It has been four years since we last saw Dominic Toretto and his crew. After rumours of on-set clashes between cast members, spin-offs and the COVID-19 pandemic, fans were unsure of when we would see the gang back again on the big screen. Despite a short delay, we are finally getting the latest instalment in the Fast & Furious franchise – Fast & Furious 9.
Directed by Justin Lin, Fast & Furious 9 (F9) catches up with Dom Toretto several years after the events in the previous film. Despite him finally settling down with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and young son Brian, the crew reunites with Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and old friend Han (Sung Kang) to stop their most challenging enemy yet – Dom and Mia’s brother Jakob (John Cena).
F9 highlights Dom’s importance of family by heavily relying on grainy flashbacks that involve his late father and the complicated relationship with Jakob, resulting in the latter becoming resentful and jealous. This narrative feels overindulgent at times and puts Dom on a higher pedestal as a protagonist, but with Diesel seemingly the only one emotionally invested in F9’s character development, his character frustratingly remains closed off unless he is driving. In fact, the majority of the film – whether it is the heroes’ doubt about their mission or Cena’s unwavering ‘tough guy’ persona – has this stone-faced facade that not only restricts its resonance with audiences but presents a monotony that we shouldn’t come to expect after eight films. Along with uncreative antagonists such as the bitter, resentful sibling Jakob and playboy financier Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), Lin and co-screenwriter Daniel Casey aren’t exactly thinking outside of the box.
F9 tries to further increase the limelight on the ensemble’s female members with Rodriguez, Brewster, Emmanuel and newcomer Anna Sawai performing stunts, as well as a fleeting Helen Mirren being classy behind the wheel. Even the underlying bitterness of ‘supporting’ antagonist Cipher (Charlize Theron) proves that her manipulative nature hasn’t dwindled since The Fate of the Furious. Despite them getting involved in the action, the ladies continue to be overlooked in the hero stakes and remain sidekicks to their male counterparts, which is infuriating after eight films.
As with all the films, the Fast & Furious franchise belongs to its leading men so it’s no surprise that F9‘s biggest draw is the return of Han, who was thought to have died in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (aka Fast & Furious 3). The demise of the franchise’s sole Asian-American main character led to the social media hashtag #JusticeForHan and the introduction of Statham’s Deckard Shaw, as well as him quickly becoming part of the Toretto ‘family’. With Sung Kung reprising the role, his return comes across as a fan service of sorts but it is a welcome one.
Sidestepping the script and plot, all the imagination behind F9 is poured into the stunts, which seem to replace the road chases with multi-terrain chases involving impossible tethers or high-strength electromagnets. They vary between the satisfying and the absurd so while the film may not win any dramatic awards, it continues to deliver in action and entertainment.
With its familiar plot, slightly overlong runtime and minimal character development, Fast & Furious 9 feels safe but stale. But with its crazy stunts and, yes, rocket cars, it offers a certain degree of fun.
Fast & Furious 9 is out in UK cinemas on 24 June.
Director: Justin Lin; Daniel Casey (co-screenwriter)
Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron
Runtime: 145 minutes