From humble beginnings of street racing and stealing DVD players to becoming super spies, the Fast and Furious franchise and the Toretto family sure have evolved in ways we could never have imagined twenty years ago when The Fast and the Furious was released.

The ninth instalment of this franchise, F9 or Fast & Furious 9 however you like to call it, is bigger than ever before when it comes to the stunts and action. This film sees Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) settled down and living the quiet life until their friends – I mean family – come to them saying an old friend needs help and they all soon get pulled back into the world of high-octane cars vs spies in order to stop an end-of-the-world-type scenario, all orchestrated by Dom’s estranged brother Jakob (John Cena).

Setting up a previously unheard-of brother for Dom and Mia (Jordana Brewster) does lead to an abundance of flashbacks with younger versions of the characters – the casting of Finn Cole as a young John Cena is certainly a choice. While it doesn’t completely rewrite the history of these characters, a lot of the flashbacks seem unnecessary and are there to show how Dom met characters we’ve seen in other Fast and Furious films. By cutting out a few of the flashbacks it would’ve helped the film stay on track as it definitely lulled in those sequences compared to the present-day stuff where the action never really stops.

Jordana Brewster’s Mia gets more to do in F9 having previously been absent in Fate of the Furious, or at home with the children in Fast & Furious 6 and 7 which was good to see. Her action scene fighting alongside Rodriguez’s Letty is great, and considering these two characters have known each other since they were teenagers, it was nice to see their sisterly relationship on screen after many films without it.

The laws of physics and logic have long stopped applying to this franchise, but it’s gotten to the stage where characters in F9 are even referencing the fact they all might be indestructible – with Roman (Tyrese Gibson) being the main culprit, but as he’s always been the most self-aware about the ridiculous situations they end up in – it works. And it’s the awareness of this world that then makes all these feats of stunts and spectacle even more entertaining to watch. Plus, director Justin Lin returns to the franchise (having previously directed instalments three through to six in the series) and how he shoots the actions and stunts show he both cares about these characters and the unbelievable world they inhabit. This is a world where if you land on a car bonnet from great height or at great speed you will not even get a bruise.

The plot of F9 is pretty flimsy and is mainly pushed forward by Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey hacking into something or tracking someone and telling the crew where to go, all in order to stop Jakob from getting his hands on various parts of a deadly device. There are definitely a few sequences that were mainly there just to bring back characters from previous films too – Helen Mirren’s appearance is somewhat unnecessary but it’s still a joy to see her finally drive a fast car in this franchise. There’s a lot of familiar faces from Tokyo Drift, one major one being Han (Sung Kang) who is back from the dead. It’s explained, but there’s definitely more jiggery-pokery here with the Fast and Furious continuity than we’ve ever seen before. Still, as a fan of the character. it’s good to have him back into the fold, even if it proves Roman’s point that they all might just be invincible – unless you get shot that is.

With this huge cast of characters, it’s unfortunately John Cena’s Jakob who’s the weak link. Considering Cena’s performance in films like Bumblebee where though he was a military guy, he seemed well aware of the unusual situation he found himself in and seemed to have fun in the role, in F9 he is far too stoic of a villain. Scenes between him and Diesel don’t have the tension needed and it is only through the many flashbacks that you get the sense of the history and hostility between these characters, not from Diesel and Cena’s performances. Charlize Theron’s Cipher is also lurking in the shadows and she’s far more compelling and threatening in the few scenes she has than Cena is in the whole film.

With Fast & Furious 10 and 11 being said to be a two-part finale of this unlikely franchise, there’s characters and minor plot threads left open in F9 so there’s a lot that the filmmakers have to play with in those future films. Plus, there’s a mid-credit scene that sets up a potentially very interesting dynamic between two characters.

F9 is a wild ride. It’s over the top and bombastic and most importantly – it’s a lot of fun. If you’ve never seen a Fast and Furious film, or if you don’t particularly like the franchise, I’m not sure that F9 will turn you into a fan. But for those of us who have followed and loved the Toretto family across all these films, it’s hard not to have a good time when you see all these characters on screen. It’s like a soap opera with flying cars.

Rating: ★★