F9 ★★★★★

Should probably start off by mentioning that this was my first cinema viewing since February 16th, 2020 — before COVID really hit the US — and I can’t stress enough how much I’ve missed the cinema experience, even more so after having seen this.

While I enjoyed both FURIOUS 7 and THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS in spite of their many flaws, anyone who is a fan of this franchise should know by now that Justin Lin is the main reason why this franchise works, let alone has maintained the longevity it has. Within the first few frames, you can already feel his presence behind the camera, as there’s a strong sense of earnestness and passion felt that, with the exception of FURIOUS 7’s bittersweet ending, was absent in every entry of this franchise post-FAST & FURIOUS 6. I’d even go so far as to argue that Lin and co-writer Daniel Casey taking over scripting duties for Chris Morgan was hugely beneficial here, as this ended up being the most earnest and character-focused entry in the entire franchise as a result. Despite being the most ridiculous of these in terms of both premise and set-pieces, it’s a testament to Lin and his cast that the earnestness and ridiculousness never undercut one another. Even despite all of what happens (and a lot happens), its beating heart stays intact and all of the emotional beats ring true.

Which brings me to the set-pieces themselves. While the set-pieces in these films all have second-unit involved to some extent, you can absolutely see a difference in how they’re ultimately crafted when Lin is present and when he’s not. Despite the utter insanity, every single set-piece feels organic in execution, which helps keep the film focused and prevents it from ever remotely becoming bloated. Even as someone who feels like one of the only remaining genuine fans of this franchise who genuinely enjoys FATE, I still can’t deny that it felt like the seams of the franchise were starting to wear off due to a potential possibility that this franchise was running out of ideas. F9, in comparison, is even more over-the-top, and yet, I never had that feeling once here. That’s probably a testament to the writing more than anything, but even then, the set-pieces here aren’t just merely fun on their own; they’re also strengthened by the character dynamics and narrative at hand and vice versa.

As for the performances, everyone is unsurprisingly committed and delivers on their part, even John Cena, who isn’t just a parody of himself here like some seemingly expected him to be; not only does he really bring some pathos to Jakob, but the addition of his character is quite thoughtful in addressing one of FATE’s most fatal flaws in betraying the franchise’s core theme of family by having Deckard Shaw ultimately side with the protagonists despite him having been responsible for Han’s (then-supposed) death. And the inclusion of Jakob, Dom and Mia’s brother who no one knew about prior to this entry, brings up a question that challenges Dom: Does Dom really care about family? It makes for the franchise’s most introspective entry yet.

Also, even despite the clear passion for this franchise by Lin and co., I was still quite surprised by how maturely the flashback scenes were handled, even being shot on 35mm and with the actors who played the younger iterations of Dom and Jakob both holding their own here. Upon hearing about the inclusion of flashbacks, I was expecting them to be somewhat cringeworthy yet effective nonetheless, but they were instead genuinely affecting, or at the very least as much as they could be for a film like this.

Both incredibly exciting and genuinely touching, F9 is absolutely wonderful. Quite possibly Justin Lin’s best work and the apex of the Fast & Furious franchise (topping FAST & FURIOUS 6, if so), but most definitely the best tentpole of the year so far, and comfortably so. Strongly recommend seeing it on the biggest screen possible ASAP.

Bring on the next two!

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