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And The Valley Screens: F9

The title of this movie is really ‘F9’



Movie theaters are open again, and after sitting in the can for more than a year, one of 2020’s most anticipated releases is finally here. F9? Fast 9? It’s the ninth Fast & Furious movie, you know what it is.

If you haven’t seen a Fast movie, there’s no point in seeing this movie or reading this review. Walking into F9 blind is like watching Infinity War or the final episode of Lost. It was never intended to be viewed in this way. That’s why this review will be written from the perspective of comparing F9 to the other movies in the saga, not a ‘should you see it’ type deal. If you haven't seen the Fast movies you probably won’t be watching this, but if you have seen them you’re gonna see this. Pretty simple!

Because most people who intend to see F9 probably already have, we’ll stick to quick basic thoughts from ATVS’ primary Fast Fans.

Evan’s Take: I probably enjoyed F9 more than most. Maybe my opinion was inflated by being back in a theater or seeing a new entry for the first time in four years, but I had a blast. Justin Lin’s return to the director’s chair was palpable as the action scenes felt more imaginative and fresh compared to last entries. And let’s be real, these movies are basically judged on how good the action scenes are.

After 7 and 8 attempted to have set pieces bigger than ever before, F9’s felt more clever than recent entries. Obviously the magnet gimmick is most of this, but it’s used in multiple interesting ways throughout the story and in different locations.

This is definitely one of the weaker plots in the series, but it’s a least simple. I much prefer this to 8’s convoluted faux-betrayal conflict. But the biggest miss here is not giving Cena more to work with. He is a good actor. But much like Charlize Theron, there’s just not much for him to do with this basic character except scowl and look tough. Future entries surely have more in store for him though.

The two most surprising performances come from Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole, who portray young versions of the Toretto brothers. There were more flashbacks than I expected (and were probably necessary) but the newcomers were convincing enough to make up for the egregious height disparities.

As for Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris and Tyrese? They’re still playing themselves. It’s what we’ve come to expect at this point and it’s fine.

Having rewatched the whole series over the past month, I felt 9 had some pretty decent pacing save for one flashback too many. Most setups had payoffs and there wasn’t a ton of filler. I’ll probably feel different upon the next viewing, but I was never squirming in my seat waiting to move on to the next scene.

Overall, it’s Fast & Furious 9. It’s exactly what you expect it to be. And I had a damn good time watching it.

PodKATT’s Take:

F9 is at once both the next “How high can we make these stakes?” entry in the best action movie franchise going, and a story about family that still hasn’t really found it’s way after the loss-but-not-really of one of it’s core members.

Right off the top it has to be praised: If you’re just here for the action, F9 continues a legacy of delivering that in spades. Driving, racing, well executed physical combat, and cars-as-superheroes set pieces continue to push the boundaries of the believable to the ragged edge. With enough roll cages, magnets, and NOS, you can save the world. And if you maintain it right, a Dodge Charger is invincible. The only question the action in this entry leaves you with is where could they possibly go with the next one.

Or with who could come back. Han’s return (spoiled 2 years ago in the first trailer) is just the tip of the iceburg as far as deep F&F lore cuts that return to the screen. If they’re available, and they’re not The Rock, they’re in this movie and every one will bring joy to series die-hards.

In a series known for it’s bombast and sheer insane over-the-topness, one of the things F9 should be praised for is it’s restraint in a key decision. There are multiple moments of flashbacks in this film with various characters and it would have been so easy for them to try and deep fake CGI a young Vin Diesel and Cena’s (and others I wont spoil) face onto stunt actors, but actually just using different, young actors to play the roles feels remarkably refreshing. De-aging CGI is hard to get right in even the most expensive productions and if they did it here it would have turned into a joke.

Like Evan, I also rewatched the entire series recently (including finally biting the bullet and watching Hobbs & Shaw) and it’s more clear than ever that Paul Walker’s absence is a problem that they still don’t know quite how to handle. Jordana Brewster’s return to the series is welcome but there’s still something missing to the chemistry. And while Brian’s in-cannon continued existence off-screen will surely turn into one of the series’ trademark oddities, they never really lampshade it and there’s clearly a lot of love that’s never going to go away.

One of the reasons for this problem, I think, is that while splitting up the team to go globe-trotting for plot macguffins seems like a good idea on paper, in practice it makes the non-explosion parts of the movie feel disconnected and breaks some of the bonds the ensemble cast has been great at creating in past entries. Everyone is paired off and it feels like they dip off into other movies of this franchise instead of it being a cohesive story.

In the past they had been able to paper over some of these issues through the sheer force of nature that is The Rock. But when it comes to giant wrestlers as action stars, John Cena does not fill those shoes. I dont know if it’s the writing or him just not having the chops for the slimmest of dramatic work (I mean, Shakespeare this aint) but there’s not a star turn for him here.

This is gonna sound weird from a Fast & Furious movie review, but I think the biggest problem isn’t the story they’re trying to tell, but the script they are trying to tell it with. I felt multiple times that these actors were capable of so much more than the lines they were delivering which felt so basic and cliche’d, even for a series with a bar as low as F&F in that department. When Vin Diesel is out-acting the lines in your action movie, you’ve got some serious script issues.

If you’re a series fan or just someone who want to finally go see explosions on a big screen after a year away, I heartily recommend it, but it’s not the best entry in the series. If you want nothing to do with this and think these movies are stupid, I get it, but you should at least go watch Fast Five and get back to me.