Anyone still interested in the Fast and Furious franchise gets what they deserve: Another Vin Diesel lesson on color-blind racial brotherhood, another chain of mindless action sequences conceived to be death- logic- and physics-defying.
That should be enough. F9: The Fast Saga is the Marvel: Endgame of motor-vehicle car-chase epics, with Vin Diesel’s Iron Man community hero played off against John Cena’s Thanos-style villain who wants to destroy the world. It’s Dominic Toretto vs. his little brother Jakob, not quite a biblical Abel vs. Cain storyline but a formulaic reworking of the racial camaraderie between Diesel and the late, lamented Paul Walker that first made the series charming 20 years ago. (More on the specifics of that “friendship” later.) The fraternizing message is inoffensive; what’s offensive is that Universal Studios’ latest photocopy denies moviegoers genuine, emotional involvement.
“The world has a way of changing, but we change, too,” Dom tells his multiracial crew (and ticket-buyers) to set up the familial dispute in this latest update. “There are moments that separate us, but we always come back together.” In terms of market calculation, the togetherness theme reworks the old Budweiser sportsmanship-brotherhood TV commercial cliché.
But the change that Dom (and Universal) hints at suggests a tentative cultural conversion: the underlying sense of inevitable, unavoidable antagonism resulting from the Obama era’s false harmony. In terms of popular appeal, F9’s globe-trotting, undercover, Impossible Missions Avengers team cruises faster and faster on misleadingly attractive and superficially plausible demagoguery.
Genre franchises can be reassuringly familiar, but The Fast and Furious series has gotten to the point that its raison d’être (the brotherhood of cops and robbers, boys and girls) is now out of touch with the way people relate socially, except in the minds of editorial writers.
While Diesel can rest on charm, Cena has developed the plasticized rigidity of a Frankenstein monster. The story’s big bro–baby bro antagonism — based on flashbacks to boyhood family tragedy — is laughable. (By now, shouldn’t the Toretto brothers be more like The Super Mario Bros., Mario and Luigi?) In the previous sequel, the Jason Statham–Dwayne Johnson chest-beating, antler-rattling face-offs were as embarrassing as this film’s constant blather about “family.” Jakob’s world-domination jealousy doesn’t match the genuine racial antagonism that the series had originally worked through.
In 2001, Diesel’s mixed-race upstart challenged Walker’s blue-eyed blond cop; their all-American street-life class conflict grew into a contest based on the content of their character, along with Diesel’s and Walker’s growth as movie stars who could act. Before the recent sexual revolution, the pair’s masculine friendship was not what gender radicals now call “performative” but expressive. F9 settles for a cartoon hero and a cartoon villain.
F9’s persistent violence and destruction indicate some hidden, implacable anger and dissatisfaction that only action-movie fantasy can release, but never appease. It’s traditional “escapism” but now tied in with Pavlovian commercialism, the Saturday Nite effect of supplying easy, routine, not very imaginative stimulation. This is the Fast and Furious franchise specialty, adding a few spectacular extremes (multiple explosions, automobile hijinks, even an outer-space jest). I liked the widescreen effect of a doll-sized Dom just barely escaping a mammoth 18-wheeler tumbling into its own demolition, although director Justin Lin is not up to the stylized Chad Stahelski slapstick of the John Wick series. But Dom’s getaway is amusingly toylike.
Traffic-director Lin does overblown versions of the bikes and car chases that, in the last sequence of E.T. for instance, could be emotionally exultant. In the first Fast and Furious, the night chases looked beautiful, like jukeboxes on wheels. F9: The Fast Saga is the visual equivalent of white (and black and brown and yellow) noise.
F9 has been an international blockbuster (opening in China before the United States). The degree to which the Fast and Furious movies play internationally matches the sense in which they are simplistic and juvenile. The Fast Saga is not just escapism; it’s pacification for the masses. If this is Hollywood’s idea of diversity and globalism, no thanks.