Directed by Justin Lin.
Starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, John Cena, Sung Kang, Jordana Brewster, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Lucas Black, Shad Moss, Anna Sawai, Vincent Sinclair Diesel, Finn Cole, Thue Ersted Rasmussen, Don Omar, Shea Whigham, Vinnie Bennett, J. D. Pardo, Michael Rooker, Jim Parrack, Jason Tobin, Lex Elle, Cardi B, Ozuna, Méghane De Croock, Bad Bunny, Siena Agudong, Isaac Holtane, Immanuel Holtane, Azia Dinea Hale, Juju Zhang, Karson Kern, Igby Rigney, Cered, and Jason Statham.
Cipher enlists the help of Jakob, Dom’s younger brother to take revenge on Dom and his team.
The unspeakable is uttered in F9 (the ninth entry in The Fast Saga); “physics.” Returning director Justin Lin (responsible for escalating street racing into increasingly insane death-defying stunts that challenged filmmakers such as F. Gary Gray to further up the absurdity) is not only self-aware of what this franchise has become; he knows what these fans want to see. In an age where narrative subversion is trendier than ever, it’s also not a bad thing to have things balanced out with expectations met, especially coming off of a year-long dry spell of crowd-pleasing blockbusters. All of this is a roundabout way of saying F9, while not necessarily a good movie, is an undeniably fun one that delivers an exhilarating climax embracing imagination and spectacle. It acknowledges the finger-wagging gripes against the lack of realism with a middle finger response.
However, Justin Lin (co-writing alongside Daniel Casey, both of whom worked together on the story with Alfredo Botello, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson), also comes up one major set-piece short for F9 to be considered a consistently great experience or an entry on par with the best of the series (strictly comparing them to other similar later installments). A case could also be made that a healthy helping of humor and charismatic machismo is missing without Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham (one of them does appear during an ending credits stinger). Both of these frustrations are only compounded by the main story that sees Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto reuniting with an estranged rogue agent brother played by a different professional wrestler, John Cena.
The script is trying too hard to give the family drama weight and stakes while also straining believability in a way that does more harm than good, no matter how appealing the concept of providing a protagonist who never shuts up about the importance of family a conflict within his bloodline. Suspension of disbelief comes in different forms. A never-ending runway that serves the purpose of heightening the thrills of an action sequence is easier to go along with than a character surrounded by loved ones (blood-related or otherwise), failing to mention he has a brother across eight movies and 20+ years. The dynamic is further hampered by its execution, which involves multiple flashbacks (the brothers are played by Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole) that contribute to a middle section that repeatedly has its momentum halted by story and dialogue, the one thing no one cares about here aside from an explanation of how Han (Sung Kang) is still alive. Additional scenes such as a getaway involving Helen Mirren’s Queenie Shaw feel there simply to give an existing character something to do, underwhelming in the actual car chase. Bringing back Jordana Brewster’s Mia (brother to Dominic Toretto and wife of the late Paul Walker’s Brian) also doesn’t add much in terms of the family soap opera or action.
F9 also happens to be the rare instance where fan service is acceptable. With that said, there are enough returning familiar faces, amusing camaraderie (Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris continue to be supporting player standouts), globetrotting (the first act contains a crazy car chase in a Central American jungle with some outrageously creative moments involving landmines), and doomsday antics to hold the attention through rockier terrain. There are also attempts to reach the highs of the beginning and ending (John Cena has about as many zip line guns to launch himself across an entire city), usually stepping into the pitfall of presenting the sibling rivalry as more important and exciting than it is. Perhaps it would register more if we either knew the brother existed, weren’t nine movies in, and didn’t inundate the plot with, well, too much plot and unsuccessful characterization.
Still, there’s just enough of an adrenaline rush and determination to get uniquely wild with vehicles that it’s nearly impossible to come away feeling like F9 is a waste of time. Sure, it’s in desperate need of some trimming and a little more nitrous in the middle, but there are genuinely original ideas here (no matter how ridiculous) serving as a reminder of how this series is nine movies in and why it might be the most refreshing and exciting modern-day franchise. F9 is yet another playground for getting playful with a wide range of vehicles that awes despite its occasional struggles. When it’s over, the only thing there is to say is, “yes, they did that.” And they said, “fuck your nitpicks about physics” while doing it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com