F9: Han’s Death, His Return, And What It Means For A Franchise That Now Tinkers With Its Own Meta-Silliness
For years we’ve grown accustomed to the rank silliness and sheer bluster and spectacle of the Fast And Furious movies. All twenty years of them. The latest installment of the saga, F9 is no different, though with several exceptions that pertain to any reverence, sympathy or engagement into the drama and the characters, story and twists that occur.
Skipping the plot details and just short of devoting my time to a full review, and while there is a LOT to pick apart from the new film, my biggest gripe has plenty to do with its identity as a franchise, especially with the year-old spoilery reveal of Sung Kang’s character, Han, whose hinted survival in last year’s trailer now precludes a twist in the newly-released film that shows how his death was staged as a precursor to the larger role he plays in the events that unfold. The problem here is the way that this is done is so hackeneyed and effortless that it takes away from the emotional toll that Han’s return to the franchise was supposed to have had as a franchise favorite, among other things.
Adding the incorrigible bombast of the self-aware physics pokes and Star Wars jokes and reflections on the characters’ luck amid dangerous and life-threatening situations for this film – years after Han’s supposed death, which was one of the hardest and most impactful moments of the franchise between Tokyo Drift and Furious Seven with Han’s death being a central moment for the film and introducing Jason Statham – and all you’re left wondering is where the stakes really are, if all we’re gonna be left with is half-handed buddy humor that softens the blow of watching dangerous and thrilling action so much to the point where franchise has officially fulfilled its duties to become the meme it was once joked as by some fans. What does this do to the meaning behind the deaths of Jesse (FF1), Vince (FF5), Giselle (FF4-6) and Elena (FF 5-8), or even the dramatic re-entry of Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty in Furious 6 two films after her supposed death?
While it’s feasible that the intended blockbuster thrills and fun with these films never wanes on the studio, what’s important is that it doesn’t get lost on the writers and producers just why it is these characters are so beloved, and why audiences should care about them. Given its proximity from one of its departed cast members, the late Paul Walker, as it continues to avoid tip-toeing anywhere near killing off the Brian O’Connor character, it would be wise that a franchise like this one with only a few movies to go before its sunset, that the rest of this on-road/off-road musclebound, rocket-fueled gearhead/space bro odyssey try not to end things on such a note to a point where viewers end up walking away empty, thinking they could’ve written a better finale.
That’s really all I wanted to get off my chest, and it’s not like I’m absolved of any guilt in praising big movies that lean a little too much into themselves. As an action movie fan that writes about these movies for fans though, I’m a little older now, and I figured this needed saying. Not that you should let it negatively affect your own enjoyment of the film, but as always feel free to draw some perspective from it.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.