F9

F9 ★★★

The first time that the “Fast & Furious” franchise threatened to stall out, Justin Lin drifted into the picture and jump-started it with a simple philosophy that would transform these movies into a global juggernaut: “If you ain’t outta control, you ain’t in control.” Over the course of four films that ranged in quality from generation-defining blockbusters to “Furious 6,” Lin successfully helped a semi-grounded saga about illegal street racers shift gears into a bonafide cinematic universe without losing its soul.

The stakes got higher and the stunts grew more absurd with every installment, but even as the story foamed into the kind of high-octane soap opera suggested by the series’ title — amnesia, fake deaths, and inexplicable retcons were all in play before Lin bowed out — it always felt as if these meat-headed spectacles were recklessly expanding in a way that allowed them to circle in on the core essence of the characters they shared between them. The dumber things got the more sincere they became, a dolly zoom effect that eventually rendered the sight of Vin Diesel driving a car out of an exploding military plane at the end of an 18.37-mile-long runway into a heartfelt illustration of a #Family under fire.

When Lin handed over the keys in 2015, however, the “Fast & Furious” saga was careening towards the brink of madness so fast that James Wan and longtime franchise screenwriter Chris Morgan could only race to build new roads before the whole thing went over the edge — a plan that went so poorly they ended up just equipping the cars with parachutes instead. Reeling from Paul Walker’s death and a pissing contest between Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, Morgan and “Fate of the Furious” director F. Gary Gray found themselves in an even more precarious situation two years later, and ended up with an empty shell of a film that betrayed the core of the franchise by suggesting that family wasn’t as sacred to Dominic Toretto as fans had always been told. Without that foundation in place, it suddenly felt as if there were something kinda inauthentic about a Corona-drinking Los Angeles gearhead jumping his Dodge Charger over a Russian nuclear submarine. The series was outta control because it wasn’t in control.

And so, with “F9,” Justin Lin has once again returned to the driver’s seat to steer “Fast & Furious” back onto solid ground; only this time he isn’t trying to jumpstart a stalled race car so much as he’s being asked to regain command of a runaway freight train the size of the Chrysler Building. And once again, Justin Lin has managed to get the job done; not by slamming on the brakes, but rather by speeding things up to such a ridiculous extreme that the velocity of it all starts to hold everything in place.

this review continues on IndieWire