F9 (2021) Review

FAST FAMILY FLIES FURIOUSLY


 

In 2017, The Fate of the Furious raced into theaters and brought with it a new level of box office success to the long running Fast and the Furious franchise. Of course, this film, which was the eighth entry in the franchise, has grown and evolved into an interesting dynamic aspect beyond the earlier installments of merely street racing. Yet, for all its blockbuster “pomp”, the main interest point of seeing The Fate of the Furious was to see if the series could “live on” without main lead co-star Paul Walker, who’s untimely death happened during the shooting of 2015’s Furious 7. Interestingly, despite the looming tragedy of Walker’s death and overall absence from the franchise, The Fate of the Furious brought summer movie popcorn fun; amping up the ridiculous nature that features of the installment have become well-known for and offering a blockbuster and entertaining escapism of cinematic proportions. While The Fate of the Furious did received mixed reviews from critics, the movie was a massive success as a summer blockbuster, raking in over $1.2 billion at the global box office. Now, after four years after the release of The Fate of the Furious, Universal Pictures and director Justin Lin return the long-running franchise of fast cars and ridiculously bonkers action heroics with the release of the ninth entry titled F9 (also known as F9: The Fast Saga or Fast and Furious 9). Does this latest installment stand tall and proud to its recent successors or has this popular film saga burned out of energy and fresh ideas?

THE STORY


After a life of dangerous missions and living one quarter mile at a time, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has settled down to live a peaceful life in the country, with his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their son. However, a problematic situation quickly emerges on the couple’s doorstep when their past associate liaison, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) is ambushed while transporting the nefarious criminal hacker mastermind, Cipher (Charlize Theron) to prison. To make matters worse, Dom’s estranged brother, Jakob (John Cena) is behind the attack, utilizing Cipher’s tech genius skills for a villainous plot. With her, Jakob’s target is Project Aries, a device that once launched into space can control all computers on Earth, giving him and his partner, Otto (Thue Ested Rasmussen), global power at their fingertips. Realizing the severity of the situation, Dom returns to his family’s team, joining up with tech guru Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), tech savant Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), fast-talker Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and baby sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), with the crew circling the globe to locate Jakob. As the team closes in onto Jakob’s missions in bringing Project Aries to fruition, secrets are revealed, old friends return, and Dom confronts his past in order to fully realized the mission that is at hand.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


I will be one of the people who will proudly admit that I do love the Fast and the Furious movies. Like many fans, it was not until 2011’s Fast Five came out in which the franchise saw a major improvement, choosing for a more focused on story rather than just illegal street racing as well being more of a feature team adventure film (that has some continuity to it) rather than just a simple one and done from earlier installments. To me, The Fate of the Furious was great as it kept and retaining a lot of the over-the-top ridiculously bonkers bravado that the three previous installments were able to cultivate, but also was able to continue the film’s narrative forward, especially with the absence of Walker’s Brian O’Connor. Plus, even though the film had a few problems, I thought it was a fun and entertaining blockbuster movie of which I was allowed to escape reality and just enjoy the feature’s crazy “save the world” heroics with Dom and the rest of the team. So, for what it was worth, I really enjoyed The Fate of the Furious, which furthered my interest in seeing where the Fast and the Furious would go in their ninth installment.

Naturally, this brings me back around to talking about F9, the 2021 action film and the next chapter in the Fast and the Furious series. While the road to getting to Fast and Furious 9 was a bit long, there was a distraction provided in the form of Hobbs & Shaw, the spin-off feature film to the series that starred Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw. While the film was fun and carried the same exact action pack entertainment that the main series follows, I was still a bit more interested to see where the ninth Fast and Furious movie would go, especially after how the eighth one ended. I did eat up all the info, tidbits, and announcements that were posted online on all the various movie / film websites that I follow and eagerly awaiting when the film got released. Also, the film’s trailer seemed make F9 out to be another crazy and totally over-the-top adventure that many fans (like myself) are expecting to see from this franchise. So, I was definitely hyped to see this movie when it came out, which was originally scheduled to open in April 2020. However, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Universal Pictures decided to delay F9 for entire year, with the movie set to be released on June 25th, 2021. So, after a year of being postponed, I decided to check out F9 during its opening weekend at my local movie theater. And what did I think? Well, I liked it. While there are some things that hold the film back, F9 is still fun and ridiculous action pack adventure that is worthy of the franchise namesake. It’s not the best entry in the Fast and Furious series, but it is still a mindless (and entertaining) blockbuster romp that is pure “summer popcorn” escapism.

F9 is directed by Justin Lin, whose previous works include several of the Fast and Furious movies in the series (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift to Fast & Furious 6) as well as other films like Annapolis and Star Trek Beyond. Given his previous involvement with the franchise and how he “reinvented” the franchise into more “save the world” action heroics with Fast Five, Lin’s return to the Fast and Furious series is a welcomed one and F9 clearly shows that with the director helming the project. Like the previous entries, F9 retains the same “status quo” of what many would expect from the Fast and Furious movies and Lin, who sort created that formula, seems to relish within that notion; holding up the mantra of the latter portion of the franchise. So, naturally, Lin makes F9 have all the pedigree of the previous movies, including ridiculous action scenes, over-the-top melodrama, and unrealistic sequences that seems to only happen within a Fast and Furious movie. I personally liked this and definitely expected Lin to duplicate the series current formula with this current film. What’s the old saying…. “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and Lin seems to keep that notion in mind. Heck, I think that is something that many Fast and Furious fans were thinking. Basically, the action sequences take center stage and are in “full throttle” in F9, with Lin getting right into it within the first five minutes of the movie. Lin keeps a lot of the crazy action momentum going throughout the entire film. Although the film does drag a bit in the middle act (more on that below). Suffice to say, Lin at the helm is a good choice and keeps F9 on a wild ride of fast facing and furious action galore. Thus, the expectation is well-met and is clearly designed for the fans out there of the series. In short, if you weren’t on-board with how the past three Fast and Furious movies are built / structured…. then you won’t particularly like F9. That being said, why would a non-fan of the series be watching F9 anyway.

In addition, Lin has made the Fast and Furious (since his involvement) projected in broad strokes with large-than-life action stunts and thrills, but also in larger-than-life characters, finding many of its heroes (and its villains) to be noticeably big, bold, and theatrically amusing within the feature’s context. Because of this, the main players of the film (i.e., Dom’s team) take center stage once again, with each one bringing their inane nuances to the proceedings. In addition, this brings up the idea of the film’s story, with F9 shifting its focus slightly back on to Toretto’s past, especially with his estranged brother Jakob and their father. I think it’s interesting as we (the viewers) get to see more into Toretto’s past (something of which that was hinted at in the first Fast and Furious movie). Because of this, there is a larger focus on the film’s narrative on both Toretto and Jakob as the two brothers battle against their own personal demons. Naturally, this goes back to the traditional theme of which the Fast and Furious franchise is known for: family. Yes, it’s been a driving force since the beginning and has become a parody / meme, but its literally has become the main moral “bread and butter” of the franchise; driving the narrative forward through many of the film’s plot point narrative beats for much of the series, especially the mantra of “family” of those that we are born into and ones that we make. Lin homes in on that notion with the movie and continues that on-going trend; hitting the right notes of family, especially with Dom and Jakob’s relationship as well as the entire close-knit family ties of “Dom’s team”. In addition to that, Lin continues to have the film have plenty of broad humor strokes throughout the film that cut the action intension quite well. It’s all a bit cheesy in that sort of big, dumb, fun motif, but that’s what I like about the series. Overall, I felt that Lin’s return to the franchise is good and makes F9 another solid addition to the franchise.

Much like the overall bravado and tone of the film, the presentation of F9 is what one would expect from a studio’s big tentpole and has a certain type of high blockbuster quality throughout. Much like the previous entries, F9 takes its narrative across the globe and to various locations throughout the story, which adds a wide variety of locales for the characters to visit and run around in. This is something that I expected to see in the latest Fast and Furious series, and I was disappointed in that regard as I quite enjoyed the globe-trotting adventure format as each area gives the narrative new place to see / visit with the change of scenery. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes team” such as Jane Roelfs (production designs), Lucy Eyre and Brana Rosenfeld (set decorations), and Sanja Milkovic Hays (costume designs) for their efforts in bringing this film’s visual background setting world to life.

Plus, the action scenes are still quite good. As I stated above, there all quite “over-the-top” and ridiculous in nature, but that’s kind of action escapism that many fans crave for and F9’s workings of the action sequences deliver on that front…. both physically and computer-generated visual moments. So, the film’s various stunt team (drivers, characters, and pyrotechnics, etc.) should be commended for their efforts in making the film’s action scenes visually appealing as well as totally cinematically bonkers. Also, the cinematography work by Stephen F. Windon helps build on the cinematic “look and feel” of F9 with some slick camera work and lightening in the film. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Brian Tyler (who composed many of the Fast and Furious movies), returns to delivering a successful and rousing musical composition for F9. Tyler’s knowledge of the franchise plays a key role and gives the movie the necessary “punch” (musically speaking) for all the right scenes….be it adrenaline action sequences or dialogue driven moments.

While I do like the movie (as a whole), there are some criticisms that I do have with F9 that hold the action-packed feature back from reaching Fast and Furious greatness as one of the “best” in the franchise. Well, for starters, the movie is probably one of the weakest entries since the franchise has been “revamped” into more ridiculous action thrills (i.e., since Fast Five). That is not to say that the movie is full of what the series is known for, including big blockbuster entertaining, but when comparing the other past Fast and Furious films (the past 4 features), F9 is the least strong. Why? Well…. oddly enough…. the story does not seem that strong. I know, I know…. many don’t go into watching the Fast and Furious movies for a strong narrative and I wasn’t expecting something big “Oscar worthy” script / screenplay for the movie anyways. That being said, what’s presented seems a little less than what is called for. Sure, the narrative story of exploring Dom’s past and his relationship with brother Jakob is quite interesting for the Toretto in general. However, the rest of the plot seems a bit undercooked. I definitely get where the story was going, but it doesn’t have that extra “bite” and substance within its context…as if something is missing. In fact, with The Fate of the Furious being the start of one trilogy in the series (with the two-part endeavor of Fast and Furious 10 concluding it), F9 struggles with the classic “middle trilogy” complex; neither really beginning nor ending properly.

Part of the problem with this also stems from the actually writing for the feature’ script. Penned by Lin as well as Daniel Casey and Alfredo Botello, the script for F9 is a bit “meh”, which (again) I do understand that I wasn’t expecting anything grand or well-thought out but was expecting something more that what was presented. In truth, of the past several Fast and Furious movies (i.e., Fast Five and onward), I think that F9 has the weakest story. Yes, there is a lot going on, but that’s kind of the illusion of the feature’s script and its kind of easy to see (when you read between the lines) of how much there isn’t much substance. Part of the problem lies with a large focus on Toretto’s past and how the narrative in the present sort of takes a backseat. Plus, the script is kind of messy in various parts, especially with so many narrative threads going this way and that with surprise revelations around each corner. Yes, it helps build tension and build for where everything comes together, but I think it could’ve been handled better in the script department. The drive for action and over-the-top mayhem that ensues has almost become tradition for the franchise, but the storytelling elements in F9 (for better or worse) are a bit underwhelming; lacking substance in a few crucial areas that could’ve been strengthened for a better blockbuster endeavor.  Another problem that I had with the film was in several parts of Lin’s direction, especially when several sequences have characters have a shock look on their face in revealing a particular revelation / twist. It’s good to utilizes this technique once or twice, but Lin over uses it and overstays its welcome; becoming slightly annoying whenever used.

What helps overcome those problems is the cast of F9, which enlists a lot of returning acting talents from the previous Fast and Furious movies as well as several new ones. Naturally, leading the charge in the movie once again is actor Vin Diesel as franchise protagonist hero of Dominic Toretto. Known for his roles in XXX, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Pitch Black, has definitely made a name for himself and has displayed his action chops in various roles, including lead roles. However, Diesel is more widely known for being one of the main players in the Fast and Furious franchise; becoming more of the central lead character after the passing of former co-star of Paul Walker. F9 continues that trend by placing Diesel’s Dom front and center for the large story of feature, showcasing his rocky relationship with his brother Jakob and exploring more of Dom’s past via flashback sequences. For his part, Diesel is great and returns to playing Dom with great ease; demonstrating the larger-than-life attitude that Toretto is known for. As a veteran of the franchise, Diesel known how to play the character (bold, heroic, and a bit cheesy) and does so masterfully in this film. Overall, I’ve always liked Diesel as Toretto and F9 continues that notion. As a sidenote, I do have to say that actor Vinnie Bennett (Good Grief and The Gulf) does a great job as the younger version of Dom. He definitely nails Diesel’s voice perfectly.

Behind Diesel, there are other returning Fast and Furious main supporting characters that return in F9 and feel just as funny and great to see when they first appeared. Of course, the movie has two big returning characters come back into the fold (as seeing in the film’s promos / trailers marketing campaign), with characters of Mia Toretto, who is played by actress Jordana Brewster (Lethal Weapon and Annapolis) and Han, who is played by Sung Kang (Bullet to the Head and Power). Of course, Brewster’s Mia hasn’t been seeing since Furious 7 and was more sidelined in several of the movies since Fast Five. Thus, it was a somewhat of a pleasure to see her take more of a active role in F9’s story; participating for large parts of the narrative and becoming more prevalent on Dom’s team rather than just a large cameo / supporting piece. Likewise, Kang’s Han is a welcomed sight to return to the main narrative of the Fast and Furious series, especially since he was supposed to be dead. How it’s revealed of what actually happened is a big wonky and could’ve been better handled, but I love that Han is back.

The other returning players of Dom’s team, including actor Tyrese Gibson (Transformers and Death Race) as the loudmouth comedic Roman Pearce, rapper / actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Crash and RocknRolla) as tech savant Tej Parker, actress Nathalie Emmanuel (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials and Game of Thrones) as tech guru Ramsey, and actress Michelle Rodriguez (Lost and Avatar) as Dom’s love interest / tough badass Letty Ortiz, fill in the gaps as the veterans of the franchise that help populate the remaining main hero players in F9. Persona-wise, these characters are pretty much the same as when we last saw them in The Fate of the Furious as elements that help bolster the film with their inane quirks and talent, but I expected this and loved it. Plus, all the returning acting talents easily slide back into their Fast and Furious roles to perfection. Thus, I was happy to see all of them return.

In the antagonist category, the best one of the grouping in F9 would have to be the character Jakob Toretto, Dom’s estranged brother, who is played by former wrestler / actor John Cena. Known for his roles such as The Marine, Blockers, and Bumblebee, has certainly made a name for himself in Hollywood these past several years; appearing (both in major and minor roles) in various movies and bringing that larger-than-life bravado and great timing in delivering dialogue that other pro wrestlers turned actors (i.e., Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dave Bautista) are known for. Thus, given that background, it was almost a forgone conclusion that Cena would eventually be a part of the Fast and Furious series and he easily fits right in with the rest of the cast. Like Diesel, Cena knowns what is called upon for this role and chews through his dialogue with little effort; making the character of Jakob (like the franchise itself) over-the-top and a bit cheesy with his “tough as nails” masculine physique and bravado. It definitely works for what F9 needs and Cena seems to relish it. Although, the projected path that F9’s story has in-store for Jakob (without spoiling it for viewers out there) is quite predictable and plays out how one would imagine it going. Thus, there really isn’t that much surprise in what Jakob’s journey in the film. Regardless, I thought that Cena was great in the movie and felt like a welcomed addition to the Fast and Furious franchise. As a sidenote, I have to that actor Finn Cole (Animal Kingdom and Peaky Blinders) does a good job as the younger version of Jakob.

The other two villains in F9 are a bit underwhelming and could’ve been handled better in the script department (again, what I mentioned above about the film being the weakness entry of late in the series). Of course, I’m talking about Cipher, the criminal mastermind and cyberterrorist, and Otto, Jakob’s wealthy co-partner who invest his family’s money into his nefarious endeavors. Cipher, who was the main antagonist in The Fate of the Furious and who is once again reprised by actress Charlize Theron (Monster and Mad Max: Fury Road), is a great villain and Theron plays it up with larger-than-life ease; chewing through dialogue when villainous glee. However, she sort of gets sidelined in the movie and ends up being a bit underwhelming, which is quite disappointing as I love Theron and her character of Cipher. Such a bummer. Unfortunately, Otto, who is played by actor Thue Ersted Rasmussen (Ambassadoren and Sunday), is the weakest villain of the three F9 baddies and perhaps the weakest villain of the entire Fast and Furious series. It’s not for a lack of trying on Rasmussen’s talent to make the character something, but the script makes Otto such a bland and uninteresting bad guy.

There are a few more minor cast members in F9, but most of them are surprised cameos from past Fast and Furious movies. So…. I won’t spoil them as they were pretty fun to see throughout the movie.

Lastly, F9 does have a mid-credit Easter egg scene during the end credits sequences. I won’t spoil what it is, but I will say that I did like it and it will be curious to see what lies in store (and a good setup) for Fast and Furious 10.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Dom and his crew are back to save the world from collapse, but Toretto unearths past memories as he must square off against his estranged brother in the movie F9. Director Justin Lin’s latest film sees the director return to the Fast and Furious franchise and puts the same type of high-octane energy and big blockbuster thrills into this movie that feels very much in-line with the past several entries. While the movie feels a bit lacking as one of the weaker installments in the franchise (due to its somewhat half-baked narrative, convoluted plot threads, and generic villains), the film still retains plenty of redeeming qualities, especially with Lin’s nuances of large-scale action, ridiculous moments (that are always a goofy joy to watch in my opinion), several storyline threads into Dom’s past, and a large portion of the cast. Personally, I liked it. As I mentioned, I thought it was one of the weaker Fast and Furious entries of late and could’ve been handled slightly better, especially since it was delayed for quite some time, but the film was still a lot of fun and was a good action adventure for Dom and his team to run around in. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “recommended” one for the Fast and Furious fans out there and maybe a “iffy choice” for non-moviegoers out there. But then again…I don’t think a non-Fast and Furious fan would be interested in seeing the ninth (or tenth if you count Hobbs & Shaw) installment. While it’s known that the series will end with the currently untitled Fast and Furious 10 (as a two-part film endeavor), the road to seeing that upcoming grand finale begins. With the franchise steeped in super over-the-top with blockbuster ridiculousness of suspending disbelief, you know that the conclusion to the series will be totally bonkers. In the end, F9, while neither the best nor the sharpest entry in the Fast and Furious saga, is still very much a fun and entertaining installment; continuing the on-going trend of fast cars, saving the world heroics, larger-than-life personas, and totally mind-blowing levels of WTF moments, in a way that only a Fast and Furious can pull off.

3.9 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)

 

Released On: June 25th, 2021
Reviewed On: July 24th, 2021

F9  is 143 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action and language