Until July 26, 2019, I had only ever seen the sixth film in the Fast and Furious franchise. On that day, I started my weekend binge of the entire series in anticipation of Hobbs and Shaw, and proceeded to write about it for SiftPop.com. After years of hearing people crap on the Fast franchise, I was surprised when I came to realize that the series is actually good! You can complain all you want that the movies aren’t realistic and the franchise has gotten away from its roots, but you also have to remember that the first movie was about a guy infiltrating an underground street racing gang that would steal VCRs. Sure, finally going to space is many huge steps up from that, but at this point, Vin Diesel is the only person who takes the movies seriously. The rest of the cast, as well as the audience, are in on the joke.
20 years after the first movie was released, there have now been nine total films in the main “Fast Saga” with two more planned, one spin-off with two more planned, and two short films in the world of these movies. While they have been released to various critical and audience receptions, and while some are much better than others, you can always count on them being a bombastic time at the movies, for better or for worse.
The latest entry in the series with some of the wackiest and most inconsistent titles is F9, in which Dominic Toretto’s (Diesel) brother Jakob (franchise newcomer John Cena) shows up for the first time. For a series where the word “family” has basically transcended being a meme or running joke, it is a little odd that this is the first we’ve heard of Dom’s biological brother. It’s certainly weird that we’ve never heard of this character before now, but at the same time, they seem to be making things up as they go.
The the writers and director Justin Lin took this new story development and were able to say something fresh with it. Like any good essay, the movie’s thesis is stated in its opening sequence — in a flashback to the day that the Torettos’ father died in a race car wreck, he tells Dom that value doesn’t come from being a stronger man, but from being the bigger man. It’s not the movie’s only idea, but it drives just about everything that happens thematically.
Now, I’m not just trying to hand wave every logical problem that F9 has, because there are a few for sure (a main plot point and the integral part to the action set pieces is a group of giant magnets that can be turned on and off in the back of a truck, and it’s a bit inconsistent in how it works). It’s just that everything doesn’t need to make sense and obey the laws of physics and biology to enjoy this movie. Dom catches someone on the hood of his car instead of letting them land on the ground and the impact would be largely the same either way, but it’s cool! Dom drives his car off a cliff and somehow makes a rope catch on to the bottom so he can get to the other side of the gaping ravine and it looks amazing! Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) does her best Jason Bourne impression and jumps out of a window by riding a bad guy like a skateboard, and it’s a bunch of fun! There’s just three examples that appear in the trailers.
Saying that these movies aren’t realistic is old news at this point, but I just don’t really care. I don’t forgive every stupid action movie with wild stunts where people do wild stuff with no physical consequences with the, “It’s just a movie!” excuse. But ever since Fast Five (and with the exception of Fate of the Furious), this franchise has somehow been able to walk the fine line of ironic and unironic at the same time. On one hand, you have Dom going into a whole underwater dream sequence in which he sees significant moments in his life, and I’m sure Diesel pictures this being in his Oscar reel some day. It’s a moment that is completely designed to invest you in the character and their emotional plights. But on the other hand, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) goes on and on about how much ridiculous stuff the gang has survived over the years. It’s an obvious wink and nod at the audience to say, “Yeah, we know this is ridiculous. But that’s just part of the fun.” At the same time, it feels like sincere existential musings straight out of the mouth of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. What’s not to love?!
F9 isn’t really close to the Fast Saga at its best. I personally have it sixth out of 10 in my ranking of the franchise. But I think out of all the Fast and Furious movies in the world, F9 is the Fast and Furiousest. It’s got the spectacle, the fun, the cast of characters I’ve come to love, and the family. Sure, it’s overlong and, honestly, a bit hollow in its messaging, which the better entries in the franchise can’t say. I haven’t rewatched the series in two years, but F9 is making me want to.