“F9: The Fast Saga” is the latest entry into the franchise started by “The Fast and the Furious” in 2001, which has been really inconsistent in its naming of each subsequent sequel. Vin Diesel returns as Dominic Toretto, a drag racer turned thief turned unofficial secret agent. He’s joined by his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and friends Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) in going on missions to save the world, missions that always involve driving cars fast and dangerously, “furiously” if you will.
For this ninth installment (tenth if you count the Diesel-less spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw”), the film throws a curve at Dom in the form of his estranged brother Jakob (John Cena). Jakob played a part in sabotaging their father’s race car as a kid, resulting in his death. Dom drove Jakob off (pun intended) in a drag race, but now his brother has resurfaced and is working with a spoiled German (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) to steal a device that will give them control over weapons systems around the world. Jakob and Otto have enlisted the services of the franchise’s main villain Cipher (Charlize Theron), but she’s so cunning and megalomaniacal, it’s like she’s enlisted them.
The best thing about the film, as always, is the action sequences, filled with affronts to the laws of physics. Here we get a chase through a jungle (complete with a collapsing bridge, a minefield, and a car stuck between two rocks upside-down over a minefield), a chase through London led by Queenie Shaw (Helen Mirren), a chase through Edinburgh with electromagnets so powerful they can suck a car clean out of a building, and an outer-space manual shutdown of a satellite using a car with a rocket engine, but which still counts as a “car” sequence.
Perhaps the most heavily-promoted aspect of the film is the return of Han (Sung Kang), a character killed off in the third movie. It’s nice to have the likeable character back, but this is at least the third time the franchise has brought back a character thought to be dead, after Letty resurfacing in the sixth movie and a villain turning out to be merely severely injured in the seventh. It’s like this series can’t keep anyone dead unless they were in the first movie, are a secondary villain, or have to go off and film “Wonder Woman.” Even the real-life death of Paul Walker isn’t sticking for his character, a creative decision I find distasteful, quite frankly. I get that these movies want to keep Walker’s memory alive, but keeping him “alive” this literally isn’t doing anyone any favors. In fact, it detracts from the perfect send-off he had in the seventh movie.
The real problem I have with all the resurrections and impossible survivals is that it removes consequences from the characters’ actions. If someone’s car explodes, they can just walk away from the explosion (admittedly Dom’s father doesn’t, at least as far as I know, but at least one other explosion is survived in this film). If they fall from a great height, they can just land on a cushion. This makes me less scared of the characters exploding, falling and crashing in the first place and detracts from the film’s excitement.
I know I’m supposed to “turn off my brain and enjoy the ride” with these movies, and I’ve been able to enjoy them in the past, but for this installment, I was bored. I was bored with the inevitability that these characters will survive no matter what they do. Even the characters themselves are getting bored with always surviving, and they make mention of it. If the “Fast Saga” wants to retain its fanbase, it can’t afford to be boring.
“F9: The Fast Saga” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language. Its running time is 145 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.