The latest installment in the beloved Fast and the Furious franchise, F9 released to theaters (no streaming!) this week to huge box office numbers – beating every film released since the outbreak of COVID-19 and signaling a healthy desire from movie goers to return to the hallowed dark room of a true cinema to view their favorite films. The true test will come the second weekend of July when Black Widow, the most anticipated installment of one of the most important movie franchises in history, releases on one of the biggest box office days of any pre-COVID year. But F9 raking in $305 million total so far and $70 million on its opening two days gives a bright proverbial green light that the box office is back.
But was it any good? The Conservative Critic will let you know by asking: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And is it liberal propaganda?
Mild Spoilers Ahead
Overall Rating: Fine+
When it comes to a blockbuster, particularly a blockbuster which is part of one of the most successful and influential film franchises in pop culture history like the Fast franchise, it’s difficult to set a rating. From the ~artistic~ community and Hollywood insiders, any Fast film is going to be something that gets a nose turned up. From the fans, any critique is going to
be considered unfairly judged.
So let’s start with some history. The Fast franchise is up with Marvel, Mission Impossible, and James Bond and is one of the most consistently successful and widely beloved movie series of all time. It even has a cultish following which dips it toward the cultural impact of the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises. In fact, Fast Five is widely considered by the critic community as a near perfect piece of film – achieving exactly what it intended to achieve in an extraordinary showing for its category (action/heist).
So in delivering an only “fine+” review for F9, I do it with a lot of respect and love for a franchise that my personal bias actually wants to give an even better score. I grew up with the movies, my sister and I have a special love for them, and I personally think the franchise is extraordinary.
That being said, F9 was no Fast Five. While the stunt choreography (particularly the driving) was unmatched in its field, some of the acting was not up to par, the plot line made very little sense, a lot of the gimmicks didn’t quite dip into camp but also never could reasonably suspend disbelief and overall it just didn’t fit into its own mold. None of this made F9 any less fun to watch.
Is it Entertaining?
Rating: High octane fun
There is not a film franchise out there that viewers can count on more to be a good time from start to finish than a Fast film. The Fast movies are extremely consistent in thrill factor and fast moving plot lines which suck viewers in leaving them with nothing but joy.
In F9 there are many moments where viewers can’t resist shouting “YEAH!” and “AWESOME!” as cars would fly off cliffs and jets while chased by fiery explosions. The feeling of F9 is less of a movie and more of an open air rock concert. It is summery and fun and exclamatory.
Following in the footsteps of the extremely successful Fate and the Furious (the 8th movie) F9 ups the ante from the original drag racing and then heist structure to a pseudo-spy thriller where our beloved returning characters and a few fresh faces ultimately save the world instead of just their own skin or a single community. Just when viewers start to miss the old street racing segments of the original films, F9 comes through with a flashback sequence featuring a young Dominic Torretto played by the sensational film new commer, Vinnie Bennett, that is *chefs kiss* perfection.
Even the moments that don’t work, don’t work in a way that viewers are able to smile and laugh instead of cringe.
F9 does not fall short in entertainment and even at a marathon run time of 2 hours and 25 minutes, viewers will not find a second of boredom.
Does it have intellectual/artistic value?
Rating: Badly flawed
One of the biggest issues with F9 is that it does not stay in its lane, pun intended. Not all viewers will agree that the departure from the more controlled point-of-view of street racers turned unlikely heroes to super spies with skills supposedly on par with Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt was a mistake but the fantastical plot line of F9 takes far too much of the credibility out of well written and developed characters with 10 years of movie history and placed them into the realm of cartoon.
Say what you want about Vin Diesel but the man IS Dominic Torretto. He has crafted a brilliant blend of tough guy, family man, rule breaker and good guy with the consistency of Brando in the Godfather. Diesel is under celebrated in what he has achieved as Toretto. But F9 takes this carefully crafted character and puts him in a pristine white shirt (rarely dirtied) chasing baddies on foot and jumping from rooftops as if he was a former Green Beret and currently Gap model. Director and writer, Justin Lin, does Diesel and the story a major disservice by shoehorning bizarre dreamy sequences and nearly superhuman powers into the story where they do not belong.
Lin also cannot decide if the movie is camp or if it’s serious. In completely serious moments of the film, the team defies every single law of science (this happens repeatedly with electromagnetic technology which seems to pick and choose which metal it grabs) and walks away unscathed from major falls, gunfire and collisions. For no reason at all, every single character seems to be an advanced scientist or hacker as if they all met at MIT and not street racing in LA. These major issues are delivered with no wink or smile.
At other times, the characters are addressing head-on the unbelievability of their circumstances and launching themselves in homemade car rockets into outer space. F9 is simply not credible. Viewers do not believe that this group of people would ever be called on or capable of saving the entire world and frankly their villains also don’t seem capable of taking over the world.
Which brings me to the cast. The core cast delivers and Lin makes the correct choice to leave the late Paul Walker’s character alive and well off screen. Beyond Diesel, F9’s leading lady, Michelle Rodriguez as Letty is a joy to watch. I’m not sure any other female actress more believable kicks butt, drives motorcycles and shoots guns like Rodriguez. Formidable is the word. Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and particularly Sung Kang as Hahn bring everything expected of them and more. The decision to loop in the stars of the never before connected fourth movie, Tokyo Drift (Lucas Black as Sean and Shad ‘Lil Romeo’ Moss as Twinkie) , was refreshing and nostalgic and perhaps the only solution to the missing boyish charm of Paul walker. Viewers audibly delighted as they appeared to help the gang on their mission.
While no one could overcome the messy writing facing the young version of the Toretto family, Vinnie Bennett sure came close on charisma alone. Viewers will be seeking out more from Bennett and I would bet on his star power sky-rocketing from here. Additionally, Anna Sawai as a young fugitive is sensational and has a future if not in this franchise than another.
But there were still problems with the cast. John Cena is no Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson. Cena takes on the role of the movie’s primary villain turned hero (the exact same plot line as Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five only with a familial twist) and does it not very well. Cena has a long film resume but really shines in his comedy and has no place taking on serious action roles which have no sense of humor. He really dragged down quality. Cena seems to lack the ability to both take himself seriously and be self aware – something The Rock does extremely well.
Jordana Brewster as Mia has never made any sense and is a holdover from the early days of the franchise when they had women as accessories instead of action heroes. She didn’t work in F9 nor did Nathalie Emmanuel (known primarily for her role as the gentle Missandei in Game of Thrones). Emmanuel tries for a sort of millennial approved STEM cool girl and it’s boring and poorly performed.
Final note on casting: Charlize Theron makes 0 sense in any of these movies least of all in F9 and she does not take her role seriously enough to perform at the level which vany viewer who has ever seen her knows she can perform.
Per the franchise fame, stunt driving is incredible. With no opportunity missed and choreography truly flawless, a lover of car chases will love to watch what F9 brings to the table. However, it really, unbelievably, needed more. A lot of F9 is spent on physical combat between humans but viewers came for the cars.
Overall, despite a strong core cast and best-in-class stunting, F9 gets off track (pun intended) with its absurdly large-world problems, lack of suspension of disbelief, poorly conceived and executed villains.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: Conservative approved
F9 does not set out with an agenda. However, the entire franchise is very anti-government and particularly anti-Feds which is definitely a conservative point of view in a world where the left worships at the feet of criminals like James Comey, William Barr, Susan Rice and every other corrupt political thug running agencies like the FBI, DOJ and NSA.
Additionally, while F9 features thieves and murders they are largely reformed by this point in the plot. F9 strongly emphasizes the importance of honor and traditional family values which the left so abhors.
Finally, while not every single one of the heroes is an American, it is clear that Americans are the top tier of the heroes wielding important skills and the film gets many good hearted jabs in at foreign nations, particularly those not allied with the US like Russia and eastern Europe. America First values shine through.
F9 is only fine+ particularly compared to other films in its own franchise. However, it is extremely fun and would be worth the trip to the theater for a 2.25 hour joy ride (pun always intended).