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Fast and Furious 9 review: The Godfather II of Vin Diesel car crash movies

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Vin Diesel and friends have nine lives in the latest Fast and Furious film.


Universal Pictures

Vroom! Bwoosh! Flex! Vin Diesel! John Cena! At long last, it’s Fast and Furious 9. Cars! Magnets! Explosions! None of it matters! Caaaars!

Originally planned for May last year, Fast and Furious 9 (formerly known as F9) is released today, Thursday June 24. Back in the early days of the COVID pandemic, F9 was one of the first blockbusters to bump its release date, and now seems to have got the timing exactly right as it lands when theaters are reopening in the US and UK. Obviously you should follow local guidelines and attend any venue only if you feel safe and comfortable, because after all, it’s only a movie. But however and whenever you see Fast and Furious 9, rest assured that what you’re going to see is a movie. Like, possibly the movie-est movie that ever movied. 

F9 is packed with all the over-the-top stunts, muscular emoting and general balls-to-the-wall ridiculousness you expect from the Fast and Furious franchise, and Hollywood in general. Returning director Justin Lin is one of countless names who endlessly cycle in and out of the now lengthy F&F series, and while none of the stars will have known they were making the film that welcomed society back to movie theaters, they’re clearly having the kind of awesome time we all need right now. Look, cinema is a medium that can intensify the most exquisite emotion, or it’s a medium where a supercar can turbo-boost off a cliff and be caught by a fighter plane. Cinema is rad as hell.

In this ninth installment of the automotive action-fest, Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez have retired to the farm from Avengers: Infinity War and are devoted to living off the grid with curly-haired Little Brian. But when their old crime crew comes a-calling, neither can resist running round the world in muscle tees and muscle cars doing jacked-up superspy shizz. This time, A-Team-style consequence-free shootouts with unspecified military dudes lead to one half of some superweapon thing. What is it? Who cares, dude. All that matters is Vin and the gang find themselves on the wrong side of a face from the past.

Scratch that: All that matters is stuff starts blowing up and pretty much never stops. There’s a moment in Fast and Furious 9 when Chris “Ludacris” Bridges says, “As long as we obey the laws of physics, we’ll be fine.” What he neglects to mention is these are the laws of physics as laid down by Looney Tunes cartoons. I’m not even kidding; several of this movie’s set pieces are built around a literal giant magnet. It might as well arrive in a crate with ACME written on the side. At this point, you expect Fast 10 and 11 to end with Vin and his chums painting a tunnel on a mountain and driving into it. And then blowing it up, obviously.

Vin Diesel and John Cena feel stuff!


Universal

The action inflation across the series’ nine (and a bit) films means stunts that would have been showstoppers in earlier movies are casually dashed off left and right. When Vin Diesel and new villain John Cena leapfrog across moving trucks and hurl themselves into thin air several stories from the ground, it’s just a way of getting from over there to over here.

This constant cartoon nonsense is undoubtedly pretty wearing, but with so many people in the cast, there’s space to pump the brakes and just hang out with the familiar familia for a spell. The women in the film all do better than in most films of this ilk, with Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, newcomer Anna Sawai and pearly queen Helen Mirren all doing their bit to drive the plot (until the light changes to green again, and it’s back to Vin’s pecs and cars smashing into each other).

Michelle Rodriguez saddles up.


Universal

Meanwhile, Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson are by now well established as the comedy relief, so every now and again the film just stops to watch them goof off. Nothing they say qualifies as an actual joke exactly, and their schtick is a major contributor to this thing being two and a half damn hours long.

Their only gag that feels like it might have come from something resembling a script is a conversation about how the gang must be actually indestructible to survive so much insane stuff. It’s kind of a funny bit, although it emphasizes how the increasingly hair-raising violence has zero consequences.

It’s a cliche at this point to boggle at how far these ridiculous action sequences have drifted from the relatively grounded first film — which was inspired by a true story! But F9 highlights that distance by introducing a prequel element showing the origin story of the Toretto family. Yup, this is the Godfather II of the Fast and Furious movies.

While the flashbacks make the villain a compellingly intimate nemesis, John Cena is one of the weaker links here. Unlike Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whose appearance turbo-boosted the series onto a different track a few films back, Cena makes an underwhelming antagonist. Still, it’s cool to see a steroid-jacked flick like this depict such stereotypically masculine physicality undermined by such emotional fragility.

Yeah, you heard me. I just said “Godfather II” and “emotional fragility” in a review of a Fast and Furious movie. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

Look, Fast and Furious 9 may be a legit terrible film, with its sprawling cast, predictable soap opera twists and endless computer-enhanced nonsense violence. But damn, it’s a good time at the movies. Fast! Furious! Family! Vroooommm!


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