Living the fast life takes its toll.
But now, maybe, just maybe, Dom and Letty are ready to put their high-speed past in the rearview mirror and idle into happily ever after. They’re raising Dom’s boy, Little Brian, on a farm so remote it doesn’t even have cell service. Nothing but solitude and reflection from here on out.
Yeah, right, like that’s ever going to happen.
It takes about five movie minutes before Dom’s old gang—Roman, Tej, Mia and Ramsey—drives down the dirt road to their farm. There’s a problem, of course. And this motley crew of former street racers is the only answer.
Seems a plane has crashed somewhere in a misbegotten third-world jungle. It was carrying half of a weapon that, well, would be the end of life on Earth as we know it if it fell into the wrong hands. (Again.) Their old pal Mr. Nobody has put out the S.O.S. for Dom and his crew to find it—and the other half, too—before the bad guys get their greedy, scheming mitts on the contraption.
But wait, there’s more! It seems their nemesis from the last time around, the ever-wily Cipher, is once again involved. Curses! She was supposed to be in a secure prison. Guess not. Surely that will tempt Dom to load up his shotgun, right?
Dom’s not interested. It’s time to settle down. To let the fast life coast into the past forever.
Not so fast.
As he watches a grainy video of the commandos who hijacked the plane before it crashed, Dom notices something. Something very personal. Very significant. Very … family.
Turns out his estranged brother, Jakob, is entangled in this mess, too, a telltale dangling cross in the video identifying him.
A long-lost brother gone bad. An old enemy resurfaced. The end of the world?
Yeah, time to make sure the ol’ Dodge Charger’s nitrous tanks are topped off.
The Fast and the Furious franchise has its share of now-predictable problems, as we’ll see. But equally predictable—in a good way—is its steady emphasis on family, both in the traditional sense and in the way that close friends can become a sort of family, too. Dom and his crew see each other as more than partners in speed. They take care of each other, no matter what. As we’ve seen in previous entries in this franchise, family is paramount to the patriarch Dom and his friends.
This time around, some key family-oriented parts of Dom’s past get filled in. We’re introduced to his brother, Jakob, when both brothers are much younger and serving as pit crew for their racecar-driving father. A tragic, fiery accident claims their dad’s life, and Dom eventually comes to believe that Jakob played a twisted role in that accident. Dom disowns his brother, telling him never to come back to their family—essentially the worst “curse” he could have uttered in a clan where blood and fealty are the highest value.
As the story unfolds, though, we learn that Dom’s treatment of his brother played a key role in why he’s since gone so, so bad—even as the hope for his possible redemption dangles like the cross hanging from a rearview mirror.
An old mechanic encourages Dom to relinquish his bitterness toward Jakob, saying, “You gotta make peace with the past if you want hope for the future.” A flashback finds Dom and Jakob’s dad dispensing another homespun pearl of wisdom when he compares taking care of a vintage hotrod to taking care of your family. “Build it right,” he says, “take care of it. And it’ll live beyond you.”
It goes without saying—but I’ll say it anyway—that Dom and his crew will go to any lengths to stop the bad guys here, including Dom being willing to sacrifice everything if it means Letty can escape the clutches of rifle-waving goons who have them trapped.
You wouldn’t think that a franchise based on fast cars, daring stunts and ammunition aplenty would have much room for a spiritual message. But just as we’ve seen in other installments in this franchise, spirituality does indeed turn up again here.
Dom’s preschool-aged son, Little Brian, asks his dad early on, “Where is God?”
“In your heart,” Dom tells him.
“He’s in your heart, too,” Little Brian says sweetly.
The end of the film features the now-expected family meal where someone says grace. Dom invites Little Brian to pray, saying, “You ready to say grace?”
“But I don’t know what to say,” Little Brian objects.
“It’s easy: Just say what’s in your heart.”
There’s not a ton of theological depth here. But the acknowledgement of God in these scenes is personal and heartfelt, and it lends a surprising poignancy to this otherwise adrenaline-fueled story.
Someone else says of a deceased character, “She’s watching over us from heaven.” Dom and Jakob’s crosses, as well as one on a church, get plenty of screen time, too. Another scene takes place in St. James Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.
A scene played for self-aware winks finds Roman wondering if Dom and his crew are merely lucky or whether they’re somehow in fact invincible. His friends laugh him off; but Roman notes that his coat has 14 bullet holes in it, and he’s still unscathed. That question resurfaces again later when Roman and Tej seem certain to perish … but don’t.
An advanced, weaponized communications system is called Project Ares, named after the Greek god of war.
Dom and Letty (who are now married) kiss. Letty’s penchant for tank tops remains constant. A couple of scenes feature large groups of females wearing various kinds of revealing outfits, with leg, cleavage and midriffs all on display. One of the bad guys talks about being “turned on” by Cipher’s creepiness.
When I was growing up, one of my favorite TV shows was The A-Team. Bullets flew. Cars raced. Aircraft crashed. And Hannibal and his team always came out unscathed, not unlike cartoon characters, really.
The same is true here. The violence—be it car chases, gun battles, driving off cliffs, rolling down mountainsides, dodging (or not) land mines and air-to-surface rockets fired from drones—is constant. And though our heroes end up with a bit of dirt and blood on their faces, they’re pretty much unscathed (lending, it would seem, some credence to Roman’s hypothesis about their ridiculous invincibility.) It’s just another day at the high-octane office, even when that office is at times literally in orbit. (The proverbial shark actually gets jumped into outer space here, but I’ll say no more because it really doesn’t matter.) Indeed, sometimes beloved characters who were thought to be dead even turn up afresh, to everyone’s shock and surprise.
At one point as Dom, Letty and the gang race around bullets and boulders to evade the bad guys, I leaned over to a friend I was watching the film with and whispered, “None of them are wearing seat belts.” Indeed, Dom can roll a car off a cliff (or an armored bus, for that matter), have the think explode in a fireball and crawl out seemingly no more sullied than if he’d just gotten done mowing the yard.
In that sense, F9: The Fast Saga feels as cartoonishly, laughably ridiculous in its high-dollar stunts and explosions as any entry in the franchise.
But if Roman escapes with 14 bullet holes in his jacket, well, the bad guys aren’t nearly so invincible. The body count here is high, as unnamed, uncared-for henchmen get mowed down aplenty in sanitized shootouts. Their vehicles explode. Sometimes explosives get affixed to them, literally blowing one poor sap up (albeit behind the veil of a parachute, to spare us any gore at all).
We see multiple intense fistfights and martial arts
Vehicular carnage is even more profound. There’s no concern for fleeing pedestrians or those unfortunate enough to be on the road when Dom and the baddies clash. Suffice it to say that this franchise’s car budget likely eclipses whatever paycheck Vin Diesel and his famous friends took home for this one.
Perhaps the most emotionally wrenching moment in the film is when Dom and Jakob’s dad is involved in an accident that sends his stockcar high into the air, into the track’s protective screen and ends in a furious fireball that claims his life.
Afterward, a rival driver comes to pay his respects, the one who caused the accident. Dom picks up a wrench and beats him with it—an attack we hear but do not see. Police arrive shortly thereafter to take Dom into custody (and later prison), and it’s implied that he murdered the other driver.
A painful flashback shows a young girl watching her parents as they’re assassinated by a bomb in their car.
A throwaway scene in the credits features yet another old enemy brutally assaulting a punching bag with fists and feet. Then he unzips it to reveal a badly pulped man inside covered in bruises and blood.
Cipher crudely describes Yoda (yes, that Yoda) as “a puppet with someone’s hand up his a–.”
We hear a dozen s-words and two uses of “frickin’” as a stand-in for the f-word. There’s one pairing of God’s name with “d—n,” and two uses of “pr-ck.” Another dozen or so uses of “a–” are joined by one use of “a–hole”; four or five uses each of “h—” and “d–n”; and one or two uses each of “b–ches,” “p-ss” and “bloody.”
Characters drink beer and champagne at multiple social gatherings.
We see a flashback to an illegal Southern California street race in Dom and Jakob’s youth.
Despite the film’s superficially spiritual sheen, forgivness isn’t a virtue that Dom embraces quickly or easily, and we see how his bitterness toward Jakob drives a relational wedge between them with tragic consquences.
In 1977, the Fonz infamously “jumped the shark”—literally, he waterskied over a ferocious fish—on the ABC sitcom Happy Days. It was supposed to feel … daring? Relevant? Incredible? Mostly it was just silly, spawning a beloved cultural meme that we still use to this day when a franchise seems to be trying too hard to maintain its edge.
The Fast and the Furious franchise may have jumped the shark in F9: The Fast Saga. I’ll spare you the spoilerly details, but you’ll know it if and when you get there. Let’s just say for now that it involves some of Dom’s street-racing crew becoming … astronauts.
Then again, I’m not sure it’s really possible to jump the shark in a franchise like this one. Dominic Toretto (played by the delightful, ever-scowling Vin Diesel) and his friends have long since evolved from street-wise street racers fighting criminal elements into a mashup that splits the difference between James Bond and a superhero movie.
The filmmakers know it, too. Roman’s “soliloquy” about being invincible tells us that everyone’s in on the joke, drawing ever closer to self-parody.
But if you’re still on the Fast and Furious bullet train as a fan, you probably don’t care. You’re here for explosions, stunts that would make Tom Cruise blanche, more explosions, some nitrous and Vin Diesel scowling. (See previous.) This movie delivers all of those things—sometimes eliciting a howl of laugher along the way—as Vin and crew drive all the way to the bank.
At some point, fans will likely grow weary of how hard this franchise has to work to top itself. We had a submarine last time around. This time, well … space. Maybe the next one will take place on the moon. Then again, gravity never seems to be much of an obstacle for Dominic Toretto, so the next installment (teased in the end credits) will very likely deliver more of the same—the same violence, the same profanity and the same outlandish fun that fans and families have navigated since this series’ inception two decades ago.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.