Covid caused havoc with movie release schedules but no delay caused me more dismay than Fast 9 being bumped from 2020 to 2021. I love the Fast and the Furious franchise. Guys, I LOVE these movies. They are deeply ridiculous and yet my adoration for them is a fierce, fierce thing. It’s easy to forget that the franchise had very humble beginnings. The Fast and the Furious was a remake of Point Break with cop Brian O’Connor (the much-missed Paul Walker) going undercover with/making starry eyes at Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) the leader of a group of street racers/criminals. The plot of the first movie revolved around Toretto’s crew jacking shipments of DVD players. Twenty years and billions of dollars later Toretto’s crew are now bona fide superheroes that the US government repeatedly relies on to save the world from nefarious villains.
If you’re not up to date on the franchise well then frankly what have you been doing with your life? But if you wanted to catch up it’s worth watching Fast Five (which is the undisputed height of the franchise featuring Brian and Dom in Rio being chased by The Rock) and Hobbs and Shaw (the spin-off featuring Jason Statham and The Rock (who hated Vin Diesel, how annoying must you be to make The Rock of all people angry?) which is more of a comedy action film and is a riot to watch. Still not sold? It features Idris Elba as the villain Brixton who describes himself as “Black Superman”).
But if you don’t want to catch up it doesn’t matter. Every recent movie in the franchise is exactly the same. They feature fast cars which are involved in stunts that defy the laws of physics. Our heroes are effectively bulletproof. They can be fired at by machine-gun wielding baddies from 10 feet away and never get hit. They are involved in horrendous accidents that should cause their deaths many many times over and never get a scratch. The leads literally have it in their contracts that their characters can never lose a fight. I mean come on guys – how insecure do you have to be in your masculinity to care about that? (Meanwhile, you got Keanu Reeves refusing to allow his character, John Wick, to kill characters played by Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman in John Wick 3 on the grounds that they’re superb Indonesian martial artists and it would be disrespectful). There’s usually a double-cross. Every member of the crew has hacking skills that none of them should possess (I repeat these are meant to be street racers who jacked DVD shipments – they’ve got no tech skills whatsoever). Everyone drinks bottles of Corona with the labels pointed at the cameras at all times. The word “family” is repeated roughly twenty billion times. Oh, and the villain usually shows up and joins the crew in the next film.
Fast 9 is more of the same featuring the return of Justin Lin as director to get the franchise back on track after the very lacklustre The Fate of the Furious. If you’re going in as a newbie be warned – no attempt is made to bring newcomers up to speed. We get a brief sequence of Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) living in domestic bliss with their son Brian but then it’s straight into the action within minutes (Walker’s character has been kept alive in the franchise and gets to play off-screen babysitter). This time around the plot revolves around Dom’s (never before mentioned) brother Jakob (John Cena) who is some sort of ex-spy/tech villain who wants to steal a MacGuffin to wipe out the world’s tech. So basically the plot of Goldeneye. Jakob is aided by Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) the son of a dictator with serious daddy issues. We also get flashback scenes with a young Dom (Vinnie Bennett impressively channelling baby Vin Diesel) and Jakob (Finn Cole) and Michael Rooker (just looking like Michael Rooker – no attempt was made to de-age him which I thought was hilarious)
But the plot doesn’t matter. All that matters is watching the crew swiftly assemble and get into ridiculous shootouts and car chases. Back from the previous movie are Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). They’re joined by Mia (Jordana Brewster who sat out the last two movies) and the long-heralded return of Han (Sung Kang). Helen Mirren also pitches up for a cameo to class up the joint (and presumably bought her own make-up artist with her – the make-up in this movie is awful apart from hers – I’ve never seen so much orange foundation, shiny faces and creased eyeshadow).
The opening action set piece features the crew driving across a field of land mines and leaping across a rickety bridge and is so jaw-droppingly ridiculous I cackled for a full 10 minutes in the cinema. The climactic set-piece features a ROCKET CAR. People had been joking for years that the only way for the franchise to go was into space and here they have the absolute audacity to do it. Fast 9 meets Moonraker. It is beyond silly and yet I have never smiled more.
Remember how excited Jesse got in Breaking Bad about magnets? He’d have loved Fast 9. Huge set-pieces revolve around the use of massive magnets which cause cars to fly across the screen in a demolition derby of death. Conservatively hundreds of innocent bystanders must have been brutally killed by the sheer carnage our heroes create with their magnet shenanigans. But it’s thrilling to watch.
It would be fair to say Vin Diesel is not an actor of enormous range but his love for these movies shines through and he is a solid if humourless, leading man. His physicality in the action sequences is impressive- one sequence shows him collapsing a building with his bare hands. Because…why not? He is well matched by Michelle Rodriguez – the pair have the sort of easy chemistry that comes from knowing someone for 20 years.
Rodriguez was not shy about the fact that her character was pitifully underwritten in the previous film. Justin Lin has firmly course-corrected and Rodriguez gets more to do in this film than she has in the 3 previous movies. Letty is an absolute badass in this – she’s out there doing terrifying motorbike stunts and hitting bad guys and wrecking cars. Rodriguez is a force to be reckoned with and she’s a joy to watch.
Tyrese Gibson remains the unsung hero of the franchise. His comedy timing is a thing of beauty and several of his scenes made me laugh so loudly I was glad no one else was in my row.
John Cena is surprisingly charming in a thinly written role which requires him to spout some dreadful dialogue. He pulls off an unintentionally comedic sequence where he has to traverse Edinburgh city centre on a zip line with absolute panache. Danish actor Thue Ersted Rasmussen has a lot of fun with Otto – your typical Euro trash Hollywood villain.
Some choices are mystifying. The sequence in which Han is revealed to be alive is such a moment that it’s completely baffling that they chose to reveal it in the bloody trailer. Han also doesn’t have a great deal to do.
I love Charlize Theron but Cipher is a terrible villain and her presence here is completely unnecessary. She just spouts cod psychology in a silken tone while stood in a glass box like a particularly crappy Hannibal Lecter. Perhaps I was just distracted by the fact that with her red leather trousers she looked like she was wearing Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s outfit.
Ridiculous, excessive, very silly and completely joyous Fast 9 is a very strong return to form with an intriguing post-credit scene that left me excited for the final movie in the franchise. Bring on Fast 10!
Fast 9 is only in cinemas now.