Sunday, May 26, 2024

Movie Review: ‘F9: The Fast Saga’ is Another Ridiculously Entertaining Installment in the Franchise


Director: Justin Lin
Writers: Daniel Casey, Justin Lin
Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Charlize Theron

Synopsis: Cipher enlists the help of Jakob, Dom’s younger brother to take revenge on Dom and his team.

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I got into the Fast and the Furious Series last year, at the start of the pandemic. Like many others, I had an influx of free time and didn’t know how to use it all. But I was optimistic that the lockdown wouldn’t last long, so I went to work watching this dumb, crazy series.

A year later, and these films have made me become an avid fan of the franchise. It’s not high cinema, and it doesn’t aim very high as a franchise. But there’s a beauty in simplicity, in watching a series redefine what it is five movies in, and in bringing together a group of rugged outlaw racers to become one family. The Fast and Furious franchise is insane in all the best ways. The films aren’t really that good, but I love them all the same.

Going into F9, I had expectations that it would be a Fast and Furious movie, with impossible action sequences, an insane plot, and a fun globe-trotting adventure that wasn’t all that great. And it didn’t meet these expectations at all. It shattered them.

Following a surprise attack on Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russel) private plane, Dom (Vin Diesel) and the crew all shift into first gear to reclaim and protect a high-tech weapon from the recently escaped Cypher (Charlize Theron). But when Jakob Toretto (Jon Cena), Dom’s outcasted brother, intercepts the weapon, it’s an all-out race to save the world.

F9: The Fast Saga is the weirdest Fast and Furious movie. From a structural standpoint, the film is verisimilitudinous to the series. While the plot has some contrivances throughout, and while the secondary villain, Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), has little screen time to develop, these aren’t unusual for this kind of story. And uniquely, this film utilizes flashbacks to tell the story of Dom and Jakob from two different perspectives, which works very well. In having multiple perspectives, it deepens the themes of the film and series effectively. No longer are we merely hearing how people have been framed, as has been the norm for the past 2 films, but rather, we watch them process unjust events acting out with misplaced anger. These core choices make this film the most engaging film yet, before the amazing action sequences. And yet, F9 feels tonally imbalanced. It doesn’t feel like a fast and furious movie. Instead, it leans closer to Uncharted 4, being more serious and introspective, in large part due to the character beats of the story, thanks to the return of director Justin Lin.

Justin Lin is back for the first time since Fast and Furious 6, and his love and care for these characters shines through the film in every way. From the return of fan-favorite characters Mia (Jordanna Brewster) and Han (Sung Kang) to the delicate handling of Brian, this film is both fan service and a love letter to these characters. I was floored by the character development in F9, due in large part to the smaller discussions between supporting characters in the film. Although this is largely Dom and Jakob’s story, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is given a fair amount of development thanks to Mia’s involvement. There are sequences here that rely solely on visual storytelling and subtext to convey how characters feel about their current situations. And while this isn’t a new technique, it’s so well utilized in this film that it feels completely different from the recent entries in the series.

And it’s this difference in tone that captures the oddity of F9. While it stands out against other entries, it also creates a tonal dissonance for the comedic elements of this film. Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are once more delegated to roles of comedic relief, with their banter, pranks, and mishaps all captured for our entertainment. And unlike Hobbs and Shaw, the comedy isn’t one-note. There are a variety of gags throughout the film, from witty teasing to nearly fourth-wall-breaking meta humor. These gags work very well, but they also clash with the serious tone of the rest of the movie.

But asides from this tonal whiplash and its under-developed villain, F9 is the strongest entry in the franchise. It has the best action so far, with insane, jaw-dropping set pieces that defy the laws of physics in a purely enjoyable and cinematic way. From the car chases to the hand-to-hand combat, F9 is a dance that goes faster and faster, until it all explodes in moments of catharsis. The additions of Vinnie Bennet, Finn Cole, Jon Cena and Anna Sawai to the cast works fantastically, grounding the film with an emotional vulnerability for the various flashback sequences and the present-day tensions.

As a theatre-going experience, I can’t recommend F9: The Fast Saga enough. It may not win awards, and it may not be the most defining film of the year, but as a continuation to the most bonkers, original, and diverse franchise currently in Hollywood, it’s a fantastic experience and a riot with friends. Just make sure to stay safe out in the theatres.

Grade: B+

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