Fast 9: A Case Study in the Willful Suspense of Disbelief

THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD, AND I DON’T CARE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET.

I’ll have to re-watch it at some point, but I finally had the chance to see Fast 9, the latest in the Fast & Furious franchise. I’ve been a fan of the franchise since day 1, and as crazy as “F8 of the Furious” got at times, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Fast 9? Man… I just, I just really don’t know. There’s always a willful suspension of “danger to manifold” with these films, but still…

I think of all the films to date, my least favorite was 2 Fast 2 Furious, it was pretty much left to Paul Walker and a cavalcade of b-list actors to carry it across the finish line without Vin Diesel in the game. It was good as far as action goes, and it checked all the boxes (ludicrious cars, high speed driving, scantilly clad women, a big bad), but I never really enjoyed it.

Tokyo Drift stood on its own as it was far enough from the first two films that it didn’t come off as a direct-to-VHS release, but a new story branching off the main which IMHO was barely clinging to life. At least they managed to get a cameo from Diesel in the closing act. Still, the franchise has been making money, even with its misfires to the tune of $6,517,303,245!

It wasn’t until the 4th installment where the band was back together so to speak, the formula was perfected, and honestly the most exciting and fun string of action flicks I’ve seen in my life came to be. A willful suspension of disbelief is key, and it’s something I always mention when I see intellectual types deriding an action flick. It’s not supposed to be transcendent, just entertaining, and this franchise has almost always delivered.

I had a hard time with Fast 9 and maintaining that WSOD. In a movie like this I hunger for fan service, for acknowledgment that I’d been paying attention from the start, that I’ve ignored the laws of physics, that I have overlooked the retcons and 18 mile long runway in Fast and Furious 6. It was speed, heists, family, fighting, and fun.

Yes it was formulaic. Yes it was fan service. All boxes were checked from Fast & Furious onward, and all were completely worth the price of admission. Now Fast 9 starts out good enough. It’s a flash-back to the race where Dom’s father is killed, and Dom tuned up the driver who caused the wreck. It also is the chance to introduce a new main character, unmentioned over the course of the 8 previous films.

His brother, Jakob. I’d show you a photo, but he doesn’t actually show up in any of them because he is played by John Cena. If you squint really hard, and assume different mothers, yeah, Diesel and Cena could be brothers. I’ve always thought that Cena more resembled a genetically modified Matt Damon, but that’s just me.

Ok so the heel in the first 2 acts (look at me using wrestling terms) is Cena until the eventual and wholly predictable redemption in the final act. WSOD is in full force here, but I was entertained, so I don’t care. However, one of the main characters, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), after cheating death yet again literally starts beating his fists against the fourth wall without breaching it completely.

He is so flabbergasted that yet again he (and everyone else) has come out on top, that he walked away without even a scratch after facing an entire army that he cannot contain it. This theme follows the film as a constant thread, as a blatant reminder to not take anything of what I was watching seriously, whatsoever. They were obviously having a lot of fun with this one.

Literally every single character in the movie has at least one or more moments where they completely acknowledge how crazy/unexpected whatever just happened was. It was more subtle (as subtle as crazy can get at least) in previous iterations, like when Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) deadpanned “they got a tank” in Fast & Furious 6.

This time when Dom pulls an Indiana Jones swing across a ravine on a bridge rope IN A DODGE CHARGER we get a “Well, that was new” from Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). This is of course after Cena gets picked up IN HIS MUSTANG by a stealth drone with a super magnet… and Tej gets a Jeep to clear the remains of the disintegrating bridge to safely make it to the other side (whole scene felt like Temple of Doom with cars).

Han (Sung Kang) is back! Gisele is still long gone. or is she? A brief (yet believable in the F&F universe) explanation is given, and he is welcomed back with mouths agape and open arms. Another Tokyo Drift alumni Sean (Lucas Black) also returns, although in a near slapstick Doc Brown style character who straps rocket engines to a Pontiac Fiero. After dropping a Skyline engine in a Mustang over the course of a montage, that is small potatoes.

There are just way too many completely off the wall plot points to count in this film, I literally could not keep track (and it is why I will be re-watching it again) – I haven’t seen so many different tangents taken since Justice League. At 2 hours and 23 minutes it wasn’t the longest film in the franchise, but they crammed as much as possible into it.

I will say – the final 10 minutes of the film almost redeemed the entire thing. One brief aside, why did Dom name his Son “Brian” after the death of Paul Walker? Brian’s still alive in universe, Dom knew Vince even longer than Brian, and Vince’s character actually died for the cause two films earlier. IMHO, they should have named Dom’s son Paul. It would have made more sense (to me).

ANYHOW. End of the film, as the team is gathered together for a celebratory “family” dinner behind the (still in construction) 1327 which was blown up by redeemed villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) – they point out an empty seat at the table. “He is on his way” they say as the familiar drone of a Nissan Skyline is heard approaching in the distance. Yep, Brian is back.

Well, his car is at least, it pulls in the driveway just before the credits roll.

Between that and the stinger (just Google it) I was cheering. I was also questioning. If Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor is back for the upcoming 10th and final installment… How are they going to pull it off? CGI? Recast one of his siblings? I’m intrigued. The technology has definitely come far enough that some blending of body double / CG could do it… IDK.

So while at first glance Fast 9 was not even close to my favorite member of the Fast & Furious family, I think I’ll warm to it with repeated viewings… but until then much of it felt like too much plot, too much over the top, nearly too much fan service. I felt the same about Thor Ragnarok the first time I saw it as well, so we’ll see how it holds up.

It is a good time, but it will definitely test your patience and ability to with-hold that disbelief like no other film I’ve seen. Bring on the final chapter!

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