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F9: The Fast Saga Review

May 30, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
F9 John Cena Vin Diesel, WWE (from left) Dom (Vin Diesel) and Jakob (John Cena) in F9, directed by Justin Lin.
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F9: The Fast Saga Review  

Directed By: Justin Lin
Written By: Daniel Casey, Justin Lin and Alfredo Botello
Runtime: 145 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language

Vin Diesel – Dominic Toretto
John Cena – Jakob Toretto
Michelle Rodriguez – Letty Ortiz
Jordana Brewster – Mia Toretto
Charlize Theron – Cipher
Thue Ersted Rasmussen – Otto
Tyrese Gibson – Roman
Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges – Tej
Nathalie Emmanuel – Ramsey
Sung Kang – Han
Anna Sawai – Elle
Helen Mirren – Queenie
Kurt Russell – Mr. Nobody
Michael Rooker – Buddy
Shea Whigham – Stasiak
Finn Cole – Young Jakob
Vinnie Bennett – Young Dom

The Fast & Furious film franchise continues to chug along with F9: The Fast Saga. This franchise reaching its ninth entry, or 10 counting Hobbs & Shaw, is crazy enough, and F9 its release happens to be during the same month and year as the original 2001. This marks the 20th anniversary of the franchise that looked like it was about two steps away from becoming bargain-bin, direct-to-video fodder with 2006’s Tokyo Drift. With that in mind, F9 sees the return of director Justin Lin to the series; the man responsible for transforming a mildly successful update of Point Break, about underground street racing, into one of the biggest summer action-adventure popcorn film franchises on the planet.

F9 picks up sometime after the events of The Fate of the Furious. After rescuing his infant son from Cipher (Theron), Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and wife Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez) are living together, along with young Brian, in secluded, domestic bliss. However, trouble comes calling once again after a distress call from Mr. Nobody (Russell) reveals that his plane crash landed while carrying an imprisoned Cipher. While Letty is keen to help, with a young son to look out for, Dom is not ready to rejoin the fight. However, Mr. Nobody’s last video call suggests yet another phantom from Dom’s past that he’s unable to ignore.

In the search for Mr. Nobody’s downed plane is another invaluable MacGuffin that can shift the balance of power of the world. It’s sought after by Dom’s long-lost brother; yes brother, Jakob (Cena). With the unlimited resources of the rich, spoiled dignitary son, Otto (Rasmussen), at Jakob’s disposal, the Family is forced to take part in another death-defying, nonstop, fast-paced adventure, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

F9: The Fast Saga is absolutely ridiculous, crazy and oftentimes insane. Yes, it’s incredible dumb fun. The film’s unique cast of characters separates Fast & Furious from other lesser action movies. All of the actors at the forefront of Fast & Furious are uniquely charismatic individuals, especially star Vin Diesel as Toretto. The cast also possesses well-developed chemistry. So, more often than not, even at the movie’s goofiest, silliest moments, the incredible cast brings it home and sells the material.

That aspect is more necessary than ever because the writing for this series is definitely nearing its breaking point. In the recent films, Fast & Furious had evolved well beyond underground street racing and heists and developed into borderline super-spy, action-adventure heroics. The Fate of the Furious had the Shaw Brothers breaching Cipher’s plane with jetpack suits that looked like they were ripped out of the Hasbro GI Joe toy line. This franchise is basically now a mashup of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, GI Joe, Transformers and MASK. It’s superhero cartoon in everything but the name. Honestly, that’s to the series benefit, and it helped make the franchise even bigger, more relevant, and provided it with the ability to stand out among a glut of comic book superhero releases.

That said, the writing for this series is definitely starting to show its cracks. The series has managed to make it to nine movies, but it should really consider wrapping things up at an even 10, rather than trying to push it to 11. Case in point, the convoluted method in making John Cena and Vin Diesel’s characters’ brothers. Academy Award winner Charlize Theron is given the unenviable task of lampshading this contrived idea. At the very least, she manages to speak the line with a straight face, but it is moronic. Regardless, the movie demands that you accept Jakob is a Toretto and the brother of Dom and Mia (Brewster).

The other major elephant in the room is the return of Sung Kang’s Han, a revelation already spoiled by trailers. F9 does not justify Han’s return with the subplot he’s given. It’s more or less an afterthought. Bringing Han back here is not “justice” for the character. It’s a joke. “Justice4Han” was a reaction by the fanbase to turning Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw into one of the franchise’s heroes, despite the fact that Shaw had willfully murdered one of the “Family.” A whole movie was spent on getting Shaw back for killing one of their own. But now that Shaw has turned over a new leaf, it’s inconvenient that he murdered a beloved character. Even when the franchise brought Letty back from the dead, her death in 2009’s Fast & Furious was kept vague, and it happened offscreen. There was a lost opportunity there to make a more salvageable retcon. Han’s return is not well-written, nor well executed.

Another major issue with the film’s structure is Cipher taking a backseat for most of the action. She would have been a far more effective villain for this story, even as a repeat one, than the likes of Jakob and Otto. Elsewhere, the film introduces multiple subplots and ideas that are seemingly tossed aside later. Perhaps Justin Lin plans on revisiting the loose ends in later films, but there could have been a better impression that these major developments are being left for later. Jakob and Otto’s goals and objectives are not well established, unlike Cipher’s in the previous movie. One particular plot turn late into the movie is rather boneheaded.

Plot issues aside, F9 is still a fun day out at the movies. Justin Lin knows how to film these actors and make the most of their screentime. Even Jordana Brewster is actually given more to do and has some rewarding character development. Moments like this make the film shine. Even a borderline meta-subplot between Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Gibson) produces some of the best laughs in the film.

Cena’s Jakob is a mixed bag. His backstory is problematic. Now, in terms of the physical aspects of the character, Cena is able to nail down the stoicism pretty well. Other times, Cena’s attempts to show emotion with his facial expressions are lacking. Even Bumblebee showcased more of his strengths, and in general, he gave a stronger performance in this movie. Keeping Charlize Theron in the background was a misstep.

Elsewhere, Lin is due credit because he is good at paying homage to his past installments. There are some clever callbacks to the earlier films. While the writing is sometimes shaky, it is neat when some minor background characters show up again to pay off a visual gag that first began over 10 years ago. Lin’s overall direction, staging, strong pacing and presentation of the major set-pieces provide F9‘s additional strong aspects.

Even when the action is at its most extreme in F9, Lin does an exceptional job of staging it around the central cast. While Diesel’s Toretto may appear superhuman, Lin and Diesel are able to show his vulnerable side. Diesel is one of the few action stars around who can make old-school machismo look cool and poetic.

The final score: review Good
The 411
F9 is far from being one of the best entries in The Fast, but it's still a fun night out at the movies. The writing is definitely starting to show its cracks, and it certainly looks like it should start winding down or risk making this series become an extreme parody of itself. It's still the Family looking cool and on another big, epic adventure, but the fact that the crew had to invent a long-lost brother for Jakob is pushing the franchise's suspension of disbelief so far. F9 is a fun action movie, but it's probably a good time to think about the ending for the crew.