After nine films, the gigantic steroidal humungousness of the Fast and Furious franchise has finally rolled over me like a tank. This deafening fantasia of internal and external combustion delivers outrageous action spectacle magnificently divorced from the rules of narrative or gravity. There is one shot of a car driving up the far side of a rope bridge that has been cut and whose loose rope-fronds are collapsing behind the car into the abyss. I think we can include Isaac Newton among the people who are getting their asses kicked here.
The series had appeared to reach a kind of mature endpoint a few films back, with one solemnly called The Fate of the Furious. But then it just powered on through with more films and more revving silliness, featuring Vin Diesel (that surname surely inscribing his career fate) as the gang leader and international super-agent Dominic Toretto driving very fast, speaking very slow in a deep rumbly voice, and occasionally manhugging his compadres.
And FF9 gives us some great comedy from Tyrese Gibson, who really comes into his own as a funny performer here, playing Roman, one of Dominic’s crew who has a kind of saucer-eyed existential crisis as he realises that he, and everyone else in the film, has taken part in a large number of unfeasibly dangerous missions without ever getting injured, and he begins to think that they must all be ... what? Superheroes? Gods? Actors in a movie? Roman gets an uproariously surreal scene with Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), as they somehow get blasted off into space in their car to destroy a satellite.
The deal now is that fatherhood has supposedly given Dominic a zen indifference to his previous life, and he is out of the game. Doing what? Being an Uber driver? No, he is apparently living on a farm with his partner Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their adorable little child. This, incidentally, was the point of maturity supposedly reached in FF6 by Dominic’s pal Brian O’Conner – played by the late Paul Walker – when he became a dad. It was nonsense then and it’s nonsense now. The team show up at the farm with news of a new crisis and Dominic and Letty join them with hardly a second thought, leaving their child with ... well, the whole babysitting/childcare thing is dealt with very cursorily indeed.
Dominic turns out to have a brother, Jacob, played with straight-backed and purse-lipped venom by John Cena, who is engaged in a plan to steal a MacGuffiny data module connected with the shadowy kingpin Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell), because Jacob has always been jealous of his tough elder bro. We see a racetrack flashback, giving us the brothers’ traumatised backstory, and the two boys are actually played by different actors (Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole). No digital youthification here.
Jacob is in cahoots with creepy German plutocrat Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) to take over the world, and to that end has captured Cipher (Charlize Theron) and imprisoned her, like Loki or Hannibal Lecter, in a Perspex box (although she is surely allowed out for bathroom breaks). So Dom’s gang must get back together to take on this dysfunctional situation, in cities including London and Edinburgh (007 having made these locations acceptable), and also Tbilisi and Tokyo. Helen Mirren has a cameo as naughty-but-nice cockney criminal Queenie. Some old cast favourites are revived out of the blue (hang on for the closing credits sting), with some tongue-in-cheek dialogue about how surprising it is that some of them appear to have come back from the dead.
It’s all very macho and defiant and silly – especially as everyone has now seen the viral video of John Cena, speaking in impressive Mandarin Chinese, apologetically kowtowing for calling Taiwan a country while on the FF9 promotional tour. Yet FF9 is a cheerfully refreshing change from the locked down world of the slow and the placid.
• Fast & Furious 9 is released on 24 June in cinemas.