After a few delays (like everything) in 2020, the ninth entry in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is coming to theaters this weekend, now referred to as “F9: The Fast Saga”. It’s been a quiet year and a half at the theaters so it’s nice to see bigger films returning to the silver screen and with all the over-the-top spectacle, and enough international locations to fill several life-times of travel plans, the “Fast & Furious” flicks are among the biggest. Now, I will admit I didn’t have much excitement for seeing this movie. I wasn’t a huge fan of “Fate” and despite the endearingly heartfelt sendoff of Walker’s character in “Furious 7” my enthusiasm for this franchise has been dwindling.
Not because of the wildly absurd action set-pieces. Those are guilty pleasure treats of visual overload that I love and make me feel like a kid again. These sequences of ridiculous stunts and special-effects are essentially why people want to go to the theater with the huge screen, surround sound, and a tub of popcorn. For me, it’s been the increasingly cringy self-seriousness of the dramatic plot-lines, in particular from Diesel’s recent outings as Toretto. I loved this character in the first movie and much to my surprise it was nice to see some of the spirit back in Dom to replace a lot of the sulking and doom and gloom of a character that used to be cool. In “F9” he’s as close to that persona as he has been in a long time, and it brought the overall tone of the film up considerably. Something I think certainly came from Justin Lin who just knows how to build the right atmosphere to complement this world instead of clashing with it.
Much of the self-seriousness (but not all) was dialed down and the charming self-awareness was dialed up. Which much to my surprise was able to reinvigorate my excitement for the insanity of this franchise. This movie just felt like it had more energy and without Johnson as the catchphrase dispensing Hobbs cluttering the story, more time is spent with the core group of characters, and it just felt a lot closer to the appealing and equally charismatic tone of the earlier films.
That isn’t to say this plot-line isn’t a mess because it is. However, these movies aren’t designed to be think pieces with big-scale action like “Tenet” or one of the “Mission: Impossible” flicks. This franchise has drifted past hyper-reality and into fantasy long ago and when playing in that genre things change. In the world of fantasy Hobbits are real, the snap of a finger can eliminate half the world’s population, and Dominic Toretto and his ‘family’ can accomplish superhuman feats and launch cars into space. It’s meant to be ridiculous. It’s meant to push the envelope and “F9” was delightfully nonsensical through all of it.
The story is a mashup of all the conventional tropes but it’s enough to fill in the gaps between a barrage of insane set-pieces that will have you laughing at the movie and with the movie. All the while being dazzled by cars swinging from bridges, chase sequences both in cars (of course) and on foot, fight scenes, magnets doing all kinds of things illogically large magnets can do to cars and so much more. It delivers explosions, harrowing close calls, and all of it is as unconditionally enjoyable as it is rationally ludicrous. I went into this movie not expecting to enjoy it much at all, and I walked out with a smile on my face from all the wildly insane action and cheesy family drama I had just witnessed.
I’ll also admit that I felt the entire concept of John Cena in this movie was a joke (not literally). When I first saw him in the trailer the eye-rolled was so hard I think I got a small headache. But a guy must admit when he was wrong, and I was here because (shockingly), I loved how Cena’s character was brought into this film and how his backdrop expanded on the smaller nuances that this entire world is built on. Cena was solid in the role despite being oddly cast and overly stiff. Yet it was the foundation of him in this story that I had a great time with, over his performance. And I think it turned out to be the most complete, and grounded story layer in this movie.
So yeah, I would highly recommend checking this one out. It was much better than expected. I will say not all of it works. Some of the dialogue is a little clunky, and not all the attempts at humor land. It’s also twenty-minutes longer than needed, but at the same time it fills most of that with crazy adrenaline-pumping action. It also works in nostalgia and the themes of fatherhood without getting too heavy-handed. It manages to up the ante even more and I can appreciate that. I’m actually back to feeling excited about what a tenth movie can do because no matter how much I want to quit this franchise, I’ll be damned if these characters don’t keep pulling me back in.
Anthony J. Digioia II - SilverScreen Analysis © All Rights Reserved.