We are a fast. We are a furious. We are all…familia.
I have a complicated relationship with this franchise. It began when I was in my early teens, continuing for the last two decades of my life and possibly ad infinitum. Learning about film as a younger man, I delved into the periods of Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave. My youth showed an appreciation for both wonderful filmmaking and great garbage, but in my 20s I became cynical and bored with all of it. In my 30s I’ve moved on, taking the advice of my friends and learning to enjoy the cinematic equivalent of chicken nuggets as opposed to a healthy, well-balanced meal.
F9 is the ninth installment in the Fast & Furious franchise; a series of films that involve taking cars to places there shouldn’t be cars, letting us watch actors crash them in stunning fashions. Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is languishing away in retirement with his wife, Letty (Micheal Rodriguez). When Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) show up, the couple is drawn into yet another action-packed adventure to save the world via spy shit. This time it involves Jakob Toretto (Jon Cena), Dom’s brother that disappeared years ago after potentially being involved in their father’s death.
Your involvement at this point is going to be on you. Paul Walker’s death has deeply impacted the franchise, leaving Vin Diesel without anything to grasp onto while still needing to entertain his legions of fans. Fate of the Furious  was a bit of a misfire, wandering alone in the woods while the cast struggled to figure out where to go after the death of one of its main two stars. It gave us a wild new villain in Cipher (Charlize Theron), but otherwise misfired. F9 takes us in a better direction, one that takes cues from Indiana Jones films and James Bond while still keeping the themes of “familia” at the forefront. Very few spy movies could allow a gorilla-posed Vin Diesel to ask his son (known as “Lil-B,” after his bromantic buddy) to say grace at the celebratory barbecue and ask us to take it seriously. The charm of these films? They take themselves so seriously that it leaps beyond parody and achieves the impossible – it’s fun.
Nothing about these films is going to ever feel like brilliance, but the connection between religion/family/action is what brings everything home. This is a film that lets me watch Vin Diesel hook a rope onto his wheel well and swing across gorge, but it’s also one that sees a character previously thought of as dead coming back to be embraced by the arms of his chosen family. Being left in the desert between cackling and crying is a tough situation, but adding in a Pontiac Fiero in low orbit certainly helped cement my enjoyment of the idea.
And that’s the kicker – I like the idea of these films better than the execution. It’s fun in the moment but feels mildly hollow later. It’s fun, insane, and says a lot about “family” without any meaning behind what it has on the surface. I won’t deny that I loved the hell out of F9, but I’m wary of future sequels in the same way that I was the previous entries in the franchise. This has always been a hit and miss thing, and I’m incredibly dubious about going forward. Still, there’s nothing quite like how exciting these can be in the moment. The stories themselves are all about that concept, about holding your loved ones close and living in the moment. It’s a beautiful sentiment, one that can exist anywhere between the idea of Carzan-swinging through the jungle and launching a Pontiac Fiero through a satellite. Enjoy these, because they capture what appeals to me about the theatrical experience and they aren’t going to keep coming forever.
F9 is currently streaming in theatres.