F9: the Fast Saga
The newest Fast & Furious entry continues a downward trend
The Fast and Furious films started as street-racing flicks but have since evolved into superspy ridiculous action blockbusters. This has pleased fans up to a point, certain testosterone fueled moments such as The Rock flexing his broken arm out of a cast or running a car between top stories of high-rise buildings are bound to produce chuckles. But filmmakers increasingly relied on melodramatic tropes to build story around action set-pieces. The franchise feels like it has been running out of fuel for the last couple of films, and the newest entry isn’t changing that trend.
F9: The Fast Saga (2021) is the ninth film in the official Fast and Furious franchise (not counting spin-offs). Our protagonist Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is pulled back into the superspy and criminal world by his long-lost brother Jakob (John Cena) who is looking to pair a powerful device to control all the world’s weapon systems.
The plots of the Fast films are becoming increasingly forgettable and ridiculous. It’s hard to even remember what the prompts were for any of the previous films, as only exaggerated action set-pieces are memorable. However, F9 seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel even by these standards, the trope of a lost brother who had eight previous films to be mentioned by other characters or even to appear seems right out of a lazily written telenovela. The excuses to bring the frequent cast back together again is even sloppier, with Sung Kang’s character Han being resurrected for a second time in the franchise. F9 seems to be entirely structured around granting cameos to previous Fast franchise characters (Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron, Lucas Black) and producing the physics-defying action that the film series has practically trademarked. F9 might have one of the most ridiculous F-you-physics-scenes in the entire franchise with two characters “driving” a car in space through a satellite (the jokes of how Fast and Furious would next be set in space have proven prophetic).
After conflicting on the Fate of the Furious (2017) set with Diesel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been set up on a parallel spin-off series, and his absence is felt significantly in F9. The film isn’t able to place a charismatic actor in front of its scanty script. The first few films had Paul Walker, and Johnson had joined by the fifth entry. With the absence of these two, Vin Diesel’s declining acting ability is put on display. His one-note performance seems to be a parody of himself at this point. The American actor puts no range into his emotions and has a sleepy/bored look on his face in every scene. Cena isn’t able to do much either, appearing gruff and stiff in his villain role.
An encouraging sign in F9 is that it is moving away from its exaggerated objectification of women from the past and leaning more towards making females actual characters in its film. There are satisfying side missions with Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster’s characters, and even Nathalie Emmanuel is given some moments to shine. However, these are laughable with what is demanded by many viewers. Nevertheless, it proves to be an encouraging step in an otherwise male-gaze franchise.
Justin Lin returned to direct F9 after having helmed some earlier entries. He certainly has a knack for directing action in a comprehensive way, but aside from the space scene and some overuse of magnetized cars there isn’t anything memorable for him to play with. Lin becomes too embroiled in the franchise cliches and melodramatic beats to breathe any freshness into the series.
In the end, F9 is on par with the more recent Fast films (save for a rather enjoyable Hobbs & Shaw (2019) spin off) and continues to show the franchise fatigue that is weighing down new ideas or the mere semblance of character arcs. It is rumored that Universal has one more film up its sleeve in its “official” Fast saga, but executives should seriously consider pumping the breaks here.