F9, Fast & Furious 9, F9: The Fast Saga, Fast and Furious 9: The Fast Saga – the variations of the film’s title across various sources is rather messy, just like the film itself. Justin Lin directs the ninth outing of this franchise which has been well-established for two decades, so you can know what you can expect, right? Wrong. It would be an understatement to say that Fast & Furious 9 leans on the typical Fast and Furious formula – in fact, the film’s identity solely relies on its bombastic, over-the-top action to keep its viewer engaged. Drifting further (miles) away from the boy-racer origins of the franchise, Fast & Furious 9 is 145 minutes of ridiculous, exaggerated action set-pieces with a sprinkle of attempted storytelling.
The previous Fast and Furious movies had some level of care put into the storytelling; Fast & Furious 9 is a lazy script that feels impatient to get to its next action sequence. The film brings in a new villain, Jakob Toretto (John Cena), who just so happens to be Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) little brother and the two siblings are caught in a feud stemming from their childhood. As the story unravels, it gets increasingly difficult to care about this family feud happening as Dom is far too established to introduce such a thing. It only places the emotional ties of the ‘stakes’ on Dom rather than providing a compelling reason for the supporting characters to be in the film besides “we family”. A commendable part of the film is the cast chemistry which seems to connect like glue as it appears that each actor knows what they bring to their characters and they continue to fall deeper into their existing roles. However, I feel like it must be said, Vin Diesel is at his best when his character is acting staunch or angry but the script insists that he tries to show emotion in this film and the results are amusing.
Back to the stakes of it all, none of it is really felt as the aim of the antagonist is almost identical as Ciphers (Charlize Theron) from The Fate of the Furious – wanting to obtain some random piece of technology that controls weapons, including nuclear missiles. Considering the film has a vast range of silly and nonsensical scenes, stakes for the characters in these moments should be felt but that concept has faded with this franchise. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) begins to question his own existence by wondering if he is invincible and it is portrayed as a joke but in all seriousness, it is highlighting a deeper issue of this franchise – a film without stakes weighs heavily on the substance of the plot. It’s tough not to have fun in the over-the-top action sequences, but the supporting pieces in between these moments must have value for the viewer to actually care otherwise, it starts to leave you disengaged with anything in the film.
Visually the film has regressed compared to the other installments in the franchise with Fast & Furious 9 taking a page out of Michael Bay’s book by overstuffing pointless and unnecessary explosions in almost every scene which when combined with the excessive sound effects it becomes overbearing. The visual effects throughout this film are often inconsistent and the lack of practical effects used were noticeable during Fast & Furious 9, where the previous installments double down on the use of practical effects which helped make this franchise as great as it is. The choice of emphasising the use of overpowered magnets over vehicle stunt work will always baffle me. These magnets seem to have no rules or laws when it comes to physics, mind you this whole franchise doesn’t seem to obey the physics laws but at least each installment has a scene that is entertaining and enjoyable to watch, but the use of these magnets just doesn’t have the same effect of ridiculousness that we are used to seeing throughout this franchise mainly due to the inconsistency of its ‘powers’. During Furious 7 & The Fate of the Furious we were introduced to a creative camera technique where during certain fight scenes the camera tracked and tilted while the characters were falling or being slammed into objects, sadly this wasn’t used or even expanded on during Fast & Furious 9.
The location choices during Fast & Furious 9 is what we are accustomed to seeing throughout this franchise with the familiar LA, Tokyo and Europe being the main choice of location throughout the movie, however the film was also shot in Thailand which brought a new element to the film and the franchise. For the first time we get to witness the The Fast crew race through grass plains and jungles – a refreshing change to the crowded streets they are usually in. The Fast and Furious franchise has always been notorious for their soundtrack choices to help give the film a Need for Speed vibe and in Fast & Furious 9 they do exactly the same as the previous films to keep this element alive. By compiling a list of Hip-Hop tracks perfectly suited for the racing culture and incorporating quick drum beats for the film’s faster moments this enhances the intensity of the films more action packed scenes. The icing on the musical cake is the upbeat Spanish song that plays during the films final scene which has been done in the previous films before it. While the sound design is excellent with the revving of the V8 and turbo engines roaring throughout the cinema, sadly the sound mixing isn’t able to follow suit. With so much chaos going on onscreen the sounds of the explosions, guns and cars often become overbearing and it’s difficult to digest what is happening.
If we are to continue in due course, then the Fast and Furious franchise seems to be shifting to an alternate version of The Transformers franchise. Embracing one’s silliness is one thing, being completely reliant on it is another. Fast & Furious 9 becomes its own entity, far too distant from the other films. The storytelling takes the backseat, while the action takes the driving wheel with enjoyable cast chemistry right in the passenger seat.