Thursday, July 29, 2021
Thursday, July 29, 2021

In 2001 ‘Fast and Furious’ riveted box offices and in 2021—a franchise standout is born: ‘F9’

If you haven’t found yourself sitting at the edge of your seat during a night at the movies in the past twenty years, F9 should seal the deal.

F9 is the ninth chapter in the Furious Saga and takes the viewer back twenty years ago to when The Fast and the Furious first shattered box office records—garnering over $40 million during its opening weekend in Jun. 2001 and going on to earn more than $5 billion around the world.

F9, which opens Jun. 25 nationwide, is an apt—perhaps even a therapeutic—entertainment for these jumpy times.

Dom Toretto—played by franchise star Vin Diesel—is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but they know that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, that threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he’s going to save those he loves most. His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Dom’s forsaken brother, Jakob—played by John Cena.

If your memory of the first The Fast and the Furious is fuzzy, the ninth installment is generous with reminders.

F9 sees the return of filmmaker Justin Lin, who directed the third, fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of the series when it transformed into a global blockbuster. The action hurtles around the globe—from London to Tokyo, from Central America to Edinburgh, and from a secret bunker in Azerbaijan to the teeming streets of Tbilisi.

Along the way, old friends will be resurrected, old foes will return, history will be rewritten, and the true meaning of family will be tested like never before.

Perhaps most captivating is Dom’s reunion with his forsaken brother, Jakob; though it’s only a few minutes of screen time, it sticks long after the credits roll.

In the end—a franchise standout is born.

Genre: Action Thriller 
Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, with Helen Mirren, with Kurt Russell, and Charlize Theron 
Directedby: Justin Lin 
Based on Characters Created By: Gary Scott Thompson 
Story by: Justin Lin & Alfredo Botello and Daniel Casey 
Screenplay by: Daniel Casey & Justin Lin 
Producers: Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel, Justin Lin, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Joe Roth, Clayton Townsend, Samantha Vincent 

Screening: Philadelphia Jun. 22, 2021

THE F9 BACKSTORY

For writer-producer-director Justin Lin, who returns to the franchise for his fifth turn behind the camera with F9, his Fast homecoming was joyful, but unexpected. Lin had not directed the two most recent films, and although he had maintained his relationships with producer and star Vin Diesel and the Fast family, it wasn’t until an original, innovative idea for the franchise took hold of him that he thought seriously about returning to the Fast clan. “I never expected to come back,” Lin says. “I thought that the saga we had explored in the four films we had made together was it for me. But one morning I woke up and I was just inspired by the fact that there is something more to the Fast mythology that we should explore. What I love about the Fast franchise is that the films have never been the same story over and over again. They’re always moving forward. That’s great, but I thought there was an opportunity to create a film that took the eight previous films and put them together in a way that answered the big questions that Fast fans have wondered all these years, questions that have remained unanswered … until now.”

This meant diving deep into the previously unexplored backstories of the franchise’s most beloved characters, and delving into themes of fatherhood, brotherhood and betrayal. “It was important to me that this next chapter emotionally be the connective tissue for the whole saga,” Lin says. “Thematically, I felt we needed to make a film where the characters had to come to terms with their pasts so that they could have hope for the future.”

At the center of that emotional exploration, of course, is Diesel’s Dom Toretto, who, through the arrival of his estranged brother, Jakob (John Cena), is forced to confront some of his most private and painful memories. In F9, we learn how Dom became the man he is, and why family, both chosen and biological, is so essential to him. “What F9 does is shed light on how Dom has managed his vulnerability his whole life,” Diesel says. “That’s what’s so fun about the evolution of this character, because it’s something that we all can identify with.”

As the film begins, Dom is at a crossroads. Fatherhood has shifted the focus of his adrenaline-fueled existence to a more sedate life off the beaten path. Living on his farm with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and taking care of Little Brian brings a wealth of new responsibilities, and while Dom feels the weight of it all, Letty, too, is struggling in her new role. Their relationship is feeling the strain and is thrown into further chaos with the arrival of Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), who inform Dom and Letty that the plane of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) has gone down in the Central American jungle with the notorious Cipher (Charlize Theron) in his custody. The team has come to Dom and Letty expecting the couple to join them and get back into the espionage game. Letty is up for it, but, to everyone’s shock, Dom opts out.

“When we have children, the stakes are higher,” Diesel says. “Now everything Dom does, he has to consider the true source of his vulnerability: his child. It’s not that Dom is ecstatic about living on the farm. He’s governed by necessity. There’s a lot of unfinished business in this world that he’s been living in. A lion is vulnerable because of its cub, and that’s who Dom is. In order to protect his cub, this is the sacrifice he makes.”

What fans will come to learn over the course of the film is exactly why Dom is so emphatic about protecting his son and worries about leaving Little Brian without a father. “When we catch up with Dom at the start of F9, he has taken the path of the retired gunslinger who’s looking for peace and a little bit of solitude,” says Lin’s fellow screenwriter Daniel Casey, who conceived the story of the film with Lin and Alfredo Botello. “After the events of The Fate of the Furious, it’s become clear now that Dom has powerful enemies and so he’s looking to keep his family safe at any cost. The idea that one day he may wind up killed on a mission that’s too dangerous and not be there to see his son grow up is always in the back of his mind.”

What Dom discovers, of course, is that you can’t avoid your destiny, or your past, no matter how hard you try, or how great the risk. “There are many interesting aspects of this storyline that are going to surprise our audience and unravel more of the identity of the characters that they’re so familiar with,” Diesel says. “For Dom to be a father in the truest sense, he has to go and revisit his past.”

For Lin, F9 would once again push the boundaries of the hyper-real driving and fighting action that fans have come to expect, but it would also challenge the cast, most of whom have inhabited their characters for close to 20 years.

“We are really going to push our characters and their emotional arcs to the limit,” Lin says. “I think that has always been the secret to the phenomenal success of the Fast franchise. I know people talk about the action, but really, at its core, it is about all these characters evolving and taking them places emotionally that no one has ever seen before.” Lin’s plan would once again elevate and energize the franchise by juxtaposing thought-provoking themes and plot twists with innovative action.

The cast, it’s fair to say, was blown away when they finally got their hands on the script, not least because of the jaw-dropping revelations that Dom and Mia (Jordana Brewster) have a brother—a dangerous one, at that—and that Han (Sung Kang) is alive.

“’A long-lost Toretto?! And he’s the villain?!’” Chris “Ludacris” Bridges remembers thinking when he first read the screenplay. “That’s what excited me most when I first read the script. Han’s return was a close, close second. I knew fans were absolutely going to lose their minds when they found out that Sung had come back. I was ecstatic. Sung is just a great person all around; his energy is phenomenal.”

For Jordana Brewster, the revelation of another Toretto sibling was a welcome piece to the puzzle of the family backstory that shed light on Dom and Mia’s origin story. “The Toretto family has always been a mystery, so to have those pieces filled in after so many years is really interesting to me as an actress,” Jordana Brewster says. “It informs where Dom’s been coming from all these years, and then you understand, all the more, the importance of the makeshift family they’ve brought together. By adding the Jakob element, now we get to explore all that and try to reconcile the past and a possible future. Mia has a lot invested in the outcome as well, so she’s also very wary of how Dom handles the news.”

And, of course, the cast was thrilled to be working with Lin again. Led by Diesel, one of the franchise’s principal architects for the past two decades, the cast fully embraced the return of the visionary director who transformed the series into a global blockbuster. “To wrap up this era of the saga I knew I needed the longest-running director in the franchise as my partner,” Diesel says.

THE CHARACTERS

With every new chapter, the all-star cast continues to gain traction and evolve, portraying foes, allies and those who fall in between.

Along with Vin Diesel as Dom Toretto, The Fast and the Furious original cast members Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster return to their roles of Letty and Mia, which they originated back in 2001 Joined by Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey, Rodriguez and Brewster lead the vanguard of the franchise’s powerful and empowered female characters. And F9 is the pinnacle (thus far) of these indelible, and now iconic, characters. “As a producer, what’s exciting for me is to have an opportunity to push the envelope beyond what we’ve established with incredibly strong female characters like Letty, Mia and Ramsey,” Samantha Vincent says. “This franchise has always been known for that, and it’s something I’m incredibly proud of. To see Letty figure out how she can be the Letty we know and love, and also be a mother, or for Mia and Ramsey to test their own boundaries and define themselves as well-rounded women who’ve got so many layers, it’s all very satisfying to see it play out so organically within the F9 storyline.”

Dom Toretto
Vin Diesel

When Justin Lin was inspired to delve into Dom Toretto’s past for F9, it provided an exquisite opportunity to connect thematic and emotional threads that have woven through the franchise from the beginning.

From the start, Lin knew he wanted to use Dom’s iconic line, “I live my life a quarter mile at a time”—which Dom says to Brian O’Conner in the very first film— to lay the emotional foundation for F9, if not for the whole franchise. Lin saw the line as the defining moment that shaped Dom Toretto as a modern-day outlaw with a staunch moral code.

Vin Diesel thought the idea was a stroke of brilliance that captured the heart of the entire franchise. “I’m excited that we’ve taken what was just a conversation in a garage between Dom and Brian two decades ago and are contextualizing it and elaborating on how Dom felt in that moment,” Diesel says. Dom is a man who doesn’t look back. Now, though, in F9, he’s forced to.

Letty
Michelle Rodriguez

For Michelle Rodriguez, the role of Letty, an East L.A. adrenaline junkie who loves as hard as she drives, her ride-or-die relationship with Dom Toretto has survived insurmountable obstacles over the years.

When Dom went rogue to protect his newly discovered son, the revelation that he had fathered a child with Elena was an emotional blow to Letty. But with Elena’s death, which played out in The Fate of the Furious to a shocked audience, Letty would need to step into the role of mother to Little Brian.

In F9, Letty is living a slower-paced family life, tucked away in central California. The situation is stifling for her, and she’s struggling to reconcile how she can move forward in this new role. She’s finding that she and Dom want different things, and she’s unsure of whether this quiet way of living is temporary for Dom or if he’ll eventually come around. Complicating matters, she loves Little Brian more deeply than she can bear to admit and is tortured by the fear that he will grow up resenting her for not being who she can never be: his biological mother.

So, when Ramsey, Roman and Tej show up at the farm with a new mission, Letty sees an escape route: a chance to leave behind these unanswerable questions and insurmountable anxieties in her head—at least for a while – and, she hopes, to reconnect with Dom on more familiar terrain.

“Letty’s not Letty unless she’s facing her fears head-on and taking herself to the edge,” Rodriguez says. “That’s just who she is. She understands Dom’s fear but finds it difficult to reconcile it with who they are as individuals and as a couple. Letty has loved Dom pretty much her whole life, and he’s always been the guy that’s willing to face the flames with her. They’re both each other’s ‘ride or die’ to the end. Letty always looks at the big picture and is willing to fight the big fight to save the world so that, in the end, our family is safe.” When Dom initially decides not to take on the mission to Central America, she’s even less sure of where they stand as a couple. “Slowly she begins to understand why Dom made the decision he made,” Rodriguez says. “But she doesn’t necessarily agree with it, philosophically.”

Letty’s journey in F9 will test her emotionally, and physically, as never before, and the events of the film will determine not only her own future but will lead her toward a deeper clarity about her relationship with Dom and where she truly belongs.

Roman
Tyrese Gibson

Tyrese Gibson, who made his franchise debut with 2 Fast 2 Furious as Brian O’Conner’s longtime friend, returns for his sixth turn as the ebullient Roman, the ever-reliable source of comic relief during even the most dire situations. But he’s also far more than that, and in F9, audiences will get to experience Roman in a new way.

Early on during the development of the script, Justin Lin and Gibson sat down to discuss potential story arcs for Roman. While Roman still delivers some of the film’s greatest comedic moments, Lin wanted to give Roman the opportunity to shine in a wholly different way. In a scene aptly and succinctly described as ‘Roman goes Rambo,’ Gibson runs, jumps, tackles and handles an automatic weapon with finesse, taking out a military squadron singlehandedly.

“The one thing that I worked really hard on with Justin was to give Roman a little attitude adjustment in this chapter,” Tyrese Gibson says. “I’m older, and Roman’s older, so doing things that feel over-the-top, comedically, has sort of run its course. Justin and I were on a mission to try and find those serious beats, which was interesting because we’ve never done that before. People are still going be laughing, they’re still going to have fun with my character, but it’s not going to be that exaggerated stuff you’ve seen over and over again. There’s some balance there, and as an actor it was way more natural for me to flip that script a bit.”

Tej
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges

From his memorable first appearance in 2 Fast 2 Furious with his towering afro, Tej, played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, has been the franchise’s Renaissance Man.

The garage owner/promoter of Miami’s underground street races has continued to arm himself with a wealth of new skills with every chapter in the film series. Throughout the franchise, whether taking out a beefy Emirati security guard in Abu Dhabi with swift jiujitsu moves or rewiring the weapons system of a Russian submarine, Tej takes every new challenge thrown at him in stride— and that’s just how Bridges likes it.

“I’m extremely pleased with the way that Tej has grown throughout this franchise,” Bridges says. “I think audiences that continue to show up for these films expect to see the characters growing and progressing, so I’m glad that audiences have been able to continue learning new things about Tej. I mean, a lot of people didn’t even know he could whoop ass until Furious 7!”

It’s fair to say that in F9, Tej more than lives up to that challenge, as he and Roman embark on what is, without question, the most audacious, insane, out-of-this-world mission in the history of the franchise. And in a 1984 Pontiac Fiero, no less.

Jakob Toretto
John Cena

He is an adversary unlike any that Dom and his crew have faced in the history of the franchise. Jakob Toretto, played by film star and WWE superstar John Cena, is a peerless professional assassin, a high-performance driver as skilled as Dom himself, and, in partnership with an aspiring oligarch named Otto (Danish newcomer Thue Ersted Rasmussen), he’s within reach of a world-threatening device known as Project Aries that will make Ramsey’s God’s Eye tracking device in Furious 7 seem like a parlor trick.

Jakob, a disgraced U.S. government operative, also has a lethal skill set, has mysterious ties to Mr. Nobody and is fueled by a vengeance that is blood-and-bone deep: He’s Dom and Mia’s banished brother.

For Dom’s crew, the revelation that the man they’re up against is Dom’s brother—one they never even knew he had—raises issues beyond the overt challenge of how to defeat him. That Dom, a man who has espoused family loyalty above all else for as long as they’ve known him, discarded his own brother is an unthinkable discovery for his chosen family. And it forces them to re-evaluate everything they think they know about him, and for Dom to confront his own choices, and ultimately himself.

Casting Cena in the role was a stroke of genius, precisely because he’s never played a villain and is adored by fans around the world, making Jakob immediately relatable and sympathetic to audiences, even when he’s doing terrible things. Jakob is not some cold, calculating evil force. He’s wounded and rageful, which makes him both more human and more dangerous.

Early on, before the role was finalized, Cena met informally with Vin Diesel to discuss joining the franchise. No mention was made of the specifics of the role, but for Cena, just the possibility of joining a franchise that he had loved for two decades was thrilling. An avowed gearhead with his own enviable collection of cars, Cena is wholly in his element when it comes to fast and furious cars of every make and model.

Diesel, who has a very symbiotic relationship with his 61 million+ social media followers, then floated the idea, in a video post to his fans, of Cena joining the franchise. The response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive, and it cemented his and Justin Lin’s own feelings about Cena: This was a match made in Fast heaven.

Soon after, Cena was officially invited to the Fast family in a role that would ultimately reverberate throughout the franchise. Not least of all for Cena himself. “I think what has kept the franchise at the forefront of what fans want to see all these years is the narrative about family,” Cena says. “That really excites me, because now I actually get the honor of bearing the Toretto name.”

With Cena on board, Lin met with the actor to begin finalizing the character of Jakob. Their meetings would lead to insights and ideas that Lin would then share with fellow screenwriter Daniel Casey. “John plays so many good guys that we really wanted to take a couple of extra steps to just make sure that we could paint him as a multi-layered bad guy early on,” Casey says. “It really came down to the work that Justin and John did themselves. They would meet and really hash out the character in depth. These adjustments and nuances would make their way back to me so that I could layer them into the screenplay and ensure Jakob’s dialogue hit the right emotional marks for Dom. The thing about Jakob is that he knows how to get inside his older brother’s head in a way that previous villains in the series, even Cipher, aren’t able to. That’s what makes him so formidable. For me, the fun of crafting the storytelling for Dom and Jakob began from these conversations about all the anger that Jakob is carrying around.”

Lin, always meticulous with the details when it comes to character development, knew early on that he wanted the Toretto cross necklace, a resounding touchstone and symbol of family, incorporated into Jakob’s backstory. Its presence alone would pack a powerful emotional punch while painting a dark picture of the vanished brother.

The emotional wallops don’t stop there, either. For all the jaw-dropping, mind-blowing physical confrontations, stunts, chases and set pieces that make F9 such a spectacular blast to watch, it is the blood rift between these brothers that deals the films hardest blows.

“Jakob is a compelling antagonist with a deadly skill set, but deep down he’s driven by this need for his big brother to recognize that he has value, and for him, the best way to do it is to show his superiority,” Cena says. “It may sound weird, but what really motivates Jakob is summed up best by something Cipher says to Jakob in the film. At one point in the film, almost as a throwaway line, Cipher says to him, ‘All you ever wanted was a hug.’ Jakob just wants to be part of a family unit, and that is something that Dom took away from him. At the end of the day, he wants to show his brother that he has worth.”

Ramsey
Nathalie Emmanuel

After joining the cast in Furious 7 as brilliant hacker Ramsey, Nathalie Emmanuel returns to the role that has evolved from an outsider to Dom’s crew to a trusted and highly valued member of the team. In the process, Ramsey has come into her own, and in F9 she shows just how much power she can unleash when its needed most.

“I’ve always considered Ramsey to be a bad ass, but in F9, she’s a bad ass in a new way,” Nathalie Emmanuel says. “She started out as a bit of a loner and sort of terrified of everything Dom and the team does. She’s always been the tech girl tucked away in a room on her computers. Now, to see her confidence grow and to see her prove herself to be a really instrumental part of this group is just so cool and really exciting.”

As the creator of the God’s Eye device in Furious 7, Ramsey is in the unique position of knowing just how dangerous this weapon that Jakob Toretto is after can be and what needs to be done to thwart him and everyone else trying to get it. Often, it falls to Ramsey and Tej to explain all the technological info to the rest of the team. This also means that Emmanuel has to memorize and deliver some pretty lengthy and technical jargon. Not that she can tell you exactly how she goes about doing that.

“I think I black out, to be honest,” Emmanuel says, laughing. “It’s all complicated and technical, but for me it’s as important to try and understand what I’m saying, otherwise there’s no way you can make it interesting to the people that you’re telling it to. I’ve had to research a lot of the technical terms so that it makes sense in my head. It is tough, but when you get it down, it’s really satisfying. It’s been more difficult than learning the different dialects in Game of Thrones.”

As a reward, perhaps, for memorizing all that tech language, Emmanuel gets to have a little fun in F9. For the first time, Ramsey gets to jump behind the wheel in this film, when she’s tasked with maneuvering a hulking freight truck at high speed through narrow streets. It’s at that moment, though, that Dom and the team learn something very important about Ramsey that they never knew: She doesn’t know how to drive.

Mia
Jordana Brewster

In F9, Jordana Brewster returns to the role of Mia Toretto, Dom’s fast-driving younger sister who fell for undercover cop Brian O’Conner in The Fast and the Furious. Over the years, Mia has built a family and ultimately, a semblance of a normal life with Brian and their son Jack, named after her father.

This film takes Mia in daring new directions, both emotionally and physically, as she confronts the reality of who her brother, Jakob, has become, and partners with Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty on a mission that results in one of the most epic fight scenes in the franchise’s history. She also provides Letty with some much-needed tough love at a pivotal moment, taking their relationship to a deeper level than ever before. The experience proved to be a galvanizing and empowering experience for the actor.

“For the first time, amidst all this action, action, action, it feels like Mia and Letty really have this opportunity to interact with one another,” Brewster says. “Letty is always calling everyone else on their stuff and being the truth teller, so for once, Mia finally calls her out. We’re able to stop and watch these two women have this moment to reflect on this lifelong friendship and reinforce their sisterhood. While Mia is loyal to her brother, she also makes sure Letty knows she has her back and will do anything for her. It was really gratifying to be able to bring that dynamic to life.”

Han
Sung Kang

Han, the effortlessly cool gangster with a penchant for snacks, first appeared in the series with 2006’s The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, which was also the first Fast film directed by Justin Lin. Portrayed by Sung Kang, Han was the unofficial Godfather of Tokyo’s underground drift scene who had his fingers in just about every pot in the city.

Han immediately became a fan favorite, appearing in Fast & Furious, Fast 5, and Fast & Furious 6 where, in a bone-chilling coda, he appeared to meet his death at the hands of Deckard Shaw. In the aftermath, fans launched a #justiceforhan campaign that ramped up with each subsequent Fast film. Rather than ebbing over time, the campaign only gathered momentum.

Kang was touched by the fan support, but he never thought it would amount to much. “I always hoped for another opportunity to play Han, but I was really at peace with it all,” Kang says. “Even when I was invited back for Fast & Furious I was very grateful and it was a lot of fun, but I didn’t take it for granted that I was staying. It really tells you the power of the Fast audience. The #justiceforhan campaign really led the charge to demand for this character to come back.” He laughs. “And now I’m back!”

Han returns in F9 at a critical moment and blows the minds of Dom and his crew. (The details of how Han returns and where he’s been all this time are revealed in the film but won’t be spoiled here.) Kang was delighted to be back, but the first scene he shot for F9, after a seven-year absence from the franchise, was the one where Han comes to face-to-face with Dom and the team.

For Kang, shooting that moment was both anxious and emotional. “It was a little nerve-wracking the night before I filmed with everyone,” Kang says. “I didn’t know what I was really walking into. But it was like seeing old friends: it just got better. After years and years of working together and these shared experiences, we have this connection. It was a special day, and it really set the tone for me for the rest of the shoot. It wasn’t like walking onto a new film set. It was like a family reunion. The audience will see that in the film. The camera doesn’t lie, so when people ask me, ‘Are those friendships for real?’ The answer is, ‘Yes, these are real.’”

Although Kang’s presence in the film is known now, at the time of the shoot, it presented a number of security challenges for the production to keep his presence in London, let alone on the set, top secret.

The Fast cast have an enviable social media following, with fans and press outlets around the world who eagerly look to the cast’s respective feeds for the latest news and insights about daily set life.

During production on F9, Diesel posted weekly dispatches from the London set, so it was well known that filming on the ninth chapter had begun. So, when Kang arrived in the U.K., eagle-eyed customs officials questioned him a little too excitedly about his reason for being in London. From that moment on, Kang remained shrouded in secrecy throughout filming. He even had to leave set to make sure he wasn’t accidentally captured in the background of any videos or photographs from cast birthday celebrations, and he had to beg off when the cast went to public restaurants for meals or filmed anything at all for their social media feeds.

Luckily, Kang took it all in stride, knowing it would be well worth it when fans discovered, in the first trailer launch in 2020, that Han was alive. He wasn’t wrong. The trailer earned more than 500 million global views.

The return of Han was also a cause for celebration for his director. Among Justin Lin’s many contributions to the Fast franchise over now five films has been his leadership in embracing and continuing to expand the racial and cultural diversity of the films’ cast. Just as important, the race of the characters is integral to their identities but is not their sole defining feature. In the Fast cast, it is quite literally the content of their character, not the color of their skin, that matters.

“Not so long ago, if you cast people of color in a film, it had to be for a specific reason,” Lin says. That is, the race of the character was written into a film’s script and was central to that character’s identity. “I remember on Tokyo Drift, really fighting for color-blind casting, to just let actors come in for whatever role they thought they could do something with. Diversity is not about just placing people of color in a cast. It isn’t. The point is to create real opportunity, to remove the limits on what actors of color can play and believe they can play.”
         
Now, 20 years after the first film, Lin sees how much the Fast franchise, and film culture, has evolved over that time. “I remember going to see the first movie, The Fast and the Furious, at an AMC in Santa Monica,” Lin says. “The whole L.A. street racing subculture was predominantly Asian American. I thought the film was compelling and fun, but I realized that all the Asian characters were just the bad guys. I remember thinking that was such a missed opportunity. So now, 20 years later, to have been a part of building something that changed that dynamic, without ever hitting audiences over the head with it—that’s something I will always cherish.”

THE CARS

Mid-Engine Chargers and Mother Truckers
The Mind-Blowing Vehicles of F9

Automotive eye candy is an intrinsic part of the Fast saga. From the moment Dom Toretto and Brian O’Conner pulled up to the starting line in The Fast and the Furious behind the wheels of a classic American muscle car and a tuned-up neon-colored import, the film struck a cultural nerve and has become forever linked with global car culture.

Now almost 20 years later, while Dom is ostensibly a family man living a quiet life in Central California with Letty and his son Little Brian, he still favors good ole’ American muscle and maintains an enviable but diverse fleet of Dodge Chargers to prove it. Fast cars are synonymous with Dominic Toretto and each legacy character throughout the franchise.

With the last two chapters of the franchise, multiple film units shooting across several continents have become the gold standard for Fast films. For the picture vehicle department on F9, that necessitated overseeing the herculean task of sourcing and building dozens upon dozens of picture-car vehicles. From exotics, American muscles, Japanese imports, and military armored and off-vehicles, to custom-built specialty cars and rigs with the production’s special-effects teams, the filmmakers relied on their veteran go-to team to create the most thrilling vehicle fleet in Fast franchise history.

Longtime Fast alumni Dennis McCarthy returned as F9’s picture vehicle supervisor to curate and custom-build the unique fleet of vehicles for his eighth film in the franchise. McCarthy, who has continued to work with director Justin Lin on other film and television projects, knows Lin’s tastes and has an invaluable shorthand with him when it comes to delivering the unexpected or hard-to-find.

McCarthy, together with his London-based counterpart, picture vehicle supervisor ALEX KING (Justice League, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), brings his their distinct tastes and love of all things automotive to the F9 story, showcasing an impressive display of vehicles from London to Thailand and Tbilisi.

A big element of the third-act chase sequence is the monstrous 14-foot-high, 26-ton, three-section armored vehicle dubbed the ARMADILLO. Working with production designer Jan Roelfs, King was tasked with the gargantuan effort of engineering and executing another custom build that would meet both the creative demands of the scripted action and the functional demands of stunt driving at high speeds along the curved, hilly streets of Tbilisi. It took King and his department four months to work out the mechanical, electrical and fabrication requirements to complete two versions of the Armadillo and to have them prepped and ready for filming in Tbilisi.

“The Armadillo, or as I’ve always called it, the Mother Trucker, is the biggest on-screen vehicle I’ve ever seen and certainly that I’ve ever built,” King says. “The moment I saw the first concepts, I knew it would be a challenge. I just needed to work out how best to achieve that build. For me that meant breaking it down to, first, where do you start with your vehicle base? What’s your vehicle donor? Next is functionality. What’s the journey of the vehicle, and what does it need to accomplish on-camera? Number three was how do you get it from one place to the other; how easy is it to maneuver and transport? All these elements are running through your mind. In the end it was all worth it. The Armadillo outperformed our expectations and it looks like nothing is going to stop it, and that was the whole point. It’s the biggest and toughest thing on the road and it just keeps going. It’s like the Hulk on wheels.”

King ended up sourcing dozens of exotic super cars for Otto’s exclusive Tuner Party as well as for the posh party Queenie Shaw crashes. For that Queenie scene, shot along the street outside high-end jeweler Boodles in the tiny London neighborhood of Mayfair, King’s team showcased the NOBLE M600 along with a BUGATTI VEYRON, a BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT, a ROLLS ROYCE WRAITH, an ASTON MARTIN RAPIDE, a MORGAN AERO 8 and a MERCEDES SLR McLAREN. All said, close to £2.5 million (approx. $1.8 million U.S.) worth of high-end super cars graced the set for filming just that one scene.

With a massive number of custom-built vehicles needed for filming across three different continents, McCarthy and King divvied up the labor-intensive work to give Lin and second-unit director Spiro Razatos every vehicular weapon in their collective arsenal to pull off the action beats for numerous sequences, each with distinct requirements and aesthetics.

Off-road ATVs, motorbikes, military trucks, American classic cars and high-end performance vehicles were all essential to the action Lin visualized.

Nothing embodies a Fast character more than the car she or he drives. When you see the car, you know the character. For McCarthy, the opportunity to source or build original, one-of-a-kind cars that look great and perform well is both his greatest pleasure and his biggest challenge.

“Over the years, the cast cars have developed along with each character and have become extensions of who they are,” McCarthy says. “With each new chapter, my objective is to sync the cars with the cast. The goal is always for the audience to instantly know which car is for which character.”

Dom is a Dodge man through-and-through, and in F9 alone his enviable collection includes the original rebuilt 1327 CHARGER, safely tucked away in the garage of the new Toretto home along with the sleek 1970 CHARGER TANTRUM, the new wide-body 2020 CHARGER SRT HELLCAT, powering through the jungles of Central America, and the MID-ENGINE CHARGER, roaring through the streets of Edinburgh and Tbilisi.

From his first read of the F9 script, McCarthy began to formulate which standout cars he needed to slot into key scenes. The third-act action sequence in Tbilisi seemed like the perfect scene for a version of the Mid-Engine Charger. Working with his own team of veteran mechanics as well as with the team at SpeedKore, whose fabrications and custom builds have long been a strong presence in the franchise since Furious 7, the roaring Mid-Engine Charger and several hybrid versions came to life.

“Dom’s third-act car, the Mid-Engine Charger, was the one car that really jumped out at me when I read the script,” McCarthy says. “Coming up with a fresh version of a Dom Charger gets trickier with every new installment because there isn’t much that we haven’t already done. Dom’s F9 Charger had to be something that was over-the-top, iconic and different from what we’ve done in the past. With its mega-horsepower Dodge Hellcat motor, unique Charger engine location, and combination of old and new technology, the Mid-Engine Charger satisfies all of these criteria. This Charger is now my all-time favorite Fast & Furious car.”

Not to be overlooked, the rest of the team get to flex their automotive muscle in their own inimitable ways. Whether on a YAMAHA YZ250F, a HARLEY DAVIDSON IRON motorcycle or a 1969 CHEVY NOVA, Letty’s need for speed is satisfied, while Tej’s cutting-edge-yet-functional JEEP GLADIATOR gets the job done.

While Roman gets behind the wheel of the HONDA NSX, as is his wont, he wholly embraces the tenet of “Go Big or Go Home” with the MARAUDER, a military armored vehicle which, in true Roman style, is the wrong car for the occasion.

Han’s return could only be behind the wheel of a sleek, turbocharged orange/black 2020 TOYOTA GR SUPRA, which is an emotional throwback to the similarly colored Mazda RX-7 he drove in Tokyo Drift. This was one of several specific directives from Lin when he and McCarthy first discussed the film’s cast of cars.

And, in a first for the franchise, one car gets strapped to jet engines. Tej and Roman unwittingly find Sean, Twinkie and Earl acting like crazy scientists as they test an ingeniously modified 1984 PONTIAC FIERO. The results were literally out of this world.

Lin also had a very specific vision for Jakob Toretto’s car. A Ford Mustang was his only choice for Jakob, an accomplished L.A. street racer in his own right. Despite the family rift, Jakob is a Toretto through-and-through and thematically, the real-world rivalry between Dodge Charger and Ford Mustang mirrored the tension between the Toretto brothers. Jakob’s car, a specific directive from Lin, is as American muscle as it gets—a modified high-performance 2016 FORD MUSTANG GT350 with a supercharged V8, 640-horsepower engine.

On any given day when cars were on set, John Cena was in heaven as he surveyed automotive eye candy of every kind. “Being a storyteller is a gift, so joining a global franchise where there’s a focus on cars is something special for me,” Cena says. “It was really cool to be surrounded by elements of automotive culture every single day. The Fast franchise still keeps its roots in the car culture—and the people clamoring for what’s next in the car world—and I think that’s really special.”

While Dom and each member of the team have their signature cars, the true showcase of a Fast film’s eye candy is the Tuner Party scene. Stunning women and equally sleek and sexy super cars seed F9’s party, which is decidedly upscale and very European.

Dom is escorted to meet spoiled billionaire enfant terrible Otto at his opulent estate and is greeted with the sensory-overload spectacle of a tuner party happening on the grounds. Dom, Otto and Jakob are dead serious while hedonistic frivolity swirls around them amid the meticulously manicured and sprawling grounds of Hatfield House, a Jacobean estate located outside of London.

Over a dozen U.K.-based car enthusiasts gladly accepted the invitation to show off their prized four-wheeled babies worth close to £10 million (approx. $7.3 million U.S.) including a TVR SAGARIS, a LAMBORGHINI AVENTADOR SVJ, a LEXUS LFA, a LOTUS EVORA, a MERCEDES AMG GT R, a LAMBORGHINI COUNTACH ANNIVERSARY EDITION, a McLAREN 720S and the pièce de résistance, an APOLLO IE and a FERRARI LA FERRARI.

Universal Pictures presents an Original Film/One Race Films/Perfect Storm production in association with Roth/Kirschenbaum Films, a Justin Lin film, Vin Diesel in F9, starring Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, with Helen Mirren, with Kurt Russell and Charlize Theron. The film’s music is by Brian Tyler, the costume designer is Sanja Milkovic Hays and the editors are Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto ace and Greg D’Auria. The production designer is Jan Roelfs and the director of photography is Stephen F. Windon acs, asc. Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson, F9 is produced by Neal H. Moritz, p.g.a., Vin Diesel, p.g.a., Justin Lin, p.g.a., Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, p.g.a., Joe Roth, Clayton Townsend, p.g.a. and Samantha Vincent. The story is by Justin Lin & Alfredo Botello and Daniel Casey and the screenplay is by Daniel Casey & Justin Lin. F9 is directed by Justin Lin. A Universal Picture ©2020 Universal Studios.