It’s been a long time since F&F9 was released, and I had the chance to see it with my friend Neel, one of my best friends and a founding member of the Austin inner circle for whom F&F movies became tradition, often accompanied by sneaking in a six pack of the Silver Bullet.
While the Fast and Furious Series may have been accused of ‘Jumping the Shark’ ever since #4 (we don’t count #3 and still like to pretend that POS was never made), #9 takes automotive action to a new level, but the brewing existential crisis introduced between the action makes this unlike any previous chapter.
You don’t need to have seen Hobbes and Shaw (“8.5") to appreciate this latest chapter, but I would recommend at least skimming the plot summary of #8, because that was not their finest work and it was easy to forget.
Are we invincible? Immortal?
Roman (Tyrese Gibson) throughout the series masquerades as comic relief, but reveals his real role in the saga in #9. Roman often represents the human ego, but he takes the F&F dynasty on an abrupt left turn. His conversations with Tej (Ludacris) mid way through the movie don’t break the third wall, but they begin to show that the characters are aware that their existence is unusual, and that their lives don’t fit in the common paradigm of human existence. Word.
Roman, after surviving a 360 assault from armed assailants, and somehow walking away when an armoured assault vehicle that appears to fall directly on him, summarises the entire F&F dynasty — “Somehow we always survive.”
You can see the dialog here, but you’ll also see the short sighted thinking of the review behind that link — that this is just character development. But this is F&F challenging us to ask ourselves the same question: How are we alive? After the last two years, the rise of authoritarianism, the hyper-politicisation of science, etc. In the real world, the Fast and Furious lost its co-protagonist, Brian O’Connor, when the actor playing him, Paul Walker, died in a car crash. The loss of Paul Walker changed the ending of #7, so the real world has already had an impact on the films, and now the films are challenging us to re-examine our lives. Damn.
Space: Not the final frontier for F&F
Roman’s existential question gets pushed further as Roman and Tej pilot a rocket attached Pontiac Fiero into space to disable a satellite. Again, Roman steps out of the action to acknowledge that they are going into space. His ability to be present during this insanity shows the Zen he has achieved by challenging his very nature.
As one article put it, “F9 goes to space because each Fast & Furious movie from Fast Five on is committed to being twice as off-the-chain as the last one.” #9 makes you ask yourself what’s left for #10? Much like the questions that we ask ourselves in the later chapters of life around the value of existence, #9 is either painting the franchise into a corner or issuing itself its biggest challenge yet — how in the world can they produce a final chapter for this series?
The Saga continues
It is no mistake that #9 is named “The Fast Saga” because they are calling attention not just to this plot but to the franchise:
- This dynasty of masterpieces has grossed over 1 billion dollars in total
- Each new chapter grosses more than the previous chapter (excluding the poor episodes #3:Tokyo Drift and $8:The Fate of the Furious)
- Each new chapter pushes even farther beyond the bounds of reality and we still keep coming back to the box office again and again and again.
The nature of evil
Luckily, Cipher, Charlese Theron’s character, the main dramatic anvil of #8, barely appears in #9. She’s mostly cast as evil eye candy and not given many lines — and while she’s an amazing actress, it may be that she just has too much depth as an actress to erect the thin, transparent facade that we need in an F&F villain.
In almost every chapter, Justin Lim has shown us the reversal and ethical blurring that living your life a quarter-mile-at-a-time creates. In #5, Hobbs was trying to capture the Fast crew but quickly shifted to being their ally(on screen at least for those of you who know the goss). Deckard Shaw killed government agents in a psychopathic spree of bullets and explosions in #7, but that was only because the Fast crew harmed his brother, but now he and Hobbs and Shaw’s whole family are chummy with the gang. Yay! BFFs! In #9 our villain is going to destroy the world, but he gets double crossed so we feel sorry for him and allow him back in the family. All good bro!
Lin once again is challenging our biblical and Tolkien-esque notions of good and evil. What is good? What is evil? Who is family? Who is not? Who is that girl in the hello kitty booty shorts during the drag race?
The Next and Final Chapter
In a world of binge-streaming, the serial release of a 10 episode collection of cinematic literature over three decades separates itself with distinction: #9 leaves us with a number of questions that we will need to wrestle with until #10, the final chapter, appears. But we should not expect #10 to answer all of these questions for us, we should expect it to keep asking more of ourselves, in our personal quest for just one more 10-second car.