F9: THE FAST SAGA. The thrill isn't gone, per se, but in having recently revisited the undeniable high-water mark of installments four through six — Fast & Furious (2009); Fast 5 (2011); Fast & Furious 6 (2013) — of this almost ridiculously long-lived franchise, this unlikely behemoth that was never really meant to survive, I have to say the seams may be starting to show.
Did I enjoy myself, long after its premier, even after all these weeks of dissipation and possible spoilers? Of course, I did. But the exhilaration has grown tempered, both as the running times of the movies approach territory heretofore only trod upon by epics and as the series has stretched to continue to outdo itself in terms of scale and spectacle.
To show my age, I've been participating in this silliness from the beginning. The Fast and the Furious (2001) was a delightful B-movie throwback I probably rented at a Blockbuster. The weird charm of the cast, the unblinking seriousness of the movie's tone and the overarching sense of adventure created an unlikely but highly enjoyable document of a specific place in time. The sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), long my wife's favorite installment, felt like the franchise was already on fumes, but succeeded by ramping up the pulpiness and introducing us to scenery-devouring Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson).
The real shift occurred while fewer people were looking, though, when a young director named Justin Lin took a property now absent any of its principal cast, went to Japan (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, 2006) and set in motion a mind-boggling, money-minting series of events that would redefine the notion of sequels for a new era. With his keen eye, precise pacing and mastery of atmosphere, Lin reinvented the aesthetic of the series, bringing an elevated sense of craft to the proceedings. He was also able, with broad-minded screenwriting collaborators, to bring home the wayward stars-to-be who had previously defined the tone of the movies.
The next three, referenced above, demonstrated there is no ceiling and each was/is arguably the defining action movie of its given year, replete with mega-stars and unparalleled action set pieces. Furious 7 (2015), in the hands of the venerable James Wan, marks the transition to late-stage, beyond-beyond re-uppery. Sumptuous, sexy and ludicrous, 7 is true to the tone of its predecessors but also on its way to something quite apart (to be fair, this transition started a couple of movies prior, but this feels more like the real jumping-off point). Since then, well, we've had submarines breaking through ice fields, global internet espionage and, now, trips to space. We've come a long way from hijacking 18 wheelers in the Inland Empire. One can't help but wonder whether the death of Paul Walker during the production of 7 (in an un-sanctioned sports car crash on a public street) left more creative control in the hands of co-star and producer Vin Diesel (who has long seemed bent on world domination), but I suppose I'll never know.
To circle back, we're now nine movies in, with Lin back at the helm. The movie opens with a quasi-origin story, taking us back to the 1989 on-track incident that killed Dominic Toretto's (Diesel) father and set Dom on the path of a career criminal (with a heart of gold, of course). In the present day, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriquez) have settled down on a remote farmstead (inexplicable) to raise young Brian, Dom's son with the late Elena (Elsa Pataky), ruthlessly murdered by Cipher (Charlize Theron) just one movie ago. But, of course, the quiet life doesn't make for much of a two-and-a-half-hour action epic. And so enters the team — Roman, Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) — with news about a CIA operation gone wrong and a downed aircraft carrying secret cargo. You know, the usual. The band is back together, marauding across some war-torn Central American nation in a collection of delightfully silly vehicles (Letty has become something of a motocross ace, apparently). The team's recovery mission is foiled by a long-lost family member, after which they are rejoined by Mia (Jordana Brewster) and spread out across the globe to track down the villains and beloved associate thought dead. Meanwhile, more and more of Dom's history plays out in flashbacks.
It's all too much but that's kind of the point, isn't it? While I intermittently longed for some of the simpler magic of the earlier movies, I'm still a sucker for all this nonsense. I was troubled only briefly by the notion that all our beloved protagonists have become highly proficient killers (Dom dispatches maybe 20 faceless baddies in one fistfight) and that Roman's growing belief that they are all somehow invincible didn't get a proper payoff. But I knew what I was getting into; while F9 may not be the best in the series, it is certainly a work of logical progression. PG13. 145M. BROADWAY.
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.
BLACK WIDOW. Zip up your jumpsuit for prequel action with Marvel's spy heroine. Starring Scarlet Johansson. PG13. 133M. BROADWAY, DISNEY PLUS, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS. Strangers who've all survived deadly escape rooms are thrown together to remind you how terrible being indoors with other people is. PG13. 88M. BROADWAY.
THE GREEN KNIGHT. Dev Patel sends you back to the Norton Anthology as Sir Gawain, who goes shot-for-shot with a mysterious, supernatural knight. R. 130M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
JOE BELL. Mark Wahlberg stars as a father embarking on a cross-country walk after his son kills himself as the result of anti-gay bullying. R. 130M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
JUNGLE CRUISE. Dwayne Johnson captains the Disneyland ride turned action comedy with Emily Blunt. PG13. 127M. BROADWAY, DISNEY PLUS, MILL CREEK.
OLD. M. Night Shyamalan thriller about a family visiting a beach that's rapidly aging them and holy Coppertone, I need more sunscreen right now. PG13. 108M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SNAKE EYES. Ninja action in the origin story for the most taciturn of the G.I. Joe franchise characters. Starring Henry Golding. PG13. 121M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY. LeBron James and Bugs Bunny shoot hoops before Bezos and Branson gentrify space. PG. 115M. BROADWAY, HBO MAX, MILL CREEK.
STILLWATER. An Oklahoma roughneck (Matt Damon) tries to save his daughter (Abigail Breslin) from a French prison. R. 140M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE SUICIDE SQUAD. DC Comic baddies (Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena) swoop in to save the day. R. 132M. BROADWAY, HBO MAX, MILL CREEK.
For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.