‘F9’ movie review: John Cena joins Vin Diesel for ninth Fast & Furious flick

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A rocket-powered Pontiac Fiero flies into Earth’s orbit to take out a rogue satellite in F9, the ninth entry in the Fast & Furious series that should satisfy fans of a franchise that continues to run steadily on fumes.

This latest entry has dropped Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, who got their own spinoff in Hobbs & Shaw, but John Cena makes a welcome addition to the cast as the long-lost brother of Dominic Toretto, once again played by Vin Diesel. For all the family talk in these Fast & Furious flicks, F9 is one of the few to really dig into the family backstory of the franchise’s protagonist, and becomes one of the more memorable entries because of it.

In F9, this time it’s really about family as Cena plays Jakob Toretto, the hitherto unmentioned younger brother of Dom and Mia (Jordana Brewster). An unheralded presence in past Fast & Furious flicks, Brewster gets some additional screen time this time around and makes the most of it.

Lengthy flashback scenes with Vinnie Bennett and Finn Cole as younger versions of the characters played by Cena and Diesel detail why: after dad was killed in a racing accident, Dom found out Jakob was responsible and booted him from the family.

Jakob is now working with franchise villain Cipher (Charlize Theron), and he’s out to locate and obtain half of a device that can control all the satellites around the world. Or something along those lines. The reason, again, being total world domination.

Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriuguez) are living the quiet life out in the countryside, but a message of distress from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) brings them the rest of the surviving hot rod team – Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) back together. Only this ragtag team of former street racers can save the world. Again.

The plot of F9 seems to fall in line with that of previous entries, but truth be told, I can’t recall story specifics since the gang was stealing bank vaults in Fast Five. That movie remains the gold standard of Fast & Furious flicks, but F9 equals most of the others, and includes some exciting (if unbelievable) action set pieces.

But it starts off on shaky ground. F9’s first big action sequence in fictional South American island Montequinto (filming actually took place in Phuket and Krabi, Thailand) sees Dom and co. high tailin’ out of the jungle when gunfire descends upon them, and racing their cars across creaky wooden bridges.

When that first car goes over the bridge – and it gives out midway, but the heroes still make it across – you might consider how the language of cinema has progressed since the days of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Wages of Fear. There, a similar setup resulted in half an hour of nail-biting tension. Here, it’s a 10-second blip.

And then, Dom takes his car across the same bridge – the one that is no longer there, mind you – by somehow using the car to grab one end of the rope suspension that still remains and swinging across the gap like Tarzan. This sequence looks so ridiculous it makes the later scene where Roman and Tej fly the Fiero into space seem like a documentary by comparison.

Thankfully, the Fiero rocketship is a minor element of later scenes in F9, and its deployment is rather surprisingly well-handled (Roman and Tej’s subsequent space adventure, meanwhile, is not exactly Gravity).

And while a quick caper with Helen Mirren comes off as embarrassing, F9’s other two big car chase set pieces play out like gangbusters. A ride through Edinburgh’s historic streets with a van containing a giant magnet that can be powered on and off and overturn cars with ease is a whole lotta fun. Since it works so well, they repeat the gag in a Tbilisi climax.

The Edinburgh and Tbilisi car chase sequences are first-rate action blockbuster filmmaking, enough to make up for the weaker opening sequence and satisfy any fan going to see the ninth entry in this car crash franchise. The story here is little more than an excuse to glue the action scenes together, but the glue holds and the action largely delivers.

For Fast & Furious franchise fans, F9 digs deep into series lore to resurrect characters that haven’t been seen since four or six movies ago. While Hobbs & Shaw’s The Rock and Statham are obvious omissions from this movie, the addition of Cena’s character and particularly his backstory with Dom help to make up for it. If you’re still eager to come out for a ninth Fast & Furious movie twenty years in, F9 won’t let you down.

F9

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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