It may be hard to remember now, but this series started out as a Point Break riff, with a gang stealing DVD players instead of robbing banks. But such low stakes are firmly in the rear view, as this franchise has had its ever-expanding crew save the world at least three times so far. (Four, if you count the spin-off Hobbs & Shaw.)
F9 continues the "more is more" mantra the franchise has had for a decade now. But after peaking with the fifth and sixth entries, the series has been stuck in neutral. To be sure, they're not bad. But like the numerous superhero movies we get now, they follow a formula that's never deviated from. Start with an overly complicated plot and bad dialogue. Add some incredible setpieces, a few wisecracks, a speech about family, a bad guy who becomes a good guy, and wash it all down with a few Coronas.
For a series that pushes its familial aspects, I've always been drawn to the ridiculous action, not the poorly drawn characters. And it feels like a cheat for a movie this deep in to ret-con an entirely new, evil Toretto sibling, but that's just what it does. The larger-than-life John Cena plays the previously unknown Jacob, who left home after the on-track death of their pro racer father Jack. Even if this whole plot is overly constructed, these flashbacks are quite effective. They also feature Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy), and you can never have too much Michael Rooker.
Once again, there's a Maguffin: a device nicknamed Project Ares. Once again, if it falls into the wrong hands, the owner could take over the world. And once again, the crew hops all over the globe to stop Jacob, who's teamed up with Cipher (a returning Charlize Theron). There's a fantastic car chase on an island, a rooftop foot chase in Edinburgh, and an attempt to flip an armored truck. The latter would feel more impressive if it hadn't already been pulled off in The Dark Knight and Deadpool 2. Still, the vehicular mayhem is better than the last two films, since franchise mainstay Justin Lin has returned to the director's chair.
The film definitely delivers on the expectations of its fanbase, but once again it could have been something more. As seen in films like Blockers and Trainwreck, Cena is a much more enjoyable presence tweaking his image instead of playing it straight. He's completely humorless here, but of course effective in his fight scenes. But like many of the film's flaws, a lot is forgiven because it's constantly exciting and never a drag. But most importantly, they brought Han (Sang Kung) back from the dead. He's the best character, and I was thrilled. (Though imagine how much better it would be if the trailers hadn't already given this away.)
F9 is about as far from the series' roots as you can get – literally, two characters go to space! – but still a blast.