The Fast and Furious franchise has now entered its meta-parody stage.
The Premise: Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew, who were mere street racers when this whole thing began in 2001, are now somehow responsible for taking down an international terrorist who just happens to be Dom’s estranged brother, Jakob (John Cena). Jakob’s really angry – angry enough to align himself with the group’s former nemesis Cipher (Charlize Theron), who revives a horrendous haircut if not the same level of threat.
The Verdict: F9 will not be winning any new fans to the franchise. It has finally gone balls-to-the-wall bat-shit bananas. Fans knew this was coming. The franchise hasn’t been shy about amping up the stakes in previously thought to be impossible increments from film to film. It was only a matter of time before they drove their cars in space. F9 continues to evolve Dom’s concept of family, leaving less time for driving and street stunts. Not to despair: what they do manage to fit in is larger than life. It wasn’t even the trip to space that had me complaining “I’m not sure who’s more offended, me, or physics.” John Cena can’t act, making him a perfect match for Vin Diesel, who has managed not to improve one iota in the past two decades of the film’s franchise, despite acting alongside such Oscar winners as Theron and Helen Mirren. From its inception, Fast and Furious has made diverse casting look easy; Dom is surrounded by a bunch of colourful characters that we have come to know and love over the past 9 films, most of whom have stayed the course, including founding member Brian, even though Paul Walker has been dead since F7 (his character lives, always on the periphery, just out of sight, just a little late to the party). Fans will undoubtedly find something of merit in F9, even if it’s just an appreciation for the franchise’s willingness to push the boundaries of incredulity. They are shameless, which makes their antics all the more fun.
Furniture salesman Don Champagne (Patrick Wilson) has a picture-perfect life – a beautiful wife, high-achieving children, a lovely home…and yet all is not as it seems. His business isn’t thriving, his home was purchased with help from the in-laws, his son isn’t quite as successful as his daughter, and all of those things are carefully monitored and measured by wife Mona (Katherine Heigl), who carries a goal tracker around and expects everyone to conform to its (her) high standards.
I was really not feeling this movie when I first turned it on. The cold, bitchy wife trope is overdone and offensive. She’s controlling. She’s exacting. She schedules everything obsessively and won’t do anything that wasn’t pre-planned. Kill me now. Her poor, welcome mat of a husband Don is practically a saint for putting up with her. When he starts up an affair at work, we’re very understanding. His wife is practically frigid, their sexual activity under-scheduled. He’s not a bad guy. He’s earned this affair, and the new salesgirl Dusty (Jordana Brewster) seems like the perfect opportunity. In fact, he is the target, and their affair a convenient excuse for blackmail. Shit. Since Mona controls the purse strings along with everything else, Don has no choice to come clean. And that’s when things get spicy.
It’s just enough to make me wonder if there’s mayyyyyybe something here. Is it satire? Black comedy? I’m going to be generous and say yes: that was probably the attempt. But something gets sorely lost in translation and what we end up with is something that looks and feels a lot more like misogyny. The men in this film are no great shakes but the women are relentlessly vile and the 3 men who wrote this shit are probably moderating incel chatrooms right now. It’s not a good look for anyone, not even my precious Patrick Wilson. His perfect, angelic smile has been tarnished by this film.
Home Sweet Hell is probably meant to skewer suburban conformity through Mona’s obsessive need to preserve the perfection she meticulously portrays. What it actually does is send out some serious toxic masculinity vibes and I should have listened to my first instinct that said: no.
Todd (Jesse Williams) writes a comic book inspired by a real-life serial killer known as Slasherman. The murders took place in and around the small town where Todd grew up and caught people’s interest because of their brutal and seemingly random nature. The killer was never caught but Todd has made him the hero of his graphic novels. Slasherman doesn’t just kill, his murder scenes are the canvas to a very bloody work of art.
The Slasherman comic books are coming to an end. Todd’s publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel) has arranged for a little book tour of sorts, through small town Americana, where Todd can draw inspiration and push through the writer’s blog that’s plaguing his last issue. Joining them on the road is his assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster). Kathy’s got a mission of her own. She’s interviewing anyone with ties to Slasherman’s actual victims. She’s worried that Todd’s work fetishizes horrific crime and glorifies the perpetrator. She wants to keep the victims in people’s memories, but to Todd, and from the story-teller’s perspective, the victims’ stories are finished but Slasherman lives on. As you can imagine, it’s a point of contention between them.
But ethical debates are soon going to fall by the wayside because this little press tour is going to attract more attention than they’d planned for. Someone is committing the exact same murders Todd has illustrated in his book. Shit’s about to get real, boiiiiii.
Jay Baruchel turns director for this film (he cowrote it as well, with Jesse Chabot, based on the comic by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray) and clearly has a handle on what a slasher flick should be. He plays around with colour in an interesting way, he fleetingly touches on themes like our fascination with anti-heros and whether they legitimize violence, but ultimately, it styles itself a horror film and it delivers the goods: dread and gore.
This is a movie based on a comic book about a guy who writes a comic book about a serial killer protagonist who then gets stalked by a serial killer himself. There are so many levels of meta it’s best not to do the math. It wants to say something about the implications of consuming graphic violence while also presenting graphic violence. It has a brain, but most of all it has guts. Guts galore. The violence may or may not be random, but it is brutal and it is varied. Enjoy.
I loved Furious 7 from start to finish. I wasn’t sure at all how it would turn out, or how I would feel about it given Paul Walker’s death, especially since he died in a car crash. But it turned out to be a very sweet tribute to him that felt genuine rather than exploitative.
So we should get this out of the way early: this movie has no real plot. If you described the plot to me next week I would probably struggle to tell you which number was attached to the title (I’m honestly not sure whether I have seen #5, #6, or both). But if you like action or cars or explosions or all of the above, the lack of plot won’t matter one bit. Really, a plot or character development would just slow the movie down, so it works out for the best!
I am being slightly faceteous. There is a thread that ties the movie together from start to finish, and it is the theme of family that the trailers have been good enough to hammer into my head. It really works though as it sets up the ending perfectly. For that reason I would be interested to see what the movie was originally intended to be, because I was truly surprised how seamless the movie is. I was expecting something disjointed as a result of them trying to write out the Brian O’Conner character at the last minute and instead I got a cohesive, thoroughly enjoyable movie with a great ending. I cannot say enough how satisfying it is to get an ending that is true to the characters in the face of the real-world death of one of the stars. It was perfect.
There will inevitably be more of these (#8 at least must be a sure thing) and I kind of wish they would stop. I am sure I will enjoy the next one but these movies were best when they had both Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Those two were the heart of the franchise and since we will never see that again, I suspect the instalments to come will feel a little bit empty. But I can’t blame anyone for keeping the franchise going, and looking back it is a complete mystery how it has survived for seven movies (#2 and #3 were the weak links, and the series probably should have died there). Not coincidentally, those weak ones are the only two that Paul and Vin do not both appear in. So that does not bode well, but if this indeed the end of the franchise as we know it, it is a glorious finish.