F9 Is Everything That’s Good (and Some Bad) About the Fast and Furious Films

F9's Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are wearing what look like space scuba suits and strapped in a car attached to a rocket.
In F9, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are about to go where no street racer has ever gone before.
Photo: Universal Pictures

F9—the ninth film in the main Fast and Furious franchise—will give anyone who has ever seen one of these movies exactly what they expect and a whole lot more. We mean that in two ways. Of course, you will see some of the most outlandish, unbelievable, jaw-dropping action imaginable, all using super-fast, slick cars. You’re also going to get a plot that’s a bit muddled, melodramatic, and cheesy to go along with it. But that’s what the Fast and Furious franchise has always been, making F9 possibly the fastest and most furious yet.

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After two films away, F9 brings back director Justin Lin, who previously helmed the third through sixth films in the franchise. With that comes a certain understanding of the characters and world that began to slip away with 2017's The Fate of the Furious and 2019's Hobbs and Shaw. From the very first scene, Lin asserts his authority by showing something fans of the franchise had heard about but never thought they’d see. Instantly you know this film is in the hands of people who get this world—the emotion, the spectacle, and the overarching, multifaceted story—and you’re ready to go on a ride.

That ride begins with Dom (Vin Diesel) and his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) trying to live off the grid and raise Dom’s young son, Brian. This makes sense, since they spent several movies dealing with mayhem, but a distress call from an ally brings them back into the action. It also brings them face to face with a new character, Jakob (John Cena), who is revealed to be Dom’s brother. Now, everyone knows Dom and the Fast and Furious franchise is all about “family,” so for the patriarch of it all to have a long-lost brother we’ve never heard of needs a fair bit of backstory. For that brother to also be a super spy who drives fast like Dom requires even more story. To explain how they both end up on the tail of a mysterious new device called Project Ares, requires—you guessed it— even more explanation.

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Dom, Letty, and a very recognizable car.
Photo: Universal Pictures

As a result, the second act of F9 feels like someone opened a jigsaw puzzle and just poured it on the ground—it’s kind of pretty, but also a huge mess. Dom goes after his brother, which requires several stops along the way, but Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) have their own mission, which requires new cars and a manhunt. Meanwhile, Letty and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) go after an old friend who has a key piece of the puzzle, and all of these tangents feature mostly-spoiled-in-the-trailer cameos from characters all across the Fast franchise. The most important of those, however, is Han, played by Sung Kang. He was famously killed off in the third film, which we later found out took place after the sixth installment because he reappeared in parts four through six.

As you’d imagine, F9 spends a good amount of time explaining how Han is alive and the role he has to play in the acquisition of Project Aries. The character has long been a fan favorite in the franchise, so having him back and seeing Lin, who also co-wrote the movie with Daniel Casey, explain it all while keeping the main story relevant is a lot. It’s dense, requires new characters, old characters, suspension of disbelief and more. Sad to say but if all of Han’s story was cut, F9 would probably have been a more compact, tighter, faster-paced movie. On the other hand, his scenes are also some of the best in the entire movie. Sure, it’s completely over the top and ultimately a little superfluous but it leads to so many incredible moments and interactions between the characters that you basically have to forgive it. Could the very long movie have been shorter and simpler without it? Yes. With it, does the movie have a whole other layer of not just heart, but satisfying narrative connections that makes the whole thing that much better? Yes is the answer to that as well.

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Roman welcomes back Han with understandable confusion.
Photo: Universal Pictures
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That dichotomy describes F9 perfectly. There’s no doubt the plot is completely overstuffed and dragged out, but in that chaos comes constant elation. Lots of that is derived from action scenes and chases that range from planes catching cars midair, cars swinging across gorges like they’re Indiana Jones, and ultra-powerful magnets that attract metal debris from all around them, resulting in a symphony of chaos. But that’s all to be expected in this franchise.

What’s unexpected is how F9 also has much bigger emotional components, both from the resurrection of Han, but also the complex relationship between Dom and Jakob. Though this is the ninth movie, the Fast and Furious franchise has never really explained much about why Dom is Dom. We know he’s tough. We know he can drive. We know he’s loyal and loves his family. But why? Where did that all come from? With the addition of Jakob, F9 really digs into his character in a way that feels, yes, a bit much on top of everything else going on, but also effective in giving him and the rest of the characters new angles to explore. As we learn more about them, an even deeper connection is built, and in turn, everything about the film gets elevated.

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Two of the characters who blossom the most are Tej and Roman, rivals and friends from way back in the second movie. Their antics and banter are at an all-time high here, including a very tongue-in-cheek, ongoing discussion about how none of these characters can ever be hurt... like maybe they’re literally superheroes. It’s funny at first, then a little weird to be acknowledging this understood truth in such a matter-of-fact way, but it finally pays off. Tej and Roman end up being the two characters who take the franchise to, as Roman puts it, another level. If you’ve seen the most recent trailer (or read a headline on io9 in the past 10 years) you know what that means—but all I’ll say here is that it lives up to the hype and then some.

Illustration for article titled F9 Is Everything That’s Good (and Some Bad) About the Fast and Furious Films
Photo: Universal Pictures
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As a longtime fan of the franchise, I can safely say that about F9 as well. If you find the Fast and Furious movies to be super cheesy, unbelievable, and too wild for your tastes, you aren’t going to like this one. It’s just all of that and a whole bunch more. If you’re a tangential fan who enjoys them on occasion but doesn’t know every little reference, this movie delivers exactly what you are looking for: nonstop thrills, laughs, and maybe a few tears. For big fans though, the hardcore people, the ones who got mad when the character who killed Han wasn’t immediately taken to task for it in the subsequent film and got #JusticeForHan trending on Twitter, which then made it into the film’s trailer... F9 is everything. It has moments fans have always wanted to see, moments we never thought we’d see, action to spare, and dives deeper emotionally than any other installment. Thankfully, there’s still plenty of gas in the tank of this franchise. Don’t forget, Justin Lin has two more movies to make.

F9 opens in North America June 25.


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Entertainment Reporter. NYU Cinema Studies Alum. Formerly Premiere, EW, Us Weekly, and /Film. AP Award-Winning Film Critic & CCA member. Loves Star Wars, posters, Legos, and often all three at once.

DISCUSSION

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trimeta

“Fast X Furious.” Because it’s either that or “Fast 10: Your Seatbelts,” and I think Fast X Furious is a bit less cheesy-sounding.