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► Fast & Furious 9 is in cinemas now.
Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious (2001), a scrappy action/heist/buddy picture modelled on Point Break (1991), was based on an article about a Los Angeles craze for illegal road racing. No one is more surprised that its sequels have become an inflated blockbuster franchise to compete with James Bond and Mission: Impossible than the street-level characters from early entries who now find themselves survivors of multiple large-scale car-related catastrophes that even Wile E. Coyote wouldn’t limp away from.
In a self-aware aside in the franchise’s latest instalment, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) – who joined way back in 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) but haven’t reached the escape velocity that gave comparative latecomers Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) their own spin-off – discuss Roman’s theory that they are actually invincible. Roman cites the many vehicle pile-ups (“Let’s not even mention the submarine”) they’ve come through without a scratch, and there are occasional mentions of characters who stuck around for a sequel or two and died (Gal Gadot’s Giselle is glimpsed in flashback). This sets up a finale where Roman and Tej drive a car into outer space, perhaps taking the series to the breaking point 007 reached with the orbital nonsense of Moonraker (1978).
Earlier Fast/Furious films killed regulars for dramatic effect, giving Vin Diesel’s series lead Dom – who seemingly died in the opening film but turned out to be alive by the third – a chance to grieve inwardly and make one of his signature speeches about ‘family’. Fast & Furious 9 rolls back the death of Han (Sung King), a plot pivot across multiple entries and the trigger for the #Justice4Han hashtag when his killer went from baddie to ally without atoning for his crime.
Another franchise tic is introducing antagonists so inherently appealing that later films find an excuse to bring them back with their rough edges filed off. Dom was a crook in the first film, but now claims that his “thieving days are over”. Now we discover he has a younger brother Jakob (John Cena), who has a conquer-the-world stratagem which involves retrieving a couple of MacGuffins and uplinking them to a satellite to take over every computer on the planet – the 2020s equivalent of the once-overused nuclear blackmail device lampooned in the first Austin Powers film.
Flashbacks to 1989, evoking the grittier world of the first film, establish why the Toretto Brothers are estranged. Given the series’ stress on family ties (by blood and by choice) and Cena’s muscular doofus presence, the countdown to his reform begins from his first appearance. A leftover dragon lady (Charlize Theron) and a swotty German minion (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) are around to put up a fight instead when Jakob inevitably decides a Toretto family barbecue is preferable to world domination.
These are nonsensical event films, built around ever-more-ridiculous stunt scenes – director Justin Lim admits that one was inspired by his son playing with toy cars – and predicated on the appeal of a diverse cast who manage nice little moments while Diesel wonders how he went from appealing bad boy to somewhat stodgy father figure.
The sequels blur together into one long chase scene, but Fast & Furious 9 has its distinctive moments. The underrated, underused Jordana Brewster – outstanding in Angela Robinson’s action spoof D.E.B.S. (2003) and a Fast/Furious regular as a Toretto sister since the first film – finally gets in on some action (partnered with the also-welcome Michelle Rodriguez) and holds up an emotional plot thread. The image you’ll take away from this isn’t the car in space but a tiny moment as Brewster smiles when something goes right.
Sight & Sound Summer 2021
In our current (double) issue we hand centre stage to 100 hidden heroes of cinema who have shaped film history. Plus Ben Wheatley on In the Earth, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby, Victor Kossakovsky’s pig portrait Gunda, Jane Fonda interviewed, Limbo and refugees on film, and a look back at My Own Private Idaho. Available in print and digitally.Find out more and get a copy