F9 ★★★★

It feels like they are so close to distilling the formula for a perfect one of these, but every time there's some rogue element in the equation. Cut about 40(!) minutes of exposition out of this one and it would easily be the best in the franchise. The often-joyous "Everyone is here!" party feeling is repeatedly off-roaded by the need to explain absolutely everything at levels of incomprehensible detail and speed. When we were ten minutes deep on an explanation of a retcon to the events of Fast 6, which were in turn themselves a retcon of the events of Fast 3, I ended up feeling like my unsuspecting grandma when we took her to see Attack of the Clones at the Showcase 20 years ago. That they actually had the guts to expect audiences to remember and understand the nuances of action movie plot points from 2006 and 2013 is completely respectably mental. It's Marvel-tier nerd shit but for corona-quaffing car freaks, but at least these movies have the good decency to sprinkle in a few milligrams of self-awareness. Giving Tyrese Gibson the role of audience/fan stand-in who asks all the stupid questions and acknowledges and philosophises on the superhuman/superlogical nature of the Fast world is an inspired choice, and finally kinda elevates that character beyond just being "guy who reacts to stuff". I have watched ten of these films and I still do not know what Tyrese Gibson’s character is called.

When the characters aren't saying stuff like "the guy from two movies ago - called Mr. Nobody, by the way - encrypted the biopassword's DNA into a super magnet that has been placed inside a Ford Fusili 97" and are instead doing what they do the very best - i.e. drive car fast - this thing totally soars. It may be the local factor at play once again, but seeing Dominic Toretto doing a drift down Bread Street in his Charger was about as good as any car film is ever gonna get for me. The whole Edinburgh sequence goes on for a delightfully long time and is genuinely creative and fun and well put together - I was kinda shocked at the levels of care they took to make everything actually look and sound like Real Edinburgh. I loved it. Every action sequence in this is in contention to be an all-timer, and some of the stunts and effects work properly defied my whole belief system and understanding of the known universe. While F9 often takes inspiration from video game set-pieces and multiplayer maps, it sets itself apart from a lot of the CG-unreality fare on screens at the moment by insisting on keeping it Real.

With The Rock finally excised from the fore of the franchise, it does kinda feel like things are back on the road for the Fast films. Not only does this one have a lot more Car Stuff in it, but all the stupid machismo is once again tempered with genuine heart and sincere love and dorky caring and sharing for each other. The ending's revolving door of beloved characters speaking variations on the phrase "it's about family!" was enough to bring a wee tear to your eye in 10 seconds, and that sequence towards the end where Dom goes into his Family/Car Mind Palace was the closest these films have gotten to making an artistic thesis statement about their purpose. Seeing Vinny D fuckin Donkey Kong aff them girders and go Neo vs Smiths on those Generic Dictatorship goons right afterwards was pure fucking cinema! The kinda silver-screen moment that makes the IMAX superscreen and lukewarm peronis all worth it!! Back to the movies baby!!! Yeah!!!!!!!!

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