Cut to 2021, and Dom is living his best life in retirement with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his infant son. However, the Family with a capital F soon shows up, revealing their arch-nemesis Cypher (Charlize Theron) has returned. As the woman who murdered the mother of Dom’s child, the paterfamilia is also not ready to invite her to the cookout. Yet things get worse once Dom learns she’s partnered with a high-performance rogue spy named… Jakob Toretto. It’s time for another “one last ride,” and this one will see the family destroy major streets and sidewalks in London, Edinburgh, and Tokyo, plus be rocked by the shocking twist that Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang) is back from the dead. Oh, and did I mention the Pontiac Fiero they’re trying to launch into space?
As the ninth movie in a franchise which has seen Diesel drive convertibles between skyscrapers, the late Paul Walker pilot a car out of a moving plane, and Dwayne Johnson once single-handedly catch and redirect a torpedo, F9 still somehow boldly goes where no Fast and Furious movie has gone before. It even leaves one wondering if those weird Fast and Furious and Jurassic World crossover rumors are true, because there are now few absurdities left for these goofy movies to exploit.
Luckily, unlike the bland The Fate of the Furious (F8) or the deadly dull Hobbs & Shaw spinoff, F9 feels like a revival. For the first time since Walker’s Brian “left,” the series is doing more than spinning its wheels. F9 is just as dumb as you think it is, but Lin is able to resurrect the series’ perverse sense of sincerity.
At nearly two and a half hours, F9 is the longest film in the series, but the thing handles surprisingly smoothly. This is partially because with a franchise this convoluted, Lin can rely liberally on the nostalgia of seeing old faces pop up again—they even shoehorn Gal Gadot’s deceased Gisele via flashback. But it’s also due to Lin, more than any other director who’s worked on these movies, balancing the tonal whiplash between melodrama and cartoon histrionics. Somehow his approach finds the precise formula for devoting equal horsepower to Dom and Jakob’ soapy showdowns and the wackiness that comes with shooting a Pontiac into orbit.
It’s a strange alchemy between the stupid and sweet that goes a long way in stringing the set pieces together. Also, since many of those action scenes unmistakably (and regrettably) occur inside computers, the addition of Cena as Diesel’s new foil is a boon for the series. With Dwayne Johnson unlikely to ever return as Luke Hobbs in the mainline movies, the franchise is in desperate neefor an injection of charisma from anywhere—seriously, it’s eerie to see young Dom played with a pulse by Vinnie Bennett—and Cena is more than capable of providing a pick-me-up. Theron is also still on hand to steal the movie during her handful of scenes, including by throwing the shadiest insult I’ve heard in years.
At the end of the day, F9 probably doesn’t need to exist. It’s ridiculous, silly, and often nonsensical. Yet in an era where all Hollywood franchises are endless, and many of them rely on sitcom levels of self-deprecation to justify their returns, the wide-eyed earnestness that F9 brings back, and the willingness to commit to fervent paeans about “family” and “honor,” makes for an irresistible charm offensive. You want to go to their barbecue, and hell, see them probably time travel back to the Old West or the Cretaceous period in the next film. Bring on “Back to the Furious.”