I think, maybe, I’ve figured out what makes the Fast and Furious franchise work – its secret formula, if you will. Or, at least, after watching movies at home for 14 months, it all feels just a little more in focus. Even though these movies kind of promote themselves on how much they are pushing the limits with each installment – hey, this time they are going to space! – there’s something very retro about the Fast and Furious movies. They feel a lot like ’90s action movies. (And I’ve watched a lot of ’90s action movies over the past year.) The heroes are earnest. The villains are hamming it up. Nothing is realistic. The plot doesn’t really matter, at least in that we, the audience, can be told anything and we’ll go along with it. It is about as far away from a “dark and gritty” movie as a movie can get, during an era where “dark and gritty” became the tiresome norm. (The only thing that’s really missing is being “casually rated R.”)
Is Vin Diesel the only true action star? At least in the classic ’90s sense? Because in the late ’90s when the Arnold and Sly and Jean-Claude style of movies all seemed to fade, the action star who could sell a movie on name alone went away and the box office was replaced by franchises: At first some superhero stuff (X-Men, Spider-Man, etc), some not (Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter), before the superhero genre really took over when the MCU started. And it seems, through all this, the only actors still trying to do pure action movies are Tom Cruise (but he’s known for other things than just “action,” he does have three Oscar nominations) and, frankly, actors who came from the world of professional wrestling. And then there’s Vin Diesel. Who this whole time just seems to be unfazed by the changing times and just keeps doing what he does best: being Vin Diesel, action star.
So you have Vin Diesel, basically one of the only prototypical action stars there are, who keeps making these overly earnest movies that are nonstop action. No wonder people love these movies. People loved ’90s action movies, too, but Hollywood just stopped making them. It’s a wonder while watching F9 why more studios just don’t make more ’90s style kinda dumb action movies. People obviously love them. And these Fast and Furious movies have pretty much cornered the market on the genre. It’s pretty remarkable. (Obviously the Mission: Impossible movies are still going strong, but there’s a difference. Those movies don’t have the “wink wink, we know this is ridiculous” tone that the Fast and Furious movies have, which is kind of a key to the ’90s action movie vibe. The first Mission: Impossible came out in the ’90s and even then didn’t feel like a typical ’90s action movie.)
Anyway, yes, the Fast and Furious gang goes to space now. They literally fly a car into space! It’s funny, I missed an exchange that explained a key plot point about what the main gizmo, that can destroy the world, even does and I didn’t care. It doesn’t matter. Everything we want out of these movies is all so baked in we will accept any amount of ridiculousness. All we want is someone to tell Dom Toretto that the jump he’s about to do can’t be done, then have Dom do it anyway, crash in a fiery explosion, then walk away unscathed. Perfect. I’m sitting here debating if I should really get into the intricacies of the plot and I’ve decided against it beyond saying there’s a gizmo the team has to find, and outer space is involved and the team hooks up some powerful magnets in their cars to do a bunch of crazy stunts.
Justin Lin returns to direct for the first time since Fast and Furious 6. These seem like very hard movies to make. And it’s telling that other directors, other than Lin, never make more than one. I’m tempted to say this feels like a more “back to basics” approach to the story, but with this franchise I don’t even know what that means. But a lot of the road stunts do look quite real, where I assume a lot of actual stunt work was done, as opposed to Dom fighting a CGI submarine. It’s a pretty thrilling race through the streets, as the aforementioned magnets push and pull items and cars every which way as Vin Diesel scowls his “Dom Toretto face” the whole way through. (Though, sadly, I don’t think Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson were actually in space.)
Or take the return of Sung Kang’s Han, who had been killed off at the end of the sixth movie, but is now back in this movie. (This is not a spoiler, he’s in the trailer.) I won’t spoil the explanation why Han is alive, but if I did, would it even matter? Honestly, in the movie, Dom could just solemnly look at the screen and say, “He’s alive because he just is. He’s family,” and that would have been good enough. I don’t care. No one cares. Just give us the goods.
I mean, this is a movie in which John Cena plays Vin Diesel’s brother! What? But yes, Dom and Mia’s (Jordana Brewster, who is back in on the action) brother, Jacob, who has never been mentioned before. The movie gives us a bunch of flashbacks to Dom and Jacob’s youth and tries to explain why Dom has a brother who looks nothing like him that he’s never mentioned before and it doesn’t matter. I appreciate the attempt at an explanation, but I don’t need it. I’m all in. After this past year, I just wanted to watch something ridiculous. And not in my own apartment. And as long as these movies keep their earnest, fun, ’90s action movie tone, there is no ridiculous plot point these movies could come up with I wouldn’t believe. By this point they’ve earned that. They are family.
‘F9’ hits theaters on June 25th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.