After “The Fate of the Furious” — the eighth installment in the “Fast & Furious” franchise — roared through its climactic finale on a Russian ice plain, a friend of mine joked, “Where are they going to go next? The moon?” Flash-forward four years: “F9,” out Friday, has no moon sequence, but a couple of the guys do go into space. Many people at my advance screening laughed at how ludicrous it was. (And in it, Ludacris was.)
Just remember: In space, no one can hear you crash.
For the “Fast” films, nothing succeeds like excess. It feels like the more outrageous things get, the more audiences love it.
But then the devoted audience of the “Fast & Furious” franchise has an unwavering suspension of disbelief, combined with a supreme belief in the power of their heroes’ suspensions. While their vehicles always sustain a major beating, our protagonists usually survive with minimal damage, a salient point that fast talker and skilled shooter Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) repeatedly ponders throughout “F9.”
It’s an interesting meta-contemplation that’s an obvious nod to how action movie heroes do the most insane things but rarely incur serious or permanent injuries. And perhaps it's to let us know the writers don’t feel the need to explain any of it.
Because let’s face it: This testosterone-driven series is pure wish fulfillment, a high-octane roller coaster of vicarious thrills where racing outlaws tear up the screen and beat down the bad guys with gusto, breaking any number of laws even as they’re government-sanctioned.
For the “Fast” films, nothing succeeds like excess. It feels like the more outrageous things get, the more audiences love it. Perhaps that’s the secret to its success 20 years after the first film’s debut: There is no braking point.
The original film’s story worked from a simple premise: Undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) infiltrated the family and crew of illegal street racers and cargo hijackers led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). After falling for his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), and personally bonding with Dom, Brian let him go. Unexpectedly fun, the action flick was an instant hit.
But from there, the movie inspired by Ken Li’s article on real-life street racers gradually became a hybrid of 007 and “Mission: Impossible” adventures (series that also featured secretly government-sanctioned mayhem). Call them Team Bond. How they have graduated to globe-trotting superheroes capably tussling with assassins, special ops soldiers and — in 2019’s fun spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” — “Black Superman” (played by Idris Elba) will make your head spin.
So don’t strain your brain contemplating it. By shifting gears beyond its original focus of street racing into spy-fi territory, plus expanding the ranks of the group into an international crew, the franchise has grown even bigger (and yes, louder and dumber), with parts seven and eight alone accounting for nearly 45 percent of the franchise’s $6 billion global take to date.
Part of its appeal has also been its multiracial casting — Latinx, Black, Asian and Pacific Islander actors have all regularly appeared on screen — including Michelle Rodriguez, Sung Kang and Dwayne Johnson. Indeed, this is probably the most ethnically diverse action series ever. That inclusiveness extends to the directors: Justin Lin has directed five movies and James Wan and John Singleton have each directed one. Further, the recent soundtracks are bursting with fresh Latin and reggaeton music that helped many of the songs become hits.
Meanwhile, megawatt actors, such as Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren, have joined in on the fun. Cameos have included the likes of Ronda Rousey and Cardi B. And then, of course there are the metal co-stars: the cars themselves.
Beyond its very likable characters, traditional themes hold together the dizzying number of action scenes and character rotations. The nucleus of the family, notably Dom and his crew, has strongly driven the series since its fourth installment, when Diesel returned after a two-movie hiatus that had featured different character configurations. Co-star Paul Walker’s untimely death in 2013 was a blow to the franchise, but the “Fast” family of fans rallied around their heroes and have kept supporting them.
Indeed, family love, loyalty and honor have come to define most of the series. These concepts worked best in “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6” but have strained credibility since, becoming a cliché excuse for, well, almost anything Team Toretto does. But the badass women, various plot twists, character resurrections and bad-guy-turned-ally turns have made these flicks crowd-pleasers.
We’re not talking Shakespeare here. Longtime “Fast” fans know exactly what they’re getting. Whether you like the new one will depend on whether you liked seven and eight — in other words, hell yeah or yeah right.
Although it includes an extensive backstory about Dom’s estranged younger brother (John Cena) and their father’s untimely death, the heavily action- and effects-laden “F9” is too mind-numbing for me, suggesting that more spinoffs are the best way forward. Maybe Tej and Roman? Letty and Mia? Han and a resurrected Gisele? (Hey, the timeline was retconned to bring back Han, who died in 2006’s “Tokyo Drift,” for more movies by saying the third installment was set after “Fast & Furious 6.”)
In every new "F&F" movie, characters ponder if they can abandon their dangerous, speed-laden ways. But it’s like what Michael Corleone said in “Godfather III”: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” That’s true for many “Fast & Furious” fans, too.