Justin Lin's F9: The Fast Saga, or, as it was originally titled simply F9 (known internationally as Fast & Furious 9), the penultimate installment in the series about fast automobiles had a tough job to do: Out-crazy the previous eight movies in the franchise, which started to get ludicrously (pun intended) over-the-top, around the fifth installment, Fast Five, which Lin also helmed. By having two of its most beloved characters go to space in a car attached to a rocket, among other antics, the film overwhelmingly achieves that task. Is the film entertaining? With its series of increasingly more unrealistic set pieces, Vin Diesel's characteristic one-liners, and a surprising amount of heart and story, of course it is. However, even with the inclusion of virtually every character from the previous films in the franchise, the space travel, and the inclusion of Brian's (played by Paul Walker before he tragically passed away) storyline, it's still somewhat forgettable, however decent it is for its genre of thrill-seeking, race car-driving adrenaline junkies breaking law.
*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*
F9: The Fast Saga delves into Dominic Toretto's (Diesel) troubled past with his somehow absent-until-now brother, Jakob (John Cena), not only marking the impetus of the film's central conflict, but also bringing all of the diverse characters together again, some of whom we haven't seen in quite some time, namely, the surprising "resurrection," if you will, of the beloved Han (Sung Kang). F9 takes the viewer back to Dom and Jakob's childhood during their father's final race on the track. After Dom almost beats their father's rival racer Kenny Linder to death for bumping their father into wall and killing him, he goes to jail. When he gets out, he confronts Jakob, who he saw tamper with their father's car during the race. After he challenges Jakob to a street race, Jakob loses, agreeing to the terms and never returning to the family again (convenient plot point).
Fast forward to present day, and Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are quietly raising their son Brian, named after Paul Walker's character in a nice tribute. Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) inform Dom that Jakob killed Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who captured Cipher (Charlize Theron). Lo and behold, Dom agrees to come out of retirement. Who would have guessed that? Readers shouldn't be let down by the fairly predictable plot, as the always-wowing action more than makes up for narrative familiarity. What ensues is a series of increasingly tense confrontations between Dom's team, now joined by Mia and, eventually, Han, to the surprise of the gang. Han was assigned by Mr. Nobody to protect Ares, a device that can hack into any computer-controlled system, and the second piece of which lies in Elle's (Anna Sawai) DNA. This is where Lin and his co-screenwriter, Daniel Casey, do a bit of plot retconning to insert Jakob into the history of the Fast franchise, as he was an agent of Mr. Nobody's who broke his assignment and went rogue, as they say, attempting to capture Ares. As a result, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) was ordered to fake Han's death during the events of the film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, so that he could protect Elle.
Eventually, Jakob kidnaps Elle, much to the chagrin of her ward, Han, and orders his right-hand man to launch a satellite into space (apparently, Jakob wants to control the world through its seemingly all-encompassing computer presence). This forces Elle to activate the second component of the Ares device. Now, old friends Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), Twinkie (Shad Moss), and Earl Hu (Jason Tobin) come in. Aside from a brief cameo by Sean in Furious 7 and some archival footage of him and Twinkie, the trio haven't been seen since Tokyo Drift. Conveniently, they have been working on a Pontiac Fiero attached to a rocket that can go into space. This prompts Tej and Roman to use one of their rocket Fieros to — you guessed it — launch themselves into orbit and, somehow, successfully destroy Jakob's satellite without dying. Perhaps Lin and Casey should give credit to actor and comedian Seth Rogen, who tweeted during the film's production, "About ten years ago, me and @evandgoldberg were with one of the producers of The Fast and Furious franchise. Evan said as a joke, “they should go to space!” The producer looked at us, dead serious, and said... 'not yet.'"
In the meantime, Cipher escapes, kills Otto, and Jakob and Dom finally make up. One of the issues with the Cipher subplot is that she was seemingly set up to be a larger villain in The Fate of the Furious, but her secondary presence to Jakob appears forced, as, again, Jakob hadn't been even referenced until this film. However, her escape sets up a potential larger villain role in the tenth and final film of the franchise (and a rumored spinoff). Further, the final act of F9: The Fast Saga not only sets Jakob up to be an ally to Dom and the gang instead of a primary villain, but the ending and the mid-credits scene with Brian arriving at the celebration barbecue in his Nissan Skyline and Han showing up at Deckard's door also hint Brian potentially returning to the franchise (perhaps played by his brother, Cody Walker, again) and Deckard and Han joining forces (I smell a spinoff in the works).
Overall, the unbelievable action keeps the audience entertained and distracted from the occasionally predictable plot and its narrative shortcomings. F9: The Fast Saga is worth the viewing if you're looking to shut your brain off for two hours and twenty-three minutes and watch several bonkers fight scenes and explosions. Heck, it even has a cameo by Dame Helen Mirren (who plays Deckard's mother, Queenie Shaw), to boot.