Space. The penultimate frontier. Apparently. Or so Justin Lin and the makers of this, the NINTH feature in the Fast and Furious franchise. Quite how a little early noughties flick about drag racing and stolen DVD players morphed into one of cinema’s biggest titles must be among the biggest mysteries of the twenty first century. And yet here we are. Allegedly, it’ll be ten and out for Dom Toretto and company. Where Lin can take the story after a plot that genuinely does launch a Pontiac Fiero beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is anyone’s guess. To say this was lunacy would hardly doesn’t do it justice.
It’s been four long years since F. Gary Grey delivered The Fate and the Furious and the memory’s faint. Fate was the first in the franchise since the passing of Paul Walker. It was the feature that introduced Charlize Theron’s Cipher and climaxed with a showdown on an actual glacier. Adopting new writers – in the form of Lin, Alfredo Botello and Daniel Case – F9 is less convoluted and more knowingly mindless. It’s a winning combination. Few films this year will enjoy ploughing so rote a furrow and do so with so mammoth a budget. No car on screen is safe from total annihilation, although a running joke does see characters repeatedly comment on the lack of harm met by actual humans. The gag doesn’t quite land – plenty of others do – but proves a good tone setter.
The tale opens in a cliche ridden 1989. A young Dom (Vinnie Bennet) watches in horror as his father, Jack (J. D. Pardo), meets a grisly end, crashing out of a particularly dirty race. Losing his temper – while holding his brother Jakob (Finn Cole) at bay – Dom very nearly beats his father’s opponent to death and lands himself a lengthy jail sentence in the process. It is during his time behind bars that Dom learns that it was Jakob’s fault that their father died. Blimey.
Fast forward to the present day and Dom (Vin Diesel) is living his best, retired life with Letty (a permanently grave looking Michelle Roderiguez) and son Brian (James Ayoub). The dream dies, however, when Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) rock up. To cut a long story short, there’s this thing that could lead to the destruction of all things and only Dom and crew can stop the baddie behind it. Oh, and that baddie is Jakob (now: John Cena). Cipher’s back too.
Melodramatic gurgling aside, there’s an almost orchestral majesty to the execution of all that unfolds in F9. Certainly there’s ample percussion. It’s like watching magic, you know it’s not real but, in the moment, it might as well be. Highlights here include the scene in which a car defies gravity to scale a rope bridge that has been cut and so hangs vertically. There’s fun with electromagnets, characters returning from the dead and the gleefully straight moment Dom pulls out a postcard that we’re supposed to believe he has carried around permanently for fifteen years. Lin shoots like a toddler in a toy shop and proves well paired with editors Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith and Kelly Matsumoto. Yep, this is the sort of film that requires three editors to stitch it together. Three editors and, one imagines, a psychotherapist.
With every new stunt comes a fresh shot of petrol infused adrenaline. It’s entertainment by submission and nigh on irresistible. Sure, the stakes have never been higher but the scrappy energy of the first film remains. Just about. There’s charisma in the cast and humour enough to keep things light. And that’s just in the sequence that sees Helen Mirren cameo. Who could ask for better?