F9's most arresting minutes are a series of beautifully grainy, magic hour memories that Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto uses to make sense of his current predicament. Initially glimpsed as an opening gambit - complete with a period appropriate (and slightly beaten up) Universal Pictures logo - these late 80s recollections move the character further away from the grumpy default first seen in Rob Cohen's The Fast and the Furious, conjuring up a self-consciously mythic backstory involving the bone-deep pain of familial betrayal and a circuit race track straight out of Tony Scott's Days of Thunder. It's notable that the adult Diesel only passes through those moments, observing and reconfiguring them from a detached, third-person, perspective. The actor-producer isn't de-aged or otherwise given a computer generated makeover either. Instead, the task of extracting emotional vulnerability from such a knowingly gruff character is entrusted to Vinnie Bennett, an actor from New Zealand.
Bennett's Dominic - as well as the milieu he inhabits - are a softer, more human alternative to the state-of-the-art noise around them. Viewed in the totality of Justin Lin's film they are, at least initially, a necessary diversion; textural information spliced into the rigidly digital F9, designed to make sense of John Cena's character - a dark reflection for Dom, foisted on the series ten laps deep. This ungainliness is all over F9, a sequel that seems more concerned with re-stablishing a status quo for further instalments than moving any of these characters in exciting directions right now. To wit, Dwayne Johnson's uneasy ally is replaced by a different, but no less musclebound, WWE wrestler while the death of Sung Kang's Han is rewritten yet again, this time to put his easy-going charm back in an operations room that has, understandably, skewed morose since Paul Walker's real life death. As Lin's film heads deeper and deeper into the tech-babble and empty posturing required to prop up yet-another mind-numbing treasure hunt, the appeal of the NWA scored flashbacks only grows. The seething simplicity of two teenage petrolheads squabbling over the memory of their father - each armed with a distinctly different account of Toretto Sr. - plays sincere by comparison.