Number 9. Nine. The Alan Shearer of the franchise. It’s somewhat miraculous that the little car film that could, The Fast & The Furious – which turns 20 this year, to make you feel particularly old – has gone on to become the juggernaut, all-conquering franchise that has now spanned 10 films (with more to come, of course) and has grossed over $6billion worldwide. If you had told this writer when he sat down for the first film as a precocious 19-year old that it would still be going as he stood at the maddening precipice of a midlife crisis, we’d have thought you were a nutter. Or a time traveller, gunning along in your Delorean to keep Vin Diesel in work. Strangely, we have reached that point of Back to the Future “nods” in the franchise, and where we’re going we don’t need roads. I mean, they do, but this time, we’re going off road, so to speak.
Don’t ask us to bring you up to speed on what has gone before: it’s all a blur, frankly. Suffice to say that Hobbs and Shaw was great fun, we digress. Anyhow, a couple of years have passed after the events of Fast 8 and the team are brought out of semi-retirement by a mysterious video message from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, who like a fine cowbell, we could have done with a little more of). In it, he suggests someone is planning to steal a Macguffin that can control the world’s armoury – weapons, satellites, nuclear codes – and sell it to the highest bidder. But who is it? Could it be previously captured baddie Cipher (Charlize Theron)? Spoilt rich brat Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) Or, Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob (John Cena), who we are only just finding out about? Talk about intrigue.
Fast? Yep. Furious? As ever. A saga? In many ways. After two films, as one of the filmmakers and creatives behind the camera, you’d be thinking “How the hell do we top that?!” but nine films in? It truly is enough to send someone mad but Justin Lin – returning after taking a few films’ break -, Diesel and cohorts have, for many fans, delivered once again on their promise for bigger, better and crazier. And we mean crazier.
All bets are off: physics? F*** physics, we can do whatever the hell we want, crossing the boundaries of its street race origins into what is ostensibly superhero/video-game territory, amplified even more when Tyrese Gibson’s Roman declares himself immortal. We can’t help but agree: as the stakes get bigger, the set-pieces larger and egos expanded, the more invulnerable they all become, especially when dealing with the Curse of the Worst Army Shooters ever or avoiding crashes even though, really, they should all be dead.
But that is what the franchise has been built on, making the impossible possible (we’ve heard that somewhere before?) and bringing the most insane, spectacular stunts to the screen that now border on Looney Tunes and each member should put up a Wile E. Coyote board with the words “Eep” on it. Lin, who has always been able to inject energy and frenetics to the series, does so again here but everything – from the dizzying camera work to the dodgy CGI – seems to be working against him, unable to disguise the obvious flaws that they can usually get away from.
It’s never not entertaining, mind you, and some set pieces are delightfully silly but the cracks are showing even more than ever here with its ever-disposable plotting, horrifically poor dialogue and mismatch of acting talents (Theron and Helen Mirren, once again, miles above everyone else despite being nothing more than expanded cameos, really).
But fans don’t come for the hard-hitting story, emotional weight and sensitive performances: you came for the Fast and the Furious and, as ever, it does exactly what it says on the tin but after many years of defying gravity – in many ways – the engine is on life support and tough decisions need to be made. Unless of course, you give us Nicolas Cage or Arnold Schwarzenegger as the big bad, or bads, for Fast X. Then we might allow it…
Action, Adventure | USA, 2020 | 12A | 24th June 2021 (UK) | Universal Pictures | Dir.Justin Lin | Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, John Cena, Charlize Theron, Sung Kang, Tyrese Gibson, Helen Mirren