logic, where?
In the end, it’s very possible these movies just aren’t for me and I shouldn’t have even tried to enjoy one in the first place. From the very first action set piece to the one in the finale where characters literally turn a car into an improvised spaceship and head into outer space for some reason, I was rolling my eyes and checking my watch from beginning to end. I have no idea how something so loud, full of action and alleged excitement could be so damn boring. F9 is a big, stupid, endless, loud, gimmicky action movie that somehow is never any fun. And we have an after-credits scene which definitely suggests this story isn’t over. Also, as I write this, F9 is on track for a $70 million opening weekend, which would be a record for the pandemic, and also the biggest opening weekend this franchise has enjoyed in years. So, we’ll get more. Because cinema is dying and we don’t deserve nice things.