At the point of franchise fatigue, Fast & Furious motors down the speedway, unconcerned by a litany of contrivances and the improbability of it all. The long-running automotive actioner has abandoned gravity, physics, plotting, and it’s going to let you know it no longer cares. F9 may well be this Summer’s funniest movie. It may well be the kind of rigorously unthinking Dad cinema that every Summer demands. It is also a bad movie. Is it in on the joke? Does it matter?
The only gravity F9 considers is that brought by returning director Justin Lin. Lin has become the lifeblood of the franchise. He once made the out-of-series, but possibly canon, Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) – where fan favorite character Han (Sung Kang) originated. Han has since been brought in and out of the Fast movies, when Lin most needs a proxy for his direction. Only Lin should get to use Han. Han is our one point of sincerity, and an agent for Lin’s re-centering of the spectacle and heights that only his entries achieve. There is a through-line between his movies: Better Luck Tomorrow, Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), Fast & Furious (2009), Fast Five (2011), and Fast & Furious 6 (2013), films that may as well be their own chronology. They have the feel of a series unto themselves, wherein the playbook can be consistently rewritten.
F9 is the absurdist culmination of what has come before it. The 9 is strictly earned. Characters over-exposit their past events and the film re-links protagonists. It wants to tell us a story about Family. This time, that Family is Invincible; the idea being that belonging within any group is our most powerful and connective force. It is a film about connection. And magnets. Giant magnets that sweep all manner of motor-vehicle into a windstorm of divine action inspiration. It’s a film about how the stories and history we’ve shared bring us together. It’s a story with too many characters, too many scenes and too many minutes, all stuffed to the gills with the maximum amount of content. An amount of content that ought to be held against it, probably, but also grants reentry to the theater as a maximalist proposition. There would be no point in watching this sufficiently stupid spectacle on your television. This is a movie that is only meant for screens large enough to hold all of its bad ideas – of which there are so many – and, when treated as a collection of these, it is wholly impressive.
Most notably though, they finally did it: Fast & Furious has gone to space. I’ve only been asking since Fast Five. Here, they not only go to space, they do it in a damn car. They launch a car into space like they’re living inside Elon Musk’s dream. Not only do they launch a car into space but they do it with NOS, as is tradition. And it’s a Pontiac Fiero. Mythbusters already told us that normal physics do not apply to a Pontiac Fiero. But F9 proves it scientifically. Movies are back.
Movies are back and there are actors in them. F9 includes a lot of actors. In fact, it includes almost everyone who has been in one of these movies, who is not Dwayne Johnson or the late beloved Paul Walker. The character hook of it all is another kind of recentering: everyone now moves around Vin Diesel. He has always been a moral center, and the crucial connective character, but now the stage is his. And it’s certainly a Vin Diesel movie. This time, as a really weird choice, he’s paired off with his long-lost brother – played by John Cena. This is never believable and is largely exploited for comedy. The brothers have a longstanding feud surrounding the death of their father at a race track. Eventually, the movie will be about Family.
F9 is not a good movie. That is not an aspiration it has. It is a mega-budgeted studio comedy. Perhaps one of the most expensive films ever to be produced with only comedy on its mind. It has no other tricks up its sleeve. It pays off franchise passion with simple obviousness. It’s hard to be a fan of this one film but it connects everything in a way that any fan already has done in their head, and it will do that work for any newcomer. The film is too long. About half of it could be cut without losses but its muscular maximalism is also the point. We did not get any movie like this last year and, beyond all rational critique, there remains a place for the popcorn movie. F9 also does something valuable, and potentially either generous or sad for the next two movies: it signals the beginning of the end and begins to draw all of the parts toward an inevitable conclusion. Even good times have to end.