Skip to main content

What are we gonna do? Hijack a space shuttle? Put rockets on our backs?

F9
aka F9: The Fast Saga 
aka Fast & Furious 9
(2021)

(SPOILERS) Okay, fair dues. They went and did that thing clearly ­– initially – suggested in jest. They sent F&F into space. And you know what? It’s no more ludicrous seeing Ludacris and Tyrese in orbit, in a rocket car, than Elon Musk informing us of his space Tesla, “You can tell it’s real because it looks so fake”, or Jeff Bezos lifting off in his Dr Evil-esque penis craft with a fictionally fulsome starship captain. The rest of the movie? Far from the series’ peak period (5-7), but not without its engaging interludes, bloated action behemoth that F9 is.

Roman: Is that a Pontiac Sierra, strapped to a rocket engine?

The gleeful wackiness of the spaceflight sequence fits into a generally meta sensibility promulgated by returnee Justin Lin’s take on the series, and is spearheaded here by Tyrese’s Roman and his realisation that nothing this gang, I mean family, get up to makes a lick of sense. “How the hell are you not dead?” he questions early on, adding that their antics are “damn near impossible”. “That’s what I’m sayin’. We are not normal”; it seems they are invincible, something that will only be underlined by Han’s resurrection.

As such, when Tej (Ludacris) sagely informs Roman on “lift off” that “As long as we obey the laws of physics, we will be fine, okay?”, before adding “It’s just all math and science”, it’s entirely in keeping with the established approach, yet it’s still hard not to double take, Elon Musk style, at the essential silliness of all this math, science and laws of physics. It’s thus entirely appropriate that, after smashing up a satellite – you’ve got space travel as an initial rabbit hole, and then you have satellites as a further one – they are rescued by the ISS, renowned for its amazing facility for showing authentic space-based footage that isn’t at all shot against green screen.

For me, the delirious daftness of this series reached its zenith with F7 (directed by James Wan), but F9 does its best to throw in a share of bug-nuts sequences besides the space spectacle. Early on, there’s a drive through a minefield, across a disintegrating bridge and Dom swinging through the air, in a car, with the greatest of ease (collectively, they’re the incidents initiating Roman’s initial disbelief). Later Ramsey (Natalie Emmanuel) is gifted an inspired action set piece dedicated to someone who can’t drive, while an over-active magnet adds to the general abandon.

There is a problem in all this, in that, while the assisted action is better rendered than The Matrix Reloaded’s crazy leaps, the human-on-vehicular jumping and leaping and bounding leaves one no less conscious they’re watching a world of full-on pixels (there’s zero suspension of disbelief that these aren’t CGI avatars leaping onto CGI vehicles, however passable the effects). That slightly passé approach to the visual sheen is reflected in an undeniably sluggish bloat in the storytelling, if you must insist on calling the stitched together canvas that.

If IMDB is any indication, there’s been some fairly fierce pushback against this instalment (I make the running, from highest rated to lowest, 5, 7, 1, 4/8, 6/3, 2, 9, with only the last two scoring below 6/10). It probably doesn’t help that key crowd-pleasers Dwayne Johnson and the Stath are absent (although, the latter cameos). It surely helps even less that Dom’s retconned brother Jakob is a less than essential presence as encapsulated in the maxi-jawed John Cena.

By most accounts, Cena has been making a popular fist of his segue from wrestling to movies, but I have to say the Toretto brothers’ historic feud left me largely indifferent. Of course, they going to make up. Of course, there’s a misunderstanding at the root of their conflict. It’s a vaguely pleasant surprise not to get horrifically plastic de-aged Vin and Cena as their 1989 selves, but I’d guess that’s less an aesthetic decision than down to Vin getting Vin Jr to play himself (and it’s a perfectly respectable performance).

Roman: See? What did I tell you? Not even a scratch.

Han (Sung Kang) is back, of course, with some piffle about Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell in strict cameo form) helping him to fake his own death. I’ve never been clear why Han is so popular, as I can’t for the life of me recall him doing anything of note. Apart from not being killed by the Stath, it now seems (the mid-credits sequence is a bit of nothing, since Han is hardly going to have a beef with Deckard Shaw for intentionally ensuring he lives). In contrast, Lucas Black is also back (both debuted in Tokyo Drift, as all F-ficianodas will be more than aware), and he’s always an amiable presence, although, for someone who was one of only three actors to lead one of these movies (not counting the spinoff), there seems to be a wilful intent to keep him well away from the centre frame.

Cipher: No, Yoda’s a puppet, with someone’s hand shoved up his ass.

Elsewhere, the lack of villainous flourish doesn’t help matters any, represented by Jakob, Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen) and a returning Charlize (as Cipher). Theron, despite a prolific pudding bowl, is in entirely unengaging territory, as happens fairly frequently lately when she takes on blockbuster roles (from Huntsman to The Old Guard, Fury Road being an honourable exception). Helen Mirren shows her how it should be done, although it helps that her character has some attitude and that Vin clearly adores her (“Don’t get yourself killed, okay? You’re my favourite American”). Michael Rooker and Shea Whigham crop up too. Michelle Rodriguez is there, of course, and so is, rather awkwardly, Jordana Brewster, looking ever more rictus. Brian arrives at the end too, but at least they have the good taste (I’m unsure that can be said to apply to these movies on any level) not to show his face.

As ever, the fatal mistake is in thinking some of the characters (Dom, Mia, Han) are actually interesting or compelling. On the other hand, anyone armed with a sense of humour or sniff of personality comes off well, and as bloated and unwieldy as F9 undoubtedly is, there are just enough enjoyable interludes to edge it ahead of The Fate of the Furious.

I guess I ought to mention the plot. The Ares McGuffin is mightily blah as blah world-shaking McGuffins go (it can hack into any computer-controlled system). On the daftness scale, though, it scores, as there are two devices, and it incorporates human DNA (Anna Sawai’s) as its final component. I’m sure everyone was as WTF? as I at this. But who knows, perhaps the makers were told any civilisation-compromising weapon needed to include the genome as part of its modus operandi. It would be very current, after all.

Roman: Feels like we’re looking for Where’s Waldo in Harry Potter World.

In some respects, these movies are taking off (literally) from where the Roger Moore Bonds left us in terms of overblown spy(-ish) spectaculars with dastardly, deranged plots. What they lack is a central actor as thoroughly winning as Rog, although respect is due to Vin for remaining poker-faced throughout the ever-more-absurd antics. Lin has said the last two (yeah, I know, where will we all be by then?) will be more down to Earth. Which, as Tej and Roman discovered in F9, most definitely has a curvature. Since I’m rarely given to ponder these movies after seeing them, and have never revisited any, my ranking, in descending order is quite possibly flawed. But here it is: 7, 5, 6, 9, 1, 8, 2, 3, 4.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.