Saturday 19 June 2021

F9 (Movie Review)

The ninth main entry in the never-ending Fast Saga, F9 (or Fast & Furious 9), is almost finally here. At least for those of us not living in China and other select Asian territories, where it had made its debut three weeks ago. I was lucky enough to catch an advance screening for the film here in Nigeria, where it is currently set to debut this Friday, along with the US and much of the wider world. 

The film had made the news in the lead up to the summer movie season last year, when it was one of the first major tentpoles to move its release date in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, choosing to jump a full year into 2021. So the question on most fan's lips is undoubtedly whether or not it was worth the additional one-year wait. The answer, I guess, depends on your tolerance for the outlandish and utterly implausible.

In F9, or Fast 9, or whatever you want to call it, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and crew return to do what they do best: drive fast cars while its filmmakers think up increasingly ridiculous ways to outdo themselves. In terms of actual story and plot though, the latest film finds them on yet another high stakes mission that would have them traveling locations around the world in pursuit of yet another villain that seemingly materialized out of nowhere.

Only this time around the villain in question is Jakob (John Cena), Toretto's younger brother, and much of the film is spent exploring the dynamic of their relationship. So expect to see a lot of flashbacks and the now-standard redemptive arch that almost always feels unearned. And if you consider that a spoiler then it means you've basically never seen any of the recent Fast Saga movies, because if you had then you should know the drill by now.

My main problem with F9 is not that it tries too hard to deliver the type of spectacle fans have come to expect from these movies. I mean, I've pretty much come to accept that as part of their DNA, so believe me when I say my brain was firmly left at the door before I'd plopped into my seat to watch this one. It is the fact that in their pursuit of jaw-dropping spectacle, the film has made it harder than ever to invest in the struggles of any of its characters.

To its credit, the movie does at least attempt to address their near Superhero-like invincibility, but none of that really amounted to anything beyond some self-deprecating humor and a knowing wink. And if you stop caring about who lives or dies, or who is brought back to life after being MIA for several movies, then the whole thing simply ceases to hold any kind of appeal beyond the purely visceral.

So how is the action then? At least that's one area where they've never failed to serve up the goods, right? Well, I'd say it was serviceable and you pretty much get what you pay for. Cars are driven across exploding mine fields, flown over impossibly wide chasms, and even flipped around like burgers on a hot grill. All standard fare for the series by this point really. Except the movie attempts to up the ante by taking the action into a whole new frontier. But the less said about space the better.

Chances are if you're a hardcore fan of The Fast Saga, then nothing I can say would be enough to dissuade you from wanting to see F9. And that was never the intention of this review to be honest. Because for all of its ridiculous stunts and narrative shortcomings, you've still got to respect a movie that manages to entertain without taking itself too seriously. And while I would have preferred if it had dialed back some of the mayhem in favor of characters you actually cared about, those characters have been with us so long at this point that I am willing to forgive their excesses.

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