Director: Justin Lin
Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, John Cena, Sung Kang, Charlize Theron & John Cena.
Review by Damocles
Why didn’t they end this on 7?
One of the big things you should be aware about me, as a film reviewer, is that I am a Fast & Furious apologist.
Having grown up with the series, F&F to me, hold the same level of reverence in my heart, as Star Wars, Star Trek, the Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, Drew/Lucy/Cameron’s Charlie’s Angels and Michael Bay’s Bad Boys.
If that isn’t a clue, as to what a 90s poster-child I am, I don’t know what is.
Thus, it is difficult for my mind to wrap around watching a bad F&F installment.
Granted, this film is still more fun than most, but when compared to previous entries in this huge franchise, it is probably one of the weakest, if not the weakest.
How is that the case though? They have the zaniest car chase through the jungle … there are magnets flipping cars, zip-lining assassins and they go to space.
The question, that I have always asked my action films, is so what? If I don’t care about the characters, then none of this means shit.
And much like the franchise, a lot of the characters are a little washed out.
The core issue plaguing this film, are the retcons.
From the introduction of Dom’s mystery brother, Jakob to the resurrection of Han, there are just too many revisions to the existing lore, that don’t really get the proper explanation as to why they occur or how they happen.
As such, a lot of the big emotional moments end up feeling hollow and unearned.
John Cena’s Jakob was wasted, considering his massive presence and normally excellent charisma. As Dom’s brother, there were many ramifications to his actual appearance, but none of them were truly touched upon in a meaningful way. The flashbacks that set up the divide between Dom and Jakob lack proper emotional nuance and his eventual turn to family is becoming a far too predictable trope in this franchise.
In addition, there wasn’t enough oomph to his actual abilities, as normally seen with the previous antagonists. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) was a consistent menace to the team, throughout the entirety of Furious 7. His younger brother, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) had the incredible flip car and Cipher’s (Charlize Theron) hacking wizardry and atrocious hair-style really sold her character as someone to despise for the big bad of the entire franchise.
But what is there to Jakob? There simply weren’t enough scenes where he and Dom went head to head, much like we were promised in Fast Five, between Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Dom. Not seeing enough fight scenes between them, meant that there was little to care about when it came to Jakob.
In addition, his lackey, Otto, was merely there as a plot convenience to explain Jakob’s eventual turn and to insert bizarre Star Wars dialogue, which was so incredibly left-field that it warranted a lot of questions towards the script-writers.
The strange wordplay was a consistent issue throughout the entire film, from Roman’s observation about his supposed invincibility, which was an immersion breaker, rather than an amusing joke, to Ramsey’s literal techno-babble that reduced her character rather than add any dimension.
F9 might also be responsible for creating another buzzword, heart, with its’ consistently non-subtle father-son moments that were more preachy than touching.
So much of the film lacked the heartfelt dialogue between characters that solidified their connections as seen in previous films, which I suppose is an apt analogy considering how corporate these films have become, with their departure from humble modded import/muscle cars to only displaying exotics on screen.
It should also be noted that the usual F&F cinematography has also been toned down massively, with less glory shots of the cars set to the bass of throbbing electronic rap and the iconic tight dresses and arses shots removed.
These changes make F9 seem like it is a bit ashamed of its’ own history and I found myself missing what made this franchise memorable, and wincing at the CG mess I was witnessing on screen. It did not help that the songs chosen for this film, did not quite seem the usual fun rap/street mix-tape, which normally suit the visuals perfectly, but for some odd reason, lack a je ne sais quoi.
F9’s score also shows how much Brian Tyler is struggling to reinvent his work for the franchise, with a lot of the soundtrack going unnoticed throughout the film, which is a shame, as I believe his best work was in Furious 7, a bombastic score that really emphasised the action well. Here in F9, beyond the common motifs heard in the previous films, there is very little in way of original songs.
Overall, F9 suffers from a lot of stop-starts, with a lot of flashbacks that could have been condensed into one scene and a weak antagonist that doesn’t really contribute heavily to the lore. Having swapped the laws of physics for metahuman abilities inspired by family, I do not have any real issue with the bombastic action set pieces, but I do miss the touching emotional moments to anchor these crazier moments.
Much like other franchises that have gone on for too long, I wish companies would learn when is a natural ending point for these beloved characters and this one, should have concluded with the passing of Paul Walker, in Furious 7.
A scene to recall: When they actually raced cars. Somehow it got me nostalgic ….just seeing 2 muscle cars go head to head on the actual streets of LA, to the beat of Prodigy’s techno made me miss the old F&F.