It’s twenty years since I attended the opening of my local cinema, now part of the Cineworld chain; the first film I saw there was an FBI vs road-racers movie called The Fast and the Furious. I’d have been surprised to imagine that I’d be back to see the ninth instalment of the franchise, shot extensively in Edinburgh, and featuring rando stars like Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron and Kurt Russell. But the Fast and Furious movies have been one wild ride, with a few dead ends and changes of direction; with two more instalments to come, F9 offers few signs that the saga is running out of gas, road or runway.
The attraction is cars and CGI-assisted stunts, for sure, and F9 caters for destructive kids of all ages. But for adults willing to wrestle with such mystifying plot-devices such as Han’s death or Letty’s amnesia, the famously half-baked continuity is very much in evidence. One set of flashbacks explains how Han (Sung Kang) can still be alive after dying in the third AND sixth episodes. Another ret-cons the sprawling family life of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to give him a previously unmentioned brother Jakob (John Cena) who may or may not be responsible for the death of their father in the opening flashback. With so much reverse engineering going on, it’s hard to remember what’s actually happening now, so lines like ‘You can’t forget she killed the mother of your child’ are plastered on to remind both actors and audience of motivations.
A story links the action, just. Jakob has teamed up with mega-mind Cipher (Theron, in and out of her box here) to put together some kind of orb that, with the correct key, could destroy the world and make him a god, although details are not surprisingly sketchy. After a lavish action opener in Montecinto, South America involving cars swinging from rope-bridges and getting magnetised to planes, things jump up a notch higher with Dom tracking down his brother via Helen Mirren in London to a rooftop pursuit in Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh. The location work is always dazzling in these films, the dubious racial stereotyping less so. ‘It’s like Harry Potter-world’ explains comic-relief Roman (Tyrese Gibson) as he surveys the seat of the Enlightenment, before describing the city somewhat rudely as ‘like Transylvania’. Such crudely racist ethnocentricity has been an intermittent issue throughout the franchise, and such casual stereotyping is a bum note for such a supposedly diverse, modern film to hit.
Characters die, or return from the dead; they explode in fireballs then turn up for sliders and beers in the next scene. The Fast Saga is a seemingly endless story where everything is noisy and dramatic and yet nothing matters at all, and that’s arguably why the films satisfy a need for nonsense action without any connection to our real world. The final action scene in Tiblisi is pretty impressive on a grand scale, although the comedy excursion into space would have been better left on the cutting room floor, as should Nathalie Emmanuel’s exposition-chewing sat-nav of a non-character. But carping aside, Justin Lin’s F9 is more than par for the course in an enjoyable, self-indulgent franchise.
Thanks to Universal and Cineworld for advance access to F9.
Out June 24th 2021 in the UK.