Directed By Justin lin
Starring – Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster
The Plot – Cipher (Charlize Theron) enlists the help of Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s (Diesel) younger brother to take revenge on Dom and his team.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and adult language
– Riveting action. Even after nine films spanning nearly twenty years of high octane cinema, “F9” continues to elevate stakes with its combination of high risk stunts and outside of the box concepts that do more than just test the laws of physics along the way. Thrown together with a majority of practical effects and a scintillating sound scheme that deserves to be heard with the most enhanced of sound systems, the series of stunts accommodated in the film rumble and tumble their way through a variety of landscapes, refusing to settle for repetition throughout six different action sequences that give way to some pleasantly earnest spins of creativity. For my money, the best is certainly the one that fans of the series have been speculating and joking about for quite sometime, pulling the trigger on an out of world experience, literally and figuratively, that not only plays towards the scintillating self awareness that Lin and his fans have come to expect in three dimensional escapism, but also in setting the bar of expectations higher than any sequel dare to attempt.
– Colorful characters. At this point, Diesel, Rodriguez, and company could play these roles in their sleep, but what’s most credible to their respective turns is the ample allowance of heart that they unload to the characterization that makes these characters impossible not to invest in. Diesel is already one of the premiere personalities in 21st century action cinema, continuing such here with a tenderness for Dom’s registry that more than accentuates him as just a physical presence, and one whose sentimentality constantly hangs in the rearview mirror of the character’s permeating psychology towards the script’s forefront. Charlize Theron is also having the time of her life as the series’ mysterious antagonist, combining enough intelligence and menace to her portrayal that captivates attention each time she’s on screen. Here she’s given more screen time to further unveil her seedy intentions, all the while reflecting the transformative capabilities in personality that make her one of the more eclectic actresses working today. Finally, the dynamic duo of Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Tyrese was once again my favorite element of the film, supplanting us with a nourishing comic muscle and intoxicating chemistry through their endless banter that earns the biggest dividends towards the movie’s unique tonal consistency that has avoided seriousness.
– Technical mastery. Speaking of tonal consistency, Lin is wise enough as a helming hand to indulge in the matter of the material without it compromising the value of the stakes. He does so not only with the enveloping self awareness that produces many brutal one liners and narration accommodating flashbacks, but also in the persistent importance of the action that he competently comprehends that fans adore. In doing so, he once again hires cinematographer Stephen F. Windon to champion in a barrage of sharply swift camera movements that bottles the urgency and vulnerability of the characters throughout a series of tense and terrifying sequences. The action itself constantly remains in focus and clearly cut throughout its often gravity defining circumstance, and the influence in appeal from the movie’s various foreign settings crafts each of them as a character of their own within the film that is as glossy and influential as our bulletproof heroes.
– Expansive tools. “F9” is the first film in the franchise to shoot primarily on super 35mm film, with Panavision Panaflex cameras, and what that element of production choice means for the integrity of the product is a full circle evolution in presentation for the franchise that has this feeling like the most stylistic installment to date. Wide angle photography involving high speed chases or swift moving physicality are documented with the kind of extensive angles that really play into the elements of the environment, in turn depicting the characters in frame with such a decreasing size that further fleshes out the stakes of the situation. Considering this is a franchise that began initially with the cheap, gritty emphasis of the San Jose valley, shot accordingly on the outdated Arriflex 435, it’s unique to see the art and the setting come full circle with the ideals of bigger is better in the franchise’s evolution. It visualizes a deeper meaning than what we initially interpret with each frame, providing the single biggest instance of positive evolution for a franchise that is constantly reinventing itself.
– Dwindling returns. With an abundance of story and character reveals to play into the movie’s bloated 135 minute run time, it wasn’t so much the pacing of the film that weighed heavily on my overall experience, but rather the execution of divided time that quite often halted momentum and the unraveling of the current day narrative simultaneously. Because of such, a lot of the movie feels like it is being told backwards, primarily with the various flashbacks between Dom and Jakob, that could easily be summarized with a sentence or two of on-the-nose exposition, instead of these five minute freezes that unintentionally halt the production value and the charisma of the characters time and time again. Because of such, the acting in these sequences leave more to be desired on talent alone, and the overall lack of creativity given to a mostly one-stage setting makes each of them feel essentially repetitive with each ensuing one feeling like an unappealing echo of previous insinuations.
– Blandly predictable. Surprisingly, there’s quite a few twists and character revelations in the film that instill warm, fuzzy fan service in the manner of your favorite Marvel superhero movie. What’s not surprising is the twists themselves are played far too closely to the chest, leaving us with very little actual shock value because of spoiling marketing for the film that gave these moments away with such unapologetic remorse. One audience favorite character returns from the dead, but explained in a way that raises more questions than answers. Likewise, the movie’s main plot revolving around Dom and Jakob, and their one-upmanship for which brother will reign supreme, is not only a tired trope of itself with these long-distance movie franchises, but also resolved in a way that proves why none of them were satisfying in previously mentioned franchises. Such a resolution in this film bears more than a striking resemblance to another momentary rival to Dom and the gang in a previous Fast film, especially the casting of these two chiseled antagonists, which couldn’t have been an accident in the slightest.
– John Cena. Considering I have more than showered the public with Cena praises throughout the early part of his inevitably prosperous filmography, I will say that his role here as Jakob is an obvious step back in nearly all angles of its execution. It starts with the monotonously robotic enveloping from John that not only makes the character impossible to register through a one-note emotional registry, but also feels like they took his antagonist from “Bumblebee” and asked him to elevate it to eleven in terms of bravado and physicality. Where that presents a problem to the film is in its tonal structure, specifically where everyone and everything surrounding Jakob is light-hearted and self-aware, made unpleasantly humbling by an antagonist who is easily the weakest of the franchise in terms of compelling characterization. Once you know all of the facts, he’s essentially a big baby whose only motive is the jealousy that he still harbors after decades of plotting revenge, proving a lack of depth in the set up of the film that really wears the gravity of nine films in terms of its creativity.
– Elephant in the room. Much has been made about the movie’s decision to include Paul Walker’s Brian into the film, even without any additional footage prior to his untimely death to include into the film. For my money, I’m fine with a production keeping a character alive for a happy ending, but his involvement here does create some unforeseen problems that definitely prove the air of ambiguity would’ve been better served in the finality of his character. For one, Brian’s on-screen wife, Mia, played by Jordana Brewster, is very much involved in the mission of Dom and his friends to once again save the world and sweat adrenaline along the way. So where is Brian? Well, the movie drops a couple of lines describing why he’s not there, but considering his wife’s life, and the lives of his closest friends turned family are at stake, it’s probably the hardest pill to swallow in a movie with literally dozens of gravity and logic leaps in its material. Then there’s the final scene, which not only feels like pandering fan service to send audiences home on a feel-good finish, but also dramatically undercuts its landing in setting up for the final film of this lengthy franchise. I wish the last impression or mention of Walker was in the emotional tribute given to him during “Fast 7”. Adding him here only reeks of shameful desperation, and one that is compromising to the ideals previously established about his character.
– Convoluted plot. Aside from the conflict itself feeling like a recycled hodgepodge from previous fast films, the lack of story and distracting focus for the movie’s narrative made this feel difficult to invest myself in, especially considering the randomness of some of its inclusions. “F9” was written by four different writers, and that element alone especially shows when you consider that for much of the movie’s first half we are introduced and followed through on this brotherly narrative that at least initially feels like it’s setting the stage for most of what’s to come. Unfortunately from there, the movie chooses to include the return of one of its fan favorites, sifting through a backstory and series of reveals that not only add nothing to this particular narrative, but further blur the magnetism of the screenplay for what was necessary. This arc, while nice as a character I’ve always appreciated, is completely unnecessary in the context of this brotherly war, and when thrown together with the fleshing out of each character, the arc of Theron’s Cipher making moves in the shadows, and the brotherly rivalry, which should be the film’s primary focus, the many cooks in the kitchen dulled down the appeal of this dish, giving us a series of ideas that don’t stir particularly well with one another.
– Soulless. Some of the previous installments, particularly “Fast 7” resonated a buffet of feelings and emotions to its story that not only redefined the stakes by fleshing out the humanity of its characters, but also elevated the material by sharing a connection to its fanbase that felt earned and appreciated in context. The same can’t be said for “F9”, however, a film that entirely feels like it’s going through the motions while scraping the bottom of the barrel for late stage creativity, in order to supplant any semblance of originality to the franchise. Aside from the evidential missing heart from the spectrum, there’s an overwhelming void from the resolution of the film, leaving it feeling inconsequential when compared to the indisputable permanence that the previous films ushered in with some echoing resolutions in the movie’s three act diameter.
My Grade: 4/10 or D-