Dir: Justin Lin. Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster. Cert 12A, 145 mins
In the deliriously, triumphantly stupid Fast & Furious 9, Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce wonders aloud whether his crew might be “invincible”. They’ve just sped across a minefield at 80mph in an attempt to outdrive death, while Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his wife Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) used the rope of a collapsing bridge to ping their car across a canyon like it was a Micro Machine. And yet, everyone departed the scene without so much as a scratch on their perfectly chiselled bodies.
Were they all injected with supersoldier serum as toddlers? Are they Elder Gods come to wreak automotive chaos on the planet? Are they trapped in a simulation, where anything is possible except drinking a brand of beer that isn’t Corona? It doesn’t really matter. That small moment of self-awareness feels like director Justin Lin has handed himself a catch-all permission slip. These stunts, of course, would not be possible in any dimension where the rules of gravity, military-grade weapons, or carbon-based lifeforms applied. But it’s a handy justification for the arch-vision he’s been building since 2011’s Fast Five – one which has transformed a pack of car thieves into adrenaline-addicted, international superspies embroiled in soap opera dynamics – while blasting the door of possibility open for both this film and any future instalments.
The plot of Fast & Furious 9 is delivered with a shrug: the team are sent an SOS from intelligence operative Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell). His plane, carrying captured cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) and part of a weapon that “shouldn’t exist for a half-century”, was brought down somewhere in Central America. The culprit? Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob (John Cena), who he’s failed to mention until this very moment.
At times, I couldn’t help but sit back with a kind of slack-jawed awe as I contemplated the people, money and resources that had been poured into concepts such as “big magnet”, “Helen Mirren drives a sportscar”, and “very long zip line” – plus a third-act punchline that is simply too unbelievable to spoil. But that’s the true joy of a Fast & Furious film. It’s a clown, but a clown that believes sincerely in itself. When Vin Diesel bows his head with the solemnity of a priest delivering last rites, as he preaches once more about the saving grace that is family, it tethers the franchise to something almost noble in its sincerity.
The Fast & Furious franchise has become a 21st-century, blockbuster iteration of the glory days of straight-to-VHS action films like Samurai Cop and Showdown in Little Tokyo – films that feel like they were created by a bunch of plucky underdogs high off their own childhood daydreams. And there are plenty of glaring weak spots in Fast & Furious 9. A natural goofball like Cena, so at home in Blockers or Trainwreck, feels miscast as the perpetually scowling, granite block that is Dom’s brother. Theron, one of Hollywood’s greatest living action stars, has yet to throw a punch in these films. And the long-awaited return of fan favourite, formerly dead Han (Sung Kang) hands him an impressive welcome and almost nothing to do afterwards.
But the Fast & Furious franchise has never concerned itself with such flippant details as plot or character development. And, in this ninth instalment, it’s still delivering what audiences truly want: cars where cars absolutely should not be.