REVIEW: ‘F9’ Struggles To Blend Familia and Spectacle

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F9 the Furious Saga

Fast cars, furious explosions, funny quips, and family are the true marker of any Fast & Furious film.  For 20 years, moviegoers have watched Dom Toretto and the Family go from expert criminals high-jacking semi-trucks in California to international super spies outrunning submarines in Russia. As the stunts and set pieces got more and more ridiculous, each installment in the series maintained the importance of family. But after nine movies, where is the line for too much for the self-aware Fast franchiseF9 the Fast Saga  (F9) tries to answer that very question and more as the world needs our heroes for one last ride for the sake of family….again.

F9 follows a similar format to its more recent predecessors. Members of the Family are separately living their lives peacefully following their past crusade. A villain makes an appearance and shakes up the world. The Family comes back together as the only one to stop the villain (or hidden villain) from achieving the dreams of world domination. In the end, our heroes are victorious eating around a table at a BBQ. That much is known going into almost any installment, but it is the journey, no matter how ridiculous, to get invited to that BBQ is the true charm of the films.  The roller coaster ride it takes to get there in F9 is a doozy for sure as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and the Family has to contend with his long-lost brother, Jacob Toretto (John Cena).

To unravel the mind-boggling notion that a character played by Vin Diesel and John Cena are related at this point in the franchise, F9 uses flashbacks to paint the picture more and more as the film progresses. Vinnie Bennet (The New Romantic) plays a young Dom and Finn Cole (Peaky Blinders) plays a young Jacob as we watch the rift between the brothers grow. Surprisingly, I thought these sequences are done very well and a highlight of the film. In fact, the film’s opening sequence might be one of my favorites by taking viewers back to the events of Dom’s father’s death on the race track. Similar to Furious 7 and Fate of the Furious, I expected F9 to lure viewers in the expectation of spectacle and surprise them with a heartfelt story. In a valiant effort, they almost succeed. Unfortunately, the balance between spectacle and storytelling is overshadowed by an almost too meta-level of self-awareness.

Justin Lin, who previously has directed four of the ten Fast & Furious films, makes his return as director to the Fast Franchise and he brought all of the tricks out to wow moviegoers with all of the fantastical stunts you could shake a gear shift at.  This works to both the film’s advantage and disadvantage. The advantage is that Lin attempts to one-up his stunts in Furious 7 that while were aided with CGI, were stunts with practical effects in mind. Many of the car chases you can come to expect from the franchise are present with plenty of stunts you can tell clearly took planning and skill to execute. However, Lin perhaps takes this challenge too seriously.

The action step pieces roll one right after another as the stunts get bigger and bigger. Normally, this isn’t an issue. Recent installments of the franchise have three or four major actions set pieces in between various character moments to help get us to the BBQ table. F9 goes a bit overboard at times, even for me. Not in the scale of the stunts but the sheer number of them.  As flashbacks are injected and the family comes together bringing back characters like Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), Han Lue (Sung Kang), and Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) to name a few, viewers do not get a chance to appreciate those character moments of 20 years of story. Before you can take a breath, the next action sequence is rolling to self-aware showcase how immortal our heroes are. At this point in the franchise, we know. That’s why we are here. Despite that fact, the film uses these moments to have Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) remind us of that fact throughout as he and the other side characters accomplish feats beyond their scopes in previous films. 

As self-proclaimed ride or die for Fast & Furious, the charm of this franchise, especially after Fast Five, has been the large ensemble cast playing off each other as a found family is fostered and grown through their escapades and quips. Through much F9, the family is separated on different missions which leave many of the quips and character moments to happen only between two or three characters at a time. I am not sure if this is a product of the success of something like Hobbs and Shaw and their buddy cop format, but I would be lying if I didn’t miss having Dwayne Johnson and Paul Walker and what their characters brought to the cast as a balance for the different personalities. Coupled with the overuse of action sequences that undercut those wholesome moments, I couldn’t help wanting to watch one of the other Fast & Furious films to capture that magic.

Going into F9, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hadn’t watch either of the trailers and only knew that Sung Yang and John Cena would make appearances. However, after viewing both the initial trailer and the second trailer released last month, it is pretty clear that they are two different movies jammed into one in F9. The first trailer gave an intriguing potential plot with Jacob Toretto and even the return of Han with sprinkles of what was to come by the way of spectacle.

While the second trailer was firmly showcased essentially every single action set piece that would be in the movie with a sprinkle of family drama. At times, F9 fulfills both these promises but neither with same the success of the past. The number of stunts and along with the overuse of CGI as they got bigger and bigger made them feel while entertaining to experience on the big screen, cheapened by the third act. As a consequence, the character moments are also cheapened by not given room to exist in their own wholesomeness or drama.

Ultimately, F9 suffers from attempting to both pay homage to the past growth of the Family over the past 20 years while still catering to the ridiculousness that viewers can come to expect. As a tenth movie is all but inevitable given an after-credit scene and previous reports from Universal, I can’t help but think that F9 could have just been spit into the final two installments. F9 being the return of the Family back together to play out Han’s return and Mia’s involvement without Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) being present. Then having the tenth movie introducing Jacob Toretto to go out with a bang. Instead, we get F9 which falls short in fitting all it tries to accomplish even with its over two-and-a-half-hour run time.

In all, F9 is one or two too many explosions and one or two too many quips away from achieving its goal of as an action flick with an intriguing plotline and stalls out as an overly self-aware stunt fest with a storyline you wish you had more time with.

F9 the Fast Saga is available in theaters nationwide on June 25, 2021.

 

F9 the Furious Saga
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

In all, F9 is one or two too many explosions and one or two too many quips away from achieving its goal of as an action flick with an intriguing plotline and stalls out as an overly self-aware stunt fest with a storyline you wish you had more time with.