Review: ‘F9’ is ridiculous, but knows its audience

I feel like writing this review might be a little redundant. This is the tenth film in this franchise, so if you’re not on board with the fambly at this point, I’m not sure you ever will be. The franchise shifted from “people who drive good” to “international super spies” over the last few films, and this one continues the cycle of one-upmanship with a trip to space.

Yes, they go to space in this one, so it’s an apt comparison when I say that this might be their Moonraker moment when they finally abandon all pretence of realism. Please note: I like Moonraker.

This time out, the fambly is called back into action after Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) plane goes down carrying this movie’s MacGuffin. Initially hesitant to return to the life of excitement after settling down to raise his son, Dom (Vin Diesel) leaps into action after seeing something no one else did in the video transmission they received. Once they retrieve the thing, a rival team shows up led by Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s long lost brother.

John Cena as Jakob in F9, co-written and directed by Justin Lin.

Simultaneously, we are treated to a series of flashbacks to 1989 which detail how and why Dom and Jakob (played by Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole) fell out after the death of their father.

If there was ever any doubt that this franchise was a soap opera, yes, this franchise is a soap opera. And in case all this didn’t convince you, Sung Kang is back as Han after having died in The Fast and the Furious: Drift (and depending on how you look at it, Furious 7, too).

(from left) Han (Sung Kang) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) in F9, co-written and directed by Justin Lin.

I could explain all this, but honestly, as I stated above, you’re either in on this bullshit, or you’re not. What I will say is that a lot of it is pretty fun. When it finally gets to the big set pieces, one of the characters points out that all they have to do to survive is obey the laws of physics, advice that is then summarily ignored, resulting in a car chase that somehow seems less realistic than the space flight going on in the b-plot.

That’s not exactly a complaint though, it’s still super fun. If I have a complaint it’s that the script is a lot more fan-servicey this time around, and the dialogue doesn’t feel quite the same. I am glad that Justin Lin has returned to the franchise, but I feel like perhaps writer Chris Morgan (who wrote Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7, and Hobbes & Shaw) might also have been a key ingredient.

Speaking of Hobbes & Shaw, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are noticeably absent from F9. There’s a sequence in F9 where Diesel fights about 15 henchmen single-handedly and literally pulls down a building to escape which feels like he must have watched Johnson & Statham’s prison escape fight sequence in F8 and also wanted to look superhuman. The problem is that it’s slightly less believable with Diesel than it was with Johnson, despite being utterly ridiculous in both cases.

I compared F9 to Moonraker earlier, and I think that comparison is apt. There is, at this point, nothing that this franchise cannot do with its characters and not get away with it. The transition from thieves who drive good to super spies is complete. Will we eventually see an overcorrection back to something more “realistic?” Only time will tell.

So is this a good movie? Honestly, I have no idea. It doesn’t live up to the better entries in the franchise (Fast Five remains my favourite), but F9 is better than F8. If you’re into the franchise, that should at least be good news.

Other Thoughts

  • Charlize Theron is back, and while her screen time is limited, she at least seems to be having fun this time out.
  • Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges still have the best banter in the series.
  • Nathalie Emmanuelle’s Ramsay, whose main skill she contributes is that she’s a world-class hacker, gets to be the hacker in this one after being somewhat sidelined in F8, which I liked.
  • Lucas Black and Bow Wow are back, but now I kind of want to see the movie that tells me how they got from where we left them to where they are at the beginning of this movie.
  • I am glad that Sung Kang is back.
  • I miss Paul Walker.