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MOVIES: F9 - Review

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Justin Lin, director of the best film (Fast Five) in this now 10 strong (with at least two more movies on the way as things stand) is back for another go at the long-running franchise that has been going strong for almost two decades. F9 is the latest in an attempt at escalation for the series which really feels like there’s no chance of it slowing down any time soon, bringing back veteran Han played by the legendary Sung Kang. Taking place after Han was killed off in Furious 7 and Tokyo Drift (don’t ask), the film brings him back with gutso whilst making things personal for Dominic Torretto and his gang of street racing super-spies – Han is not the only ghost from the past, and F9 stays true to the core theme that has made the best films in the franchise work as well as they have done: “family”.

F9 is a classic example of franchise escalation but made with the heart and soul of a film that knows exactly what it wants to be from the start – it knows it’s dumb fun. Characters like Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce make an instant impact with an added comic relief being brought to the role – Gibson has always had the comic relief factor but he ups it a notch here – this film addresses the fact that the characters are near-invincible despite having gone through more hell than even the Avengers could stomach. At this point, even the weakest of Dom’s gang could take on an Infinity-Stone loaded Thanos and win and nobody would bat an eyelid.

This is the rare ninth entry in a franchise that manages to be both accessible to newcomers and hardcore devotees who have seen every entry. Characters are brought back from the dead, but handled in a friendly and accessible way that makes it a delight for newcomers. It’s a thrill-a-minute, the action set-pieces are creative as they come, and the film feels like a truly globetrotting venture designed to be seen on the biggest screen possible – and yes, it even gets its big Moonraker moment that takes the franchise to another level entirely – F9 even goes to places where none of the Fast films have gone yet.

Much of the film’s emotional centre comes in its flashbacks as Dom is faced with the past. We get to explore his relationship with his younger brother, a new entry to the series – Jakob Toretto played by John Cena in the present day and Finn Cole in the flashback. We get to find out why Jakob was absent from the series for so long in the context of the story at least and it feels justified, with the film bringing up a point that the worst thing you could do to a Toretto is take apart his family. When the split between Jakob and Dom happens, you buy every moment of Finn Cole’s resentment and anger that the actor portrays.

It's a shame the same cannot be said about Cena – he’s not quite able to bring gravitas to the emotional depth that the role requires, but to be fair, emotional depth has never been Vin Diesel’s strongest suit as an actor either. Vincent Sinclair – his own son – plays Dom in the flashbacks, and puts in a stronger showing than him, making a Dominic Toretto origin film feel more appealing than it was before the film started. The flashbacks are F9 at its most grounded, a real call-back to the street racing days of The Fast and the Furious, and Lin manages to capture what makes this franchise so special for many, leaning in on its soap opera themes that amplify its core storyline beneath its extravagant action set-pieces, which are directed incredibly clearly – a welcome change from the cut-to-death, over-produced feel of most modern blockbusters.

The second logic is applied to any Fast and Furious movie you’ll lose interest in the film – it’s the ultimate definition of a ‘turn your brain off’ action movie. The set-pieces more than fulfil the lack of a need to be tied down and it’s the most fun that Fast and Furious has had in a while – there’s an audacious set-piece involving magnets and the entire Edinburgh rooftop chase is spectacular. It’s a truly global affair - and it's a franchise that feels more inclusive than most.

I really enjoyed the character dynamic in F9 – the expanded family each get their own moment to shine. As well as Sung Kang stealing every scene in the movie as one of the coolest actors currently working, Michelle Rodriguez delivers with some of the best fight scenes in the movie – Letty feels like the most competent brawler here, and on top of that - Nathalie Emmanuel's Ramsey also gets some stellar individual moments in this one. Every character has an established dynamic and the film knows exactly what it is – even Lucas Black returns from Tokyo Drift, and fans of one of the most underrated Fast and Furious movies will be satisfied. F9 does miss the sheer charisma of The Rock (due to the much-publicised Diesel/Johnson feud) and Jason Statham (be sure to stay for the mid-credits scene, though), but makes up for it with Helen Mirren and Charlize Thereon, with both actors taking delight in only showing up for filming for a couple of days and getting to spout ridiculous lines like comparing antagonists to Yoda.

It’s a recipe that shouldn’t work, but F9 doesn’t pretend to be anything else – not for a second. And because of that, it’s a beautiful crowd-pleaser that works. It’s the perfect film to welcome audiences back to cinemas if musicals aren’t your thing (if you are, In The Heights is right there), and is a movie that plays insanely well when watched with a large crowd. I was swept up from the start, never left bored for a moment – and just had a great time revelling in the absurdity ofF9. Would I call it a good film? No. But did I still have one of the best movie-going experiences of the year? Absolutely.

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