After blasting into theaters June of 2021, F9 is ready to drop into your house. The nineth film in the main series and the 10th film overall, F9 not only sees the return of writer/director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 6), but fan favorite Sung Kang’s Han, bringing in a new mystery while answering unconsidered questions. Did we need to know the full story behind Papa Toretto’s (JD Pardo) death and Dom’s (Vin Diesel) rap sheet? Did we need to know that Dom and Mia (Jordana Brewster) had a secret sibling, Jacob (John Cena)? Honestly, most audiences just come to the newly dubbed Fast Saga to watch high-octane action mixed with ridiculous stunts. But thanks to Lin’s work on 2009’s fourth entry, Fast & Furious, audiences came to care about all these little details so that, by the time our L.A. streetracers-turned-international-espionage-team take their first steps into space, we’re just as shocked as Dom’s family and just as invested. With the new entry now on home video in a variety of formats, fans can not only make their choice between the theatrical or extended director’s cut, but they can also indulge in almost 80 minutes of behind the scenes materials.
Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have been living in solitude away from L.A. in order to raise Dom’s son Brian (Isaac and Immanuel Holtane) in as much peace as Dom can muster. But a warrior can only stay away from battle for so long as trouble appears in the form of an S.O.S. from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) whose aerial transport was hijacked mid-air and prisoner Cypher (Charlize Theron) was freed by a rogue agent. Though the team sets off to try to recover Mr. Nobody or any clues as to what may have become of him, Dom hesitates to jump back in. That is, until he discovers that the person who freed the murderer of his son’ mother is his own estranged brother Jacob (Cena). After all Dom and his team have been through, it will take all they’ve used and more to make it through to the other side.
Having seen the film twice now (once in the theater and once at home), it becomes abundantly clear that evaluating a Fast & Furious entry requires its own metric system. In my previous, non-spoiler review, I discuss how the various stunts seem like remixes of previous stunts, how the use of flashbacks upsets the natural tension of the narrative, and how making sure that both Jakob and Han are given equal narrative heft requires the film to return to its more dramatic narrative roots versus the bombast audiences have come to know. I see the latter now as much as a strength as it is a weakness. While the street racing and stunt sequences generated awe in audiences back in 2001 with the first Fast film, it was the focus on characters and their relationships that created the foundation, and overkill on “family” jokes, that we see today. To try to undercut the significance of what it means that Dom and Mia have an unknown sibling or to not spend time on why Han faked his death would take a film series that’s already high on flash and remove any kind of substance at all. Frankly, after 10 total films and two more on the way, it’s the characters that I care most about, not the stunts. This may make me an outlier for the franchise, but, and this may be telling, my favorite film in the franchise is Fast 5 (2011), which Lin also directed. It was the first film that brought in characters from just about every prior film and was the first to move away from the street racing into a new genre twist. It’s far more focused on the characters and getting them to engage with each other than on some world threat they’ve been hired or coerced to stop. When F9 is at its best, where it’s found its stride, is when it allows the characters to be together beyond the ceremonial cook-out at the end. Everything else is really just filler.
That said, if the stunts are your thing, then you’re not going to be disappointed with the bonus materials. All of them offer a look behind the curtain, but they mix sharing sentiments from the cast and crew with how they approached creating the stunts in the film. Given the reliance by most big studio films on CG, it’s stunning and, frankly, impressive, how much Lin worked with his 2nd Unit directors and stunt team to make as many practical effects as possible. Most of this is covered in the almost eight-minute featurette, “Practically Fast,” where you’ll see how they accomplished things like the magnets in the final showdown or the bridge sequence after the mines. For example, when Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are racing a tumbling car toward the bridge, they built a rig to attach the spinning car to the one being driven so that it would look like they were racing. In the open sequence when we learn about Jack’s death, you’ll see how they cut together two different setups to create the visual look of a car being jackknifed and tossed through the car. Maybe it’s just a “me” thing, but there’s a strange delight in seeing how they accomplish these stunts. What takes place on screen feels far more impressive by knowing what went into it.
There is, of course, far more than stunts to learn about on the bonus features with plenty of time offered to focus on the fact that Brewster and Rodriguez are finally working in some scenes together (“A Woman’s Touch”), exploring how Cena came on board (“New Breed of Bad Guy”), and address the #JusticeforHan fan movement (“Justice For Han”). If you like Kang’s Han as I do, then that last featurette will need to be a first-stop as Lin and Kang discuss just how much it means to both of them that the fans demanded something be done to address the perceived slight when Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw was treated as an equal by the end of Fate. That it resulted in Kang returning to the franchise is absolutely cool and a welcomed surprise (even if the marketing ruined it). As a special treat, if cars are your thing, join John Cena as he geeks out over the cars that were parked in the driveway of the mansion Jakob and Thue Ersted Rasmussen’s Otto use to entrap Dom. Not only is Cena adorable, but the cars are pretty sweet, too. As a final note, the director’s cut is about seven minutes longer than the theatrical with at least two new brief additions: one involving musician Cardi B’s Leysa and a phone call to Little B from Dom. Other changes were a little harder to discern after only one theatrical viewing.
F9 is by far not my favorite of the series, but I’m still excited by the possibilities this film sets in motion. By the end, Cypher remains on the loose, Jakob is in the wind, and all but Paul Walker’s Brian and Gal Gadot’s Gisele are missing from the core team. It could be argued that Mr. Nobody is also gone, but after Fast & Furious 7 and F9, even the cinematic rule of “no body, no death” is not so hard and fast. And thus we finish F9 will our eyes on the horizon and our thumb on the NOS switch, waiting until just the right time to blast off into the next adventure.
F9: The Fast Saga Special Features
- Feature Commentary with Producer/Co-writer/Director Justin Lin (Theatrical (2:22:52) and Director’s Cut (2:29:55))
- John Cena: Supercar Superfan (4:37)
- Gag Reel (3:36)
- Practically Fast (7:53)
- Shifting Priorities (4:00)
- Justice For Han (3:39)
- A Day on Set with Justin Lin (10:01)
- F9: All In (46:34)
- The Family Returns (3:21)
- New Breed of Bad Guy (6:14)
- Building the Land Mine Chase (5:44)
- A Woman’s Touch (5:12)
- Vin, Helen, and the Queen (6:09)
- Growing the Family (4:29)
- Controlled Chaos (9:12)
- Tokyo Drift Reunited (2:50)
- Raising the Bar (3:24)
Available on digital September 7th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD September 21st, 2021.
Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Recommendation
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