Friday, June 25, 2021

Now This is Zooming: F9

It’s now common knowledge that the Fast & Furious series has become something of a superheroic fantasy. It began as a simple street racing thriller. Now this is a group of films in which multiple people have had perilous falls safely broken by the hood of a car, and a rollover accident down the side of a mountain rarely amounts to more than a brief need to shake your head and carry on. It’s a tangle of call backs and retcons, a comic book soap opera of knotty gearhead melodrama and splash panel surprises. It’s gone so far and away over the top that it’s still there even as it dips ever so slightly back to just plain over the top. That at their best they remain legible mission movies — a diverse ensemble of heroes assemble to go to the place and fight the guys to get the things before the countdown clock reaches zero — is part of their charm. The latest is F9, and it manages to be super satisfying on both levels, even if it’s no threat to the title of franchise best. (Maybe the fact this big crowd-pleasing spectacle will be the first such picture for many a vaccinated audience member this summer will help ease that distinction.) The whole endeavor has proven to be a sturdy, well-oiled machine. We get the thrills, personalities, effects, and stunts you’d expect as the gang gathers to once again drive real fast to save the world from nefarious international baddies bent on messing stuff up for everyone real bad or something. It’s nice to see them again, and in a movie a little more worthy than the last couple. The series once again balances its complicatedly simple plotting with earnest Hallmark card sentiment, genuine affection for its characters, and old fashioned serial cliffhanger motivations. It’s a good time, if you can grin at the sight of a car swinging across a chasm on a rope stuck to its front tire or deploying an enormous electromagnet or rocketing into the air on a jet engine. It’s the ninth one. Aren’t you ready for that by now?

Par for the course the movie takes our usual players — Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese, Ludacris, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel — and returning recurring supporting players and adds a striking woman (Anna Sawai) and muscle man (John Cena) and cameos (fresh and familiar) to scurry around a new glowing gizmo MacGuffin. It also brings in an estranged sibling heretofore unmentioned and a scene from six movies back gets retconned for the second time. But it’s all for the sake of the fast paced action ramped up and amped up with careening variables and whiz-bang complications. So it’s just plain fun. The outsized action is capably staged by returning director Justin Lin, responsible for most of the series’ high points thus far, who lets the movie in on the grinning joke and satisfaction without letting it get too self-amused. It’s just as often letting characters shake their heads at where they’ve ended up as we might be in the audience. Lin knows what the fans want is a story that delivers on genuine affection for its family of friends who make up our plucky heroes, and sends them through their paces making cars do things they never could. He also provides some flashbacks — a number throughout, and they’re aptly more a textural piece with the series’ earliest entries — to smooth over belated connective tissue and ground the characters’ self-awareness to understand the escalation their lives and talents have undergone without ever quite puncturing the reality, so to speak. It’s all just too fast to have time for anything but good times. It careens past its sometimes-dodgy exposition with high spirits and smash-bang, thrillingly ridiculous action craft. Unlike, say, the sometimes overly schematic Marvel movies, this is a series that matches its characters’ sense of flying by the seat of their pants and making it up as they go along, improbably surviving. That they keep getting away with it is a huge part of the fun.

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