Early philosopher Sun Zhu said, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” But quarter-mile-at-a-time philosopher Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) said, “I don’t have friends. I got family.” So when your enemy is also your family, well, what can you do? If you’re a Toretto, you drive fast and furious.
F9: The Fast Saga, opens in 1989, showing us Dom’s (Vinnie Bennett) oft-mentioned backstory as his father is killed on the racetrack. What we did not know is that Dom has a younger brother, Jakob (Finn Cole in flashback, John Cena later on), who might be at fault. After beating Jakob in a street race, Dom sends his brother away in shame, never to be spoken of again. A long-lost sibling is just more soap for the opera that has already given us multiple characters dying and returning, secret children, and mirror image villains.
Now Jakob is back, kidnapping the enigmatic Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell in a barely there cameo) and going after a doomsday gadget straight out of a Bond movie. The fate of the world again depends on a team of street racers turned spies.
While the movie tries to race along the cliff’s edge of meaningful family drama and action scenes bigger than anything they’ve done so far, it never quite finds the right balance. Brothers in conflict is a great idea (bringing to mind another Jacob and his estranged brother). Unfortunately, here it’s undercut by over-the-top action, like cars swinging from jungle cliffs like Tarzan inCARnate (see what I did there?).
Despite a few rattles and misfires, the engine that drives the series, the love of family, still roars. Family is Dom’s religion, and betrayal is the cardinal sin. Yet forgiveness is always on the map, and in an unforgiving world where we all have some guilt rolling around in the trunk, audiences gravitate to stories of redemption.
Jakob’s return throws Dom’s peaceful life into chaos. Not because his evil brother wants to take over the world, but because it reminds him of the rift within his own family. Whether it’s a detective story, a home improvement show, or the most cartoonish action movie ever made, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing order restored.
Series regulars know Dom carries a lot of guilt, and despite a knee-jerk desire for vengeance, he eventually gives even the worst offenders a place at his picnic table. In ways that defy reason and expectation like these movies defy the laws of physics, F9 exemplifies what Paul wrote at the end of Ephesians 4: “All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Does F9 effectively explore these ideas? Nope. It’s too busy putting cars in space. However, it gives fans exactly what they want, which is more of the same. Just bigger, louder, faster, and furiouser. (Universal Studios)