Few franchises have the unlikely twists and turns of “The Fast and the Furious“Series. In the years that followed, what began as a cheap summer programmer took many forms, transforming from a”Point break“Cops-versus-criminals in style cavort into an international, multi-faceted espionage franchise and have become the most successful franchise in the history of Universal Studios. It’s a franchise that, unbelievably, has survived dramatic changes in creative leadership, the tragic death of one of its leading characters, and conflicting egos (rather than breaking the series apart, the rift resulted in an entertaining spin-off). Now, after a COVID-prescribed postponement of over a year, the ninth tranche with the simple title “F9“(The franchise’s blatant disregard for standardized naming conventions is admirable) faces a challenge none of the other entries had to face – convincing moviegoers to return to theaters after more than a year of being coupled at home. With the hugely entertaining “F9” combined with its range of oversized action set pieces that would feel neutered at home, this latest installment to “Fast & Furious” really does justice to that opportunity in a way you might not able to imagine.
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“F9” follows the events of the 2017 “The fate of the angry“(And in a more tangential sense 2019’s”Hobbs and Shaw“) – Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) performs with his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and son Brian. (He doesn’t even own a phone.) But a desperate 911 broadcast from an old friend leads Dominic and Letty to rejoin their old crew (including Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” bridges, and Nathalie Emmanuel) for yet another global adventure in which the team tries to prevent a science fiction tech doodad from falling into the hands of a power hungry madman. Since this is, of course, “The Fast and the Furious,” a franchise largely defined by its single-minded focus on the concept of family and its willingness to unleash telenovela-style ridiculous twists and turns, the aforementioned power-hungry madman is none other than Dom’s estranged brother Jakob (John Cena). Indeed, this revelation will test the togetherness of the makeshift family like never before. “F9” sees the return of many familiar faces and the introduction of some new ones. While it tells a self-contained story, it also leaves the possibility of future sequels open (sometime last fall, Universal announced that the eleventh Film would be the end of the saga).
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Far from being a more conventional entry into the series, “F9” mixes up the formula in a playful and probably profound way. director Justin Linwho combines the elasticity of the franchise with the wonderful “American graffiti“-esque”The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift“Returns for the first time since 2013”Fast & Furious 6. “From the very first moments it becomes clear how much Lin these films mean and how much he understands what makes them successful. (Plus how much better they are when he’s at the helm.) This is a filmmaker who knows what beats to hit and yet maintains a level of fearlessness, ready to push the boundaries and the scope of the film to expand.
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One of the biggest examples of this relatively “experimental” streak is that the film comes with a number of significant flashbacks into Dom and Jakob’s pasts, starting with a cold open set in the late 1980s. At first glance, these sequences seem unnecessary at best and, at worst, actively deviating from the main narrative direction of the film. (In the last nine films, ten if you count the spin-off, the mythology has gotten more complex and at times tangled.) But as the film progresses, these sequences serve to deepen our understanding of the characters and add some much-needed ones emotional weight. One of these scenes even answers a lasting question from the very first movie (and the answer isn’t a total disappointment). It is not exactly “The Godfather, Part II“, But this structure allows for more nuances and textures than you expect. (The return of a fan-favorite character who is teased in the trailers also makes for an unexpected lump-in-throat moment.) These films are built to be Thrillbut when they make you Feeling, it’s even better.
The other element that really feels new is the cheeky confidence of “F9”. Lin is clearly a filmmaker who reads the comments and checks Twitter. He also has an innate understanding of the audience and when something might be also outrageous. At least two moments in the film seem straight out of the forum’s fan fiction (the aforementioned return of a long-lost character and a plot point during the climax). And that sounds derogatory, but it isn’t. Lin does this shit to sing. It’s never offensive or breaking the fourth wall. There’s also a hilarious running gag between Bridges and Gibson about how invincible the characters are, given the many insane situations they’ve been in (and more discarded jokes about the importance of physics, an area of science that historically, the franchise showed little consideration). There’s a kind of elemental thrill these moments bring, so giving away a little more would take away some of that excitement from the experience. And the family doesn’t do that to the family.
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Even more wondrous is that these two directives – to deepen the show’s humanity (relatively, of course) while recognizing its inherent silliness – coexist comfortably. Given that much of the film is inherently absurd, this is no easy task.
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At 145 minutes, “F9” is definitely too long, and while Lin can masterfully stage a massive set of action pieces when those set pieces include vehicle mayhem, he’s a bit shakier when it comes to hand-to-hand combat (sometimes literally; that.) Nervous camera work have to go). But it’s hard to argue with too many decisions, considering what an inconsistently entertaining and satisfying post it really is. This is a movie full of (maybe crowded) moments that will make you gasp, giggle, and applause, whether this is your first “Fast and Furious” movie or you are a longtime fan. (And, yes, some of those responses are no doubt heightened by the fact that it’s exhilarating to be back in a movie theater with such an undeniably rousing film.) When the movie hits its demonstrably insane climax, it’s by far the most popular – broke and visceral since the Rio attack in “Fast five“,” F9 “has moved into the roller coaster area of the theme park. And you probably have your hands in the air, your voice is hoarse from laughing and screaming. Really, what more do you want from your first visit to the theater in more than a year? [B+]