F9: The Fast Saga (United States, 2021)

June 25, 2021
A movie review by James Berardinelli
F9: The Fast Saga Poster

(This may contain spoilers. Hard to say with a series like this.)

Life may be like a box of chocolates, but Fast and Furious films aren’t. With these movies, you always know what you’re going to get. After two decades of increasingly improbable action sequences, the series, which started out as a somewhat grounded undercover cop story pitting Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto against Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner, has started getting as long in the tooth as some of its stars. After arguably peaking with the seventh film in the franchise, Furious 7 (which represented Walker’s swansong), the film has begun a slow decline both in terms of box office clout and narrative potential. The spinning-of-the-wheels that was evident in installment #8 has become even more obvious in #9. Although Diesel has been committed to soldiering on in Walker’s absence, the last two films have illustrated the importance of the chemistry between those actors and how badly the series misses it.

With a Fast and Furious movie, you get what you expect so it’s no use complaining about inconsistencies, plot holes, and other examples of ridiculousness. One movie is much like the others – just mix and match some of the heroes and plug in a new villain or two (sometimes not even that). Trying to follow the plot may require more concentration than it’s worth because, in the end, it will still leave viewers scratching their heads. F9, like its predecessors, isn’t about characters or story. It’s about the excessively over-the-top action sequences, the latest of which is literally out of this world.

Enjoyment, as least to a limited degree, means acceptance. In this case, one has to acknowledge that the Fast and Furious movies transpire in a parallel universe where the Newtonian Laws of physics don’t apply, where bullets are capable of harming only bad guys (while leaving bystanders and protagonists untouched), and where death lasts only until the next movie. It’s hard to keep track, but I believe F9 features the third resurrection in the series. That’s soap opera territory.

Non-stop action only works when it’s handled with a deft hand and Justin Lin, after having taken a break after helming installments #3-6, seems out of practice. He relies too much on fast cutting in the editing room and the viewer never feels that the characters are in danger. (An observation to this effect is made in a moment of self-awareness by Tyrese Gibson.) The first 90 minutes (or so) of F9 are a chore to sit through. They trudge by without even a moment’s suspense or tension. The adrenaline finally starts pumping around the two-thirds mark (of a movie that’s at least an hour too long); the last 45 minutes are engaging in a mindless sort of way, but the movie cheats viewers of a true resolution because it’s necessary to keep a few threads hanging for Fast 10 (which may or may not represent the final end to this overlong saga).

The movie starts in the 1980s with a flashback featuring a young Dom (Vinnie Bennett) watching the death of his father (J.D. Pardo) in a race track mishap. Introduced in this sequence is Dom’s younger brother, Jakob (Finn Cole). A rift develops between Dom and Jackob as a result of that day and the chasm widens over the years. The film intersperses other flashbacks throughout to bring the viewer up to speed.

Jumping ahead, the story shows us Dom playing happy families with his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and young son. They think they’re living the life they’re meant to have until the arrival of three old compatriots – Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). It seems that an ultra-secret weapon formerly in the possession of the mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) is gone. At the same time, his prisoner, the Machiavellian Cipher (Charlize Theron), has been kidnapped. The two men involved in this double-heist are Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), the thuggish son of a dictator, and a grown-up Jakob (John Cena). It becomes a race-against-time to find and assemble the three pieces that will give the user world domination. Faster than you can say “Infinity Gauntlet,” the group has started their globetrotting, joined by Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) – who has left Brian at home to open Daddy Daycare – and the supposedly-dead Han (Sung Kang), whose resurrection story makes no sense whatsoever (but doesn’t have to).

Earlier installments of the Fast and Furious series featured genuine moments of connection among the various characters. (“Family” is an ongoing theme.) That’s almost entirely absent here. Vin Diesel is an automaton and John Cena matches him beat-for-beat. These two do a lot of glaring but not much else. The romantic longing between Letty and Dom has evaporated; these two are more like platonic buddies than lovers. The trio of Roman, Tej, and Ramsey rarely do more than offer comic relief. And F9 doesn’t feature the series’ best baddies. Otto is a milquetoast whose menace level is on par with a tiger lily (one wonders whether he was introduced so the series can bring on board an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type to play Daddy Dictator in the next film). Cipher, meanwhile, does an admirable Hannibal Lecter impersonation by playing mindgames with her captors while trapped in a cage. Charlize Theron doesn’t have much screen time, although it’s more than what’s accorded to Kurt Russell, Gal Gadot, and Helen Mirren.

Are you weary of the high-octane, CGI-heavy action offered by the Fast and Furious series? If so, then it would be hard to find any reason to recommend the film. If not, all I can say is to just wait. That point is coming. Until then, let the numbing sameness offer a sense of comfort.

F9: The Fast Saga (United States, 2021)

Run Time: 2:24
U.S. Release Date: 2021-06-25
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Genre: Action
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1