Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, with Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron
Runtime: 2 hrs 23 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 24 June 2021
Synopsis: No matter how fast you are, no one outruns their past. FAST & FURIOUS 9 is the ninth chapter in the Fast & Furious Saga, which has endured for two decades and has earned more than $5 billion around the world. Vin Diesel's Dom Toretto is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but they know that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, that threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he's going to save those he loves most. His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they've ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Dom's forsaken brother, Jakob (John Cena, the upcoming The Suicide Squad). F9 sees the return of Justin Lin as director, who helmed the third, fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of the series when it transformed into a global blockbuster. The action hurtles around the globe-from London to Tokyo, from Central America to Edinburgh, and from a secret bunker in Azerbaijan to the teeming streets of Tbilisi. Along the way, old friends will be resurrected, old foes will return, history will be rewritten, and the true meaning of family will be tested like never before.
Hard to believe it has been two decades since the first ‘Fast and Furious movie’, which has since gone on to clock eight other chapters and one ‘Hobbs and Shaw’ spinoff. Which other modern-day franchise can you name that has such longevity and worldwide appeal? It is therefore pointless at this juncture to begrudge the latest instalment for flouting the laws of physics; indeed, it is precisely by defying these laws that successive movies have delivered progressively outlandish action, though to be sure, it does so with sufficient finesse that it doesn’t yet become caricature.
Nor for that matter is it fruitful to begrudge ‘F9’ for playing fast and loose with on-screen deaths: after bringing back Dominic Toretto’s wife and partner-in-crime Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), it has now decided to resurrect fan favourite Han (Sung Kang), who was presumed killed in a car crash at the end of the third film, ‘The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift’. Let’s just say if the waves of fan excitement are anything to go by, how he returns to the family is second-order; though to be fair to director Justin Lin and co-writer Daniel Casey, they do a respectable job reverse-shoehorning Han back into the evolving narrative, intertwining Han’s fate and that of his late (or is she?) girlfriend Gisele (Gal Gadot) with the machinations of the top-secret government agent Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell).
There is also no reason for this chapter to deviate from the core theme of family that its predecessors have reinforced, defined not so much by biological kinship as much as it is by the deep ride-or-die bonds of loyalty and solidarity. So following the template in the fifth and sixth movie, ‘F9’ introduces Dom’s brother Jakob (played as a young adult by Finn Cole, and later on by former WWE wrestler John Cena) whom Dom still blames for the death of their father on the racing track years ago, and who is now an embittered rogue agent working for a megalomaniacal rich plutocrat named Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen). In perfectly self-respecting fashion, the movie spends many flashbacks fleshing out the backstory behind Dom and Jakob’s estrangement, although most we suspect will just be anticipating the mano-a-mano between Vin Diesel and Cena (which is pretty satisfying, by the way).
There is no doubt Diesel is the bedrock of the franchise, playing the world-weary, Corona-drinking street racer turned freelance secret agent and globe-trotting supercop with perfect gravelly intonation. But this chapter also gives supporting players Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) greater prominence, such that both do more than just providing the usual comic relief with their friendly rivalry; in fact, they are given the honour of steering the franchise into its last frontier, space. Those who recall ‘Tokyo Drift’ will also cheer the return of Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), Twinkle (Bow Wow) and Earl Hu (Jason Tobin), which together with Han, completes the homecoming for the characters in the third film.
As sizeable as the ensemble is, Lin proves a seasoned hand juggling these characters in between the elaborate set-pieces. Letty gets to show off her motorcycle riding skills in the opening sequence set in Montecito, Central America, which at its most insane, features not just a chase through a literal minefield but a car sling-shooting itself across an open gorge. Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom’s brother, gets to show off her fighting skills when she and Letty are attacked while searching for Han in Tokyo. Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) gets to show off how quickly she learns to drive, steering a truck armed with a powerful electromagnet through the streets of Edinburgh. And last but not least, everyone gets their chance behind the wheel in the jaw-dropping finale that is worth the price of admission alone, which sees cars rigged with electromagnets trying to outpace and eventually attempt to flip over a three-section armoured truck in downtown Tbilisi; no prizes for guessing which side Jakob will stand by the time this sequence rolls around.
Compared to the last few instalments penned by Chris Morgan, this one penned by Lin and Casey lacks the same storytelling polish, and at close to two-and-a-half hours is just too long to sustain a fast and furious momentum throughout. Yet what it falls short in plotting, Lin makes up for in directorial clarity. More so than James Wan and F. Gary Gray of ‘F7’ and ‘F8’ respectively, Lin knows how to perfectly balance the action between the absurd and the awesome, so much so that even if he does defy the laws of gravity, you’d be willing to at least suspend your disbelief. He also injects just the right amount of unabashed sentimentality into the movie, achieving yet another balance between silly and sincere.
‘F9’ is ultimately what the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies have always been about, and as the franchise races towards what it would like to define as its logical conclusion (with ‘F10’ reportedly unfolding in two parts), Lin brings this chapter back to its roots. To be sure, it doesn’t quite top Lin’s own ‘Fast Five’, which remains in our opinion still the best in the series; but ‘F9’ positions it right back on track where Lin had left off in ‘Fast & Furious 6’. For many audiences around the world, ‘F9’ may be the first real blockbuster in cinemas following the COVID-19 pandemic, and with Diesel and gang pumping up the action and fun, it’s as great an excuse as any to check back into the big-screen experience.
(Perfectly balanced between the awesome and the absurd, 'F9' is as true to the identity of the franchise as it gets, even if the ride does go on for a little too long)
Review by Gabriel Chong