When the increasingly ludicrous Fast and Furious franchise launched its spy-centred spinoff Hobbs and Shaw, there might have been a temptation to reset the central series – leave the technobabble world-saving to Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham whilst the original cast got back to smaller stakes car drama. Perhaps inevitably, however, the exact opposite happened, Fast 9 being the biggest, dumbest, most physics-defying instalment yet, pushing this universe to its breaking point and beyond, making for an intermittently fun but often exhausting sequel that may just be evidence of a franchise on its last legs.
Continuing a few of the story threads established in 7 and 8, F9 also delves into the past of Dom Torretto (Vin Diesel), revealing he has a brother named Jakob (John Cena in the present and Finn Cole in flashbacks), who is working with previous villain Cipher (Charlize Theron, giving an atrocious performance) to steal some high-tech doomsday device. It’s a plot both simple and convoluted (good luck decoding the series’s actual timeline at this point), but one that does the job on showcasing the Fast franchise’s core elements of familial bonds and vehicular superheroics.
Unfortunately, both the family and action side of things are hamstrung by a simply abysmal script from Daniel Casey and returning director Justin Lin. Far too many conversations are undisguised exposition dumps, which become a repetitive chore to sit through, while the stakes of the action never come close to feeling real. No matter how many bullets, missiles, or perilous cliff edges the film chucks at the protagonists, they always emerge unscathed, and this weightless action, while occasionally fun in its sheer absurdity, is disappointing, paling in comparison to the stunts and fights in franchises like John Wick or Mission Impossible.
Lin even tries to acknowledge the heroes’ seeming invincibility through a series of meta, fourth-wall-nudging conversations that rub up uncomfortably against Fast’s trademark earnestness, eventually leading to an extended riff about movie plot points and Star Wars that ranks amongst the worst-written scenes you’ll see all year.
Yet, bizarrely, this more tongue-in-cheek approach does pay dividends in the most unlikely place. After years of jokes, Fast 9 finally sees the formerly street racing-based series blast off into outer space, with the always joyous bromantic pairing of Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) modifying a junky old car with a rocket engine to destroy a satellite. Every time we cut from the main action back to Roman and Tej’s orbital mission, Fast 9 earns a huge laugh – Gibson and Bridges are on fine form throughout – and the thrills are actually more visceral here than back on earth.
Fast 9 really is one for the fans, bringing back old characters from pretty much every former instalment, but then folding them into a predictable, sometimes even incoherent, plot. When it fully embraces either end of this franchise’s extremes, from the space mission at one end to some genuinely stirring racing action in the flashbacks at the other, there’s fun to be had, but the stuff in between can’t decide between cynicism and sincerity, leaving much of the endeavour feeling rather empty.