F9: The Fast Saga (2021)

“This is who we are.”

Not since I was in the 4th grade – back when 2001’s The Fast and the Furious served as the inaugural linchpin to this now explosive and seismic franchise – have I actually enjoyed one of these films. They’ve just rubbed me the wrong way, always opting for more and going for broke with insanely conceived set pieces while still trying to remain grounded in the core concept of family. It took a long time and a lot of misfires, and while Justin Lin’s film is still too admittedly outlandish for its own good, F9 is the first time I felt the central theme of this series ring true since I popped the original’s DVD out of its holographic case more than two decades ago. It’s a somewhat hollow yet solid Summer movie. I can’t believe I liked it.

To list the longstanding crew of characters seems pointless, and to detail every single exotic location feels just as futile. We know these people, that they’ll travel to places of no real import to the story or the so called saga, and that it’s mostly a peacocking game of show then tell. F9 is a soap opera drama with steroids in its veins and a trigger happy finger ready to unleash nitrous oxide fueled action, which I think we all expect at this point, but it accomplishes those feats in a way that’s more personal and relatable than the previously preposterous entries. It made me believe the unbelievable. That its magic was more grounded in slight of hand than David Copperfield’s obviously fake exploits.

The fun of F9 is somewhat born from all of the insane hijinks and all of the typical over the top madness the characters can’t help but avoid. Do Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) really need to scrape the stratosphere? That’s an obvious no, but it makes for a compelling adventure nevertheless, and during these moments F9 feels like the most self-aware entry to date. There are multiple instances where this shines through, and my favorite is a tip of the cap to the equally unreasonable action epic Independence Day. We hear, “Not bad, not bad at all,” said in the same cadence as we previously came across at the end of Roland Emmerich’s 1996 blockbuster, and that single line showcases just how much more thoughtful this movie is than what came before. It knows it’s a dumb and soapy car wash of a film, and it drives through the suds knowing it’s makeup is going to be a bit smudged from all of the extreme drama. F9 isn’t a great movie, but at least it understands the assignment.

It’s almost comical that a series so embedded with the sanctity of family has taken this long to actually instill that aspect into the story, but we get that in the form of Jakob (John Cena, who seems to be playing the muscle now that Dwayne Johnson is no longer on board), the disgruntled little brother to Dom (Vin Diesel). The character dynamics click, the story beats work, and even though it’s consistently over the top it never really goes off the rails either. It’ll be interesting to see where and how this Days of Our Lives saga finally comes to a halt if it manages to push forward at this pace and in this gear. F9 cares about its characters, brings them all together under one roof to clink Coronas and to break bread, and is the most family oriented film this franchise has popped out in 20 years. It’s about damn time.

“It’s all about how you choose to see it.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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