Release Date(s)2021 (September 21, 2021)
Studio(s)Original Film/One Race/Perfect Storm/China Film/Universal Pictures (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
[Editor’s Note: This review contains minor spoilers, but nothing you wouldn’t already know if you’ve seen the film’s poster and trailers.]
In the brief flashback sequence (set in 1989) that opens F9: The Fast Saga, we learn that Dom and Mia have a younger brother named Jakob—from whom they’ve been estranged for many years—and see the death of their father Jack in a racing accident at the local track. Back in the present, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have retired to the country to raise Dom’s young son Brian. But they’re getting sick and tired of looking over their shoulders, a situation that comes to a boil when Dom learns that Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) has been involved in a plane crash in Central America while transporting the cyber-criminal Cipher (Charlize Theron). Upon discovering that Jakob (John Cena) may have been involved in this accident, Dom, Letty, and the whole crew drive right back into the action (literally), first in an effort to find Mr. Nobody and then to recover both halves of a top secret device called Ares that can essentially hack any computer on Earth. Naturally, this becomes a race against none other than Jakob, who’s now involved in a Bond villain-level criminal plot to control the entire planet. And to stop him, they’ll need to enlist the help of lots of old friends, including... just maybe... a certain Korean drifter (of the four-wheeled variety) for whom justice has sorely been needed.
Let’s just get this out of the way right up front: Justin Lin’s F9: The Fast Saga is straight-up ridiculous. The story is preposterous, the plot is obvious and frequently convenient, it’s packed with Fast and Furious clichés and fan service, and almost literally everyone who has ever appeared in this franchise either returns or makes a cameo. And yet... it’s so ridiculous that it’s also undeniably entertaining. Honestly, how do you not like an action film that features Helen Mirren as a supercar-driving criminal master thief? Have I mentioned the Mad Max-style vehicle chases, complete with cars equipped with powerful electromagnets that operate like tractor beams? There’s a good drinking game to be made of the number of times Vin Diesel talks about family in these films. Meanwhile, Lucas Black’s Southern drawl is so thick you can walk right into space on it. Speaking of which, if the previous films left you thinking: “Hell, about the only thing they haven’t done yet in the Fast and Furious franchise is launch a car into orbit”... achievement unlocked! The best advice I can give you here is to just turn up the volume and turn off your brain. You’ll laugh a few times, smile a few times, roll your eyes more than once, and yet finish secure in the knowledge that there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours in a movie theater. There are better ways to spend those hours too, but still.
F9: The Fast Saga was mostly captured digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 3.4K and 4.5K) using a mix of Arri Alexa cameras with Panavision Primo lenses, though the flashback scenes were shot on 35 mm photochemical film in Super 35 format using Arriflex cameras, and the edit occasionally incorporates footage from previous installments that were shot photochemically as well. Whatever the source, this film was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for theatrical release. For its debut on Ultra HD, that DI was graded for high dynamic range (this disc includes HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision options). It should also be noted that Universal’s 4K and Blu-ray editions of F9 include both the 143-minute theatrical version of the film along with a 150-minute Director’s Cut (you’re asked choose between them when starting the film). The latter introduces Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) earlier, shows young Dom meeting up with his crew after being released from prison (complete with younger actors playing the various characters), more of Dom and Jakob’s drag race, another scene with Cardi B, and several extended moments of the crew’s banter and interplay. None of it really adds much to the narrative, but there are some nice character moments.
Either way, the overall image quality is here very good, though it varies a bit from shot to shot. Detail and texturing are generally excellent, but everything is often moving around and shaking so much that you rarely get to really appreciate it. Clarity and resolution are certainly improved over the Blu-ray version, and grain is present but controlled. But Lin’s commendable effort to shoot as much of his stunts and action practically (a very good thing) is too often hampered by VFX shots that look like... well, VFX shots. Still, the real improvement in the 4K results from the wider gamut of high dynamic range, which greatly enhances the color palette—not just in the jungle chase sequence but throughout the film. The shadows are much deeper and there’s greater punch to the highlights too. Skin tones are lovely and natural looking. The variety of HDR options here is definitely appreciated (though I’m not sure there’s a great deal of difference between them). This image isn’t what you’d call dazzling, especially compared to other new release Ultra HD titles, but it’s certainly solid.
Universal’s 4K disc offers its primary audio in a terrific English Dolby Atmos track (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) that delivers plenty of sonic thrills and bluster. The stage is large and enveloping right from the start, creating a true hemispheric environment of sound. Mixing is aggressive throughout, with lively panning and movement from channel to channel, pleasingly robust bass, and rich and throaty-sounding mids. The overhead channels engage often in set pieces (particularly the stealth bomber catch, various cliff jumps and magnet flips, and both rocket car launches). In quieter scenes, the height channels complete the overhead ambience smoothly. Dialogue is clean and Brian Tyler’s pulse-pounding score envelops the listener from seemingly every direction, providing a bit of sonic lubrication for the action. This is definitely a mix that will put your surround sound set-up through its paces. Additional audio mixes are offered in Spanish and French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, with optional subtitles available in English SDH, Spanish and French.
Universal’s Ultra HD release includes the film in 4K on UHD as well as 1080p HD on a Blu-ray Disc. Both discs offer the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Justin Lin
- Gag Reel (HD – 3:34)
- F9: All In (HD — 9-part documentary – 45:23 in all)
- Practically Fast (HD – 7:52)
- Shifting Priorities (HD – 3:59)
- Justice for Han (HD – 3:37)
- A Day on Set with Justin Lin (HD – 10:00)
- John Cena: Supercar Superfan (HD – 4:36)
The commentary is entertaining in that Lin clearly understands action filmmaking, enjoys what he’s doing, and loves working with this cast and crew. He shares his ideas, his inspirations, various technical details on the production, and other stories. The featurettes are a bit glossy, but they’re still a cut above the usual EPK fluff simply because it’s clear that Lin and Diesel are more invested than most filmmakers in their creation. Pretty much everything is covered that you’d care to see, including a good look at the film’s practical effects and race sequences. Highlights of the All In documentary include segments on the friendship and chemistry between Diesel and Helen Mirren, and the film’s Tokyo Drift cast reunion. And the Gag Reel and Supercar Superfan segments are cute, with the cast’s enthusiasm coming through pretty clearly throughout. There’s also a Movies Anywhere Digital code in a paper insert in the packaging.
At this point, it’s fair to say that the Fast and the Furious franchise has reinvented itself as a kind of blue collar Mission: Impossible with race cars. And honestly, why the hell not? No matter what you think of the overall narrative in these films, it’s hard not to have a ton of respect for Vin Diesel and what he’s built here. I have no idea where this franchise is going next. I mean, the Moon? Mars? Auto racing under water, perhaps? Or maybe they’ll just dial things back a bit and tell a more personal story. Who knows. No matter what they do, though, I expect it’ll be more entertaining than it has any right to be. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
- Bill Hunt