F9 is easily the most gloriously absurd film I’ll see all year (or any year?). Within the opening act there’s a race through a land mine field, sling-shotting cars and a fighter jet catching a car in midair.
That’s before the magnetizing car trick, soap opera style retconning away deaths. a random Cardi B appearance, a last minute introduction of another member of the Toretto family and a journey into space. That’s ridiculous. There’s no other way to frame it.
And this is from a franchise that had a bank vault destroy half of Miami, a highway battle against a tank, cars crashing through the skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi and battle against a submarine. A perfectly valid response 20 minutes into the film is “that’s enough defying the laws of physics and logic for me” and chalking this up as the step off point for the franchise.
For those that happily embrace the insane happenings with a stupid grin and uncontrollable laughter, you’ll be rewarded with the big budget blockbuster summer film we’ve been waiting on for over a year.
F9 starts off with a flashback sequence that neatly bridges the franchise’s original street racing roots to the super spy series it’s evolved into since Fast Five. This subplot also helps to connect a main thread of the film in a way that manages to avoid feeling too convoluted while allowing for some glimpses of OG fan favorites.
Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are retired from their adrenaline rush, death-defying past. For Dom, the transition is easy as family has always been the most important thing to him. Lettie is finding simple house life not nearly as satisfying.
Good thing the rest of the crew, Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Ramses (Nathalie Emmanuel), are back with a new mission.
It’s another retrieval of yet another doomsday device that could wreck havoc throughout the world if unleashed in the wrong hands. And Dom’s mercenary brother, Jakob (John Cena), and elite hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron) definitely fit in that category.
Backed by a wealthy billionaire, Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen, who avoids being a boring Eastern European villain cliche), Jakob is prepared to do whatever it takes to secure the device.
Director/co-screenwriter Justin Lin returns to the franchise after steering the series into its more action-oriented direction. Lin helmed the third through sixth installments. The time away has only seemed to heighten his creativity in setting up physics-defying action sequences.
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It’s impressive how the writers can pivot from one direction so seamlessly as if to make it appear that it was the plan all along. There should be no way screenwriters Daniel Casey and Lin can work in the long lost brother subplot or Han’s (Sung Kang) resurrection this easily. Maybe when cars are magnetizing everything in their path, basic plot logic doesn’t matter so much?
There’s an impressive amount of universe expanding as well thanks to the addition of some new characters and fresh character dynamics to explore.
As always, F9 feels revelatory for featuring a minority cast of heroes. It’s nice to see such diversity in a James Bond style setting without worrying about being invited to another franchise.
This isn’t something you see in many action films let alone a billion dollar franchise. And it’s hard to think of many recent action films (besides Black Widow and Wonder Woman) that can have a sustained subplot featuring two kick-tail women.
The franchise has carried on strong despite the death of co-lead Paul Walker during the shooting of Furious 7. Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner, was subsequently retired, but it was nice to see his partner and Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), return to the series.
F9 just about brings back the whole gang and my magic wand wish would be for Diesel and Dwayne Johnson to truly reconcile so Johnson’s Hobbs could return to the main series.
No one is checking these films for award worthy performances, but the cast continues to fully understand their characters and play their roles well. Cena fits in surprisingly well thanks to his mix of intensity and subtle cracks of vulnerability with his take on Jakob. Theron is such an icy villain begging for her comeuppance and Kang’s unshakeable smoothness has been sorely missing since Fast and Furious 6.
More so than any other franchise, Fast and Furious producers understood the changing face of the movie landscape with the rise of the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
That’s led to a greater emphasis on long-running plot threads, recurring characters, fan service nods and even post-credit scenes.
F9 doubles down on those fan service cameos and returning key characters to the point it seems like this could be a curtail call. By the time the film is over, it feels like the franchise still has plenty left in the tank even 10 films in. And at this rate, I’ll happily strap in and be ready for the next 10.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures