Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
It’s been 20 years since we all became passengers along for the ride of a lifetime in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. The latest chapter directed by Justin Lin, F9, has everything folks love and triples down on the bombastic, brawny hallmarks of the beloved franchise. This time around the filmmakers dip into the sudsy drama of Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) backstory involving an estranged brother (John Cena) and a tech device that threatens to end the world.
Lin, speaking from the film’s virtual press conference, was incredibly excited to return to the helm of a series he holds near and dear.
“The building of it and earning each chapter and, hopefully, trying to do something new every time, and not repeating, that’s something that excites me. To be able to do it with this group of people is very special.”
Diesel was ecstatic to bring director Justin Lin back into the FAST saga fold, even extending his deal, offering to finish out the franchise for its final chapters.
“I knew Justin Lin was directing FAST 9 before he knew [which is] prior to me filming 8. I’ve loved the other directors who’ve been a part of directing – James Wan and Gary Gray all did fantastic jobs. But the task of creating the finale weighed on me 7 years ago. I started to feel like I was getting closer to FAST 10.
What Justin brings, for me personally, as an artist, a shorthand for the production as a whole – a commitment that’s unparalleled. In terms of the storytelling, [he brings] a deep mythology that you only get from being a part of the mythology for 10 years. All of those reasons are why it’s so critical for him to direct the FAST 10 two-part series finale – and this movie, F9.”
Jordana Brewster’s character Mia comes out of retirement and joins the gang on their mission. She says Lin’s signature touches make the film – and the franchise – as solid as it is.
“I can’t imagine this franchise in anyone else’s hands. No one puts as much heart and thought into it. [When] you watch F9, you’ll see every character has an arc. Every character has a moment. And that’s so difficult to do when there’s so many characters to service.”
The magic secret to going bigger in this series is keeping the characters constantly maturing as a unit. Lin elucidates,
“It’s trying to support our characters. To be able to acknowledge the evolution [of these characters] it allows us to push ourselves and challenge ourselves to see if we can bring new opticals to confront.”
This includes crafting action sequences where the stunts place the character stakes at the forefront of the stunts.
“I enjoy the fight scenes. It took [the actors] months to learn the choreography. But to make sure, on the day, that every one of those beats are emotionally connected. I had a great time on set with Michelle, Jordana and Vin. To be that intimate in trying to find realness in something that’s been worked on for months, that’s something I enjoyed.”
Brewster also loved getting to participate in the stuntwork – something she confesses she’d be angling to do since being on Lin’s episode of MAGNUM, P.I..
“I got to do a bunch of action scenes. I was very deliberate in guest starring on MAGNUM, because I thought, ‘This is going to enable me to show Justin what I can do.’ I’d send the scenes to Justin and go, ‘Justin, this is kinda what Mia should be doing as well.’ And then in L.A., I’d start training in Tae Kwon Do with my Tae Kwon Do master and then sent him that footage. I was just trying to push Justin into giving me more action and he finally relented.
Once we arrived in London, I worked with the stunt team and memorized the stunt sequences. It was so much fun to learn the choreography and then to put in on film. It’s really great to be physical.”
Lin uncovered creativity from the challenges thrown at him daily.
“Doing a film of this size, every day when I wake up at 4am, there’s a different sense of challenge. It could be something we’re shooting a continent away and I want to make sure the lenses I chose or the cars are articulating the way that I planned. Or it could be as simple as trying to make a 3-year-old feel like Dominic Toretto is really his father. It’s a mix of all these things that make it exciting. But at the same time, I feel like we’re doing the right thing when every day is a new challenge.”
One of the new obstacles appears during the third act climax when the gang tries to intercept a very long, very massive combat vehicle called, “The Armadillo.”
“That was a very difficult sequence. The vehicle didn’t exist [prior]. The size and scope I wanted to convey, we had to build from ground up. Not only were we designing the action, we were building the vehicle that had to be tested and make sure we had multiple vehicles. It’s probably the most logistical thing I’d ever had to do.”
Co-star Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays the crew’s tech wizard Ramsey, got to push her own boundaries further in this instillation, getting to drive in a hilarious, high-stakes pursuit around the streets of London. She says,
“It’s just so funny to me that I’ve done three of these movies and I don’t drive and neither does Ramsey. In terms of preparation for not knowing how to drive, I did absolutely nothing. It was the least amount of preparation I did. We have an incredible stunt team that do all of those really awesome sequences. My contribution to that is on a soundstage, on a stationary vehicle and there’s green screen and people moving the truck so it looks like it’s moving. Then they can put cameras close.”
Skilled rapper-turned-actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, whose been with the franchise since 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, loves being a part of both the music and movie industry. He’s found both satisfying in their own unique ways, specifically when it comes to elements being in others’ creative controls.
“The thing about being an actor is you’re only playing one part. You have a director, writer and producers and you only play one part. But when you’re doing music, it’s pretty much the beat and yourself. [It’s] a blank canvas where you’re creating something from absolutely nothing. There’s less elements when it comes to making music than it is doing a full production – movie. I love both of them. They’re different.”
F9 contains his favorite moment for his character – a hilariously bombastic one shared with Tyrese Gibson.
“Us, going into outer-space.”
He continues, reflecting on the reasons why he loves that scene and continuing to deepen his character through the repartee shared with Gibson.
“We love it. Part of the reason it’s like that is we’re cool off-screen as well. We always joke and laugh and have a good time. I think that has a lot to do with it.”
Gibson says of their relationship,
“We had the utmost respect for each other before we even got cast in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. We took that friendship and relationship and brought it over into the franchise. If we wanna come up with something on the spot, the directors normally let us do it and come with it. There’s only so much dialogue and banter and funny stuff we do between each other that’s actually written. A lot of material we come up with normally comes from when we get to the set.”
Gibson hopes that the release will be able to entertain audiences and bring some much needed relief to people’s real anxieties.
“We just hope that people have fun. There’s so many opportunities to be stressed out about so much crazy shit in the world. If there’s such a thing as laughing and the people are having fun for a couple of hours out of their day, it’s a very proud torch to carry.”
F9 is now playing.