I will flat out say that I am a fan of the Fast and Furious franchise, especially once the series made a pivot with Fast Five and became more of an international, spy-driven, save the world from terrorists type of film. The action sequences were always over-the-top and in a lot of sequences, inspired. Which is why I was disappointed with the latest entry, F9 The Fast Saga (which I’m convinced the marketing team at Universal came up with solely because Star Wars sometimes refers to their main nine films as The Skywalker Saga, so they wanted to be similar instead of original. Note – I apologize to the marketing department if they did not come up with the title). Before I get into why I was disappointed, here is some background on the plot.
While on a mission to retrieve a MacGuffin device (no, that is not what it is called), our heroes retrieve it only to have it taken away when a private army ambushes them. We find out that the evil group of mercenaries is led by Dominic Torretto’s (Vin Diesel) younger brother Jakob (John Cena), who also has the villain Cipher from The Fate of the Furious working for him (against her will). The rest of the film is devoted to the good guys (which includes some familiar faces from previous films) going to many different cities around the world to retrieve the device. It’s a solid enough premise and is in line with what I would expect from the franchise, but for some reason it just felt flat this time around.
The opening action sequence where the team is trying to evade the army by driving at high speeds through a mine field is admittedly a lot of fun, and when a car goes off a cliff and gets rescued by a jet with an electromagnet while free-falling, it is exactly the sort of zany craziness that I find entertaining. I made a point of saying the word electromagnet in the last sentence, because the screenwriters, Daniel Casey and Justin Lin, seem to have an obsession with that particular device as it is involved in almost every action sequence in the film. I may be exaggerating a little, but I have actually tweeted Screen Junkies to include how many times an electromagnet is turned on/off in this film so they can include it when they do an Honest Trailer for F9. It was absolute overkill (but admittedly I know subtlety is not this franchise’s strong point) and it made what should have been fun sequences boring, because all they would do was turn that magnet on and off and our heroes would be out of danger when it was in their possession. Even when they turn it on, causing cars from a side street to crash through a building to be destroyed on the street the good guys are on, it just did not do it for me because of how constant it was deployed. Keeping with the Star Wars theme, would you get bored if the Death Star was seen going to 30 different planets and blowing them up each time in the same film? I would argue you would. It is much more impactful to see if blow up a planet once, as you know the destructive power of the weapon and you move on. Also, the few Star Wars jokes in the F9 fell flat as they had been done before. I’m nitpicking at this point.
I know Vin Diesel is the star, but there was one sequence that I was frustrated by where the team is trying to escape, but Vin decides to stay behind to take on the bad guys, which made the character try to be some kind of superhero. It just didn’t work, because the characters are not superheroes. It’s their gadgets, cars and machines that make them and I just felt the scene was forced into the narrative just to showcase Vin and make him look strong, which we all know he is already.
Speaking of superheroes, there is a sub-plot where the characters of Roman and Tej go back and forth about never getting injured throughout the films, making them question whether they are superheroes or not. They tried going for a meta-joke and it fell flat. The characters Letty and Mia have their own sub-plot where they go to Japan to try and find a key for the MacGuffin device (even the film doesn’t care about this device as we get a very short explanation of it at the beginning and that’s it). The Japan set piece was decent, but short and I actually wish a bit more time was devoted to this sequence, because I was engaged.
I always roll my eyes at film franchises when they are multiple films into the series and they introduce characters who are family that we have never heard of before. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there has been any mention of Dominic Toretto having a younger brother in any of the previous films. Surely, family members would get brought up in the previous films if they were important, so when they insult the audience by saying a long lost brother is the villain, it make me angry that my intelligence is being insulted. I would just prefer that he is not related to Dominic and he is just a bad dude who wants revenge. I’m also a fan of John Cena, but he must have been directed to make sure he could only be serious and scowl throughout the film, as his character just did not have a personality and his character’s motivation was to get out of his younger brother’s shadow. I don’t blame Cena at all as he was not given much to work with in terms of dialogue or even in action sequences. If you have seen Cena’s previous films and his work as a wrestler, you know he has a great personality and can cut a fantastic promo, so I wonder why they didn’t utilize that talent. Maybe he wanted to play a role against type to show more range. I know he’s capable of playing a villain or someone you dislike, as I have seen it in previous performances. The analogy I use is that it’s like having a power hitter on your team in baseball, but telling him to only get singles. Utilize the talents of your talent!
What did work for me was the flashback sequences when Dominic and Jakob were young. I thought the best performance in the film came from Vinnie Bennett who plays a teenage Dominic. He had a strong, commanding screen presence and these scenes were more interesting to me than the main story as there was a bit of action and some drama whenever they took place. I think you may see big things from Vinnie Bennett in the future.
The Fast and Furious franchise is known for being a film series that constantly references family. It is nice to see characters from previous films return and we have the obligatory barbeque sequence at the end, which sets up the next film (we know for sure there will be at least two more films in this series). I will be interested to see where the next film takes us, especially after the last shot of the film where a car rolls up in the driveway.
Unfortunately F9 was a letdown for me for the reasons stated above. The formula seems a bit tired and something needs to be done to reenergize the series at this point (maybe that is why the last shot of the film intrigues me). It’s definitely possibly to reinvigorate it because who thought when the first film came out back in 2001, that it would lead to eight sequels and a spin-off, so I hope the creative minds on the next two films find a way to do so. I just have one request to make and that is no more electromagnets!