Fans of the Fast and Furious franchise pretty much know what to expect from new entries by now: thrilling action, comfortingly familiar characters spouting platitudes about family, and the odd joke or two. From that perspective, F9, the ninth movie in the improbable saga, is a smashing success — and I mean that literally. It’s been at least a movie or two since the franchise crashed and smashed so many vehicles. In a more grounded film series, that would be cause for concern, but in the world of Fast and Furious, it’s all fodder for fun popcorn entertainment.
F9 deepens the franchise’s mythology, such as it is, by providing more of the backstory of Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto. As the trailers reveal, one of the core crew’s major adversaries in the film is Dom’s long-lost younger brother, Jakob (John Cena), who Dom banished from his life years before he met most of the film’s major characters. While the mystery behind what happened between the brothers gives the film an additional layer of intrigue, it’s always been Dom’s earnestly devoted found family that’s taken center stage in this series.
For that reason, the return from the dead of former team member Han (Sung Kang) will be more exciting to many fans. Unfortunately, it’s this part of the story that’s perhaps the least satisfying, due to a subpar explanation for Han’s absence and his rather underwhelming reintroduction. Fans who have long called for justice for Han will be happy to know that a mid-credits scene teases Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw finally getting his comeuppance for killing the character, but until that happens on screen, justice for the resurrected character hasn’t truly been served.
Ultimately though, fans know the franchise’s reason for being is its over-the-top set pieces, and F9 is stuffed full of them. The action is rousingly staged by director and co-writer Justin Lin, who oversaw the series’ evolution into a slick, stylish franchise as the director of its third through sixth films. Whether Dom is driving off a cliff, cars are flying into the stratosphere with rockets strapped to them, or the crew is using magnets to stop their enemies’ evil plans, the swooshing cars and kinetic hand-to-hand combat make for silly spectacle. Of course it’s preposterous, but the filmmakers get points for the creative ways they find to up the action ante with each successive outing.
The Fast and Furious franchise will never be high art, but between its reliable cast and exhilarating action, it often feels exactly like what the big-screen experience was built for. And given we’ve had way too little of that in the past year, as tentpole after tentpole — including F9 — was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, F9 makes for an exciting reason to return to theaters. Sure, armies attack out of nowhere, Cardi B. shows up to help Dom at the exact right moment, and we still want justice for Han, but it’s hard to dwell too long on these issues when it’s way more fun to blithely zoom along with the movie to its next crashy, smashy sequence.