Director: Justin Lin
Notable Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Nathalie Emmanuel, Thue Ested Rasmussen, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Anna Sawai, Kurt Russell, Lucas Black, Shad Moss
Also known as: F9: The Fast Saga
While one could argue the diminishing returns in quality of the Fast & Furious & Franchise continues to plague newer entries, there is something special in how much F9 tries to rectify so much of the misfiring that happened in Fate of the Furious. Even the soap opera-inspired long-lost brother plot or the return of Han (Justice is served, nerds) are addressed in a way that says "we know, we botched a lot of the family stuff in the last one, but we're trying harder now." The intent is amicable, if not flawed in its own right.
Still, despite more effort there, F9 struggles to find the balance that made the middle trilogy (4,5, and 6) so impactful. Spending a bit more time grounding the film in flashbacks to Dom (Vin Diesel) and Jake's (John Cena) youth surrounding their father is a nice reminder of where the series came from, even if the rest of the film - super armored semi-truck finale included - feels far from it. If family is still the heart of what Lin and company are aiming for here, there's just enough to appease the longtime fans, but it's not as well-crafted to ground rocket cars, physics insulting super magnets, and whatever the hell Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) do in the third act. Spoilers not included. Oh and Han (Sung Kang) is back and he gets his own flashback to answer questions that, quite frankly, is a spin-off film I would have liked to see even more than F9. Did I mention that Justice was served? More Justice please.
Justin Lin's return to the franchise he kicked NOS into is directed far above its paygrade and his knack for key visuals, incredibly well choreographed action, and bold swings make for an entertaining film at least. He misses out on using Martyn Ford in a manner befitting the giant muscle, but Cena is used well as a villain - who's obviously on his way to joining the team which is suffering from the lacking energetic wake left by the departing Dwayne Johnson and/or Statham. Low key though, the best performance comes from an increasingly layered and dynamic Michelle Rodriguez to balance out the sheer scene-stealing charisma of Charlize Theron.
The action is truly the reason to continue supporting this series and F9 does not let down. Within minutes of the green light, parts of the team (**cough Family cough**) are together and globetrotting to discover McGuffin #4, a space doodad that something something Skynet, while dodging landmines and foreign military in the process. The action and car stunts are once again jaw-dropping, executed in a way that has no qualms with just making its audience fist pump in their chairs in triumphant victory with the heroes. Like the 80s era of action cinema, one can set their watch to the point that our unlikely crew will win the day, but Lin surely makes it a riot to get there with the sheer audacity of his stunt work and clear visual mayhem. Even the longest and most obviously not sneaky zip line escape of all time can’t deter from the sheer fun one is apt to have in the action.
All in all, F9 represents exactly what audiences seem to be craving in the recently reopened theatrical film market of 2021: pure, unbridled escapism. It's silly, large in scope, intimate in characters, and wholly irresponsible for the collateral damage to integral urban and natural infrastructure. As a longtime fan of the franchise, it could use a tighter script and not feel so upfront with its heartstring tugging or fan service, but it delivers on the expectations. Better than Fate, but hardly upper echelon compared to others.
If anything, I want a Hobbs & Shaw & Han film next, prior to Fast X Furious.