In Conversation: F9 and the Fast Future

For anyone who hasn’t watched the trailers that give away everything, consider this a spoiler warning for F9 and the whole franchise.

Henry: A little more than a year ago, I had never seen a movie in the Fast and Furious saga and really had little interest in ever watching them despite my dad and my brother being fans for years and often talking about the series around me. At one point I even recall saying I might have to skip them forever just to leave some big movie unseen. Then the pandemic gave me more time than ever to watch movies and somewhere in the 1,500 I got to last year, I managed to watch the whole series and actually enjoy it quite a lot. Longtime readers will remember that Kern happened to watch them at the same time and the three of us had a discussion about them that I’ll link here for anyone curious. A year later, not only was I a fan of the franchise, but F9 was about the most excited I’d been for any movie in a good long while and, though I’d seen a whole bunch of movies in cinemas in the last few months, it really felt like the first time I was back to the old days as I walked into the AMC Times Square to a full cinema of people ready to shout at a bunch of bald dudes driving fast cars. I haven’t been a huge fan of a lot of the recent output in the series but this one was genuinely a lot of fun even as it leaned into some of the aspects I haven’t been in love with. Somehow, as it got wilder than anything we’ve seen before and took our heroes into space, it also managed some emotional moments that were quite touching and delivered everything I could want from a film that’s definitionally going to be quite dumb. I know you’ve been a fan of the series for quite a few years and have rewatched and reranked them all many times. How did this one hold up to your expectations and fit into your view of the franchise?

Lee: Howdy howdy Big H, I’m glad you and Kern (to lesser extent) have become part of cinema’s best Familia. Like you said, I have indeed been a fan for years—since the beginning if we want specifics. The Fast & the Furious was the first film I ever snuck into, so it’ll not only is it my fave of the franchise, but it holds a special memory with my father for me. I’ve long since paid my dues for not technically supporting the first film financially, by owning all of them in bluray at one point or another. But hey, this franchise sparked from stolen DVD players, so I’m sure Dom & Brian would approve. And if that isn’t great, I don’t know what to tell you.

I’ll be frank, going into F9, I was hesitant. I’m not a huge fan of 7 and 8. Had 7 not had the Paul Walker tribute (the best tribute any actor will ever get in a film), it wouldn’t be too enjoyable for me at all. And if it weren’t for the then budding bromance between The Rock & The Stath in 8, that one would be my least fave of the franchise. Thankfully, long-time director and first time writer for the franchise (I believe) Justin Lin, returned. Not only did he bring the out of control vehicle that is the franchise post-6, back into control, but he hit the NOS to rekindle the familial dynamics that are core to the entire 10 entry series. For the most part I had a blast with F9, and like you initially said in your Letterboxd log, it’s the best in a while. For me. It’s comfortably sitting behind 1, 5, and 6.

Henry: I’m right there with you not being a huge fan of 7 or 8, though the tribute at the end of 7 may be the high point of the whole series for me, so I was pretty skeptical to see it continue away from the lower stakes earlier films that seem almost subdued now but it might be my favorite after Fast 5 (you know there’s no beating a heist for me). Really Lin’s involvement probably should’ve told us there was nothing to worry about though. As the director who has helmed half the franchise, he’s very familiar with the characters and has taken it through a few pivots with Tokyo Drift essentially consisting of characters that had no impact on the series until this one before bringing back the central cast for the fourth film then bringing it to the massive globe hopping save the world series with a massive ensemble that we know today through the next two. Though 4 may be my least favorite of the whole series, it was a necessary step to get it on track and finally reunite Dom and Brian and all the others are some of my favorites of the series. I know you’re not too keen on Tokyo Drift but it’s among my favorites and that made this one particularly special for me. Bringing back a trio we hadn’t seen in some 15 years and finally introducing them to the cast that’s kept the franchise going since felt like something Lin had been building to for a while and that we might’ve gotten sooner had he not been absent for the last two entries. It was goofy fan service that led to some of the most absurd moments in the series as Tej and Roman went to space as a result but for me, it worked. Since we hadn’t seen these guys in years and had no idea what they were up to, any explanation was as good as any other and them building rocket cars works just fine. Plus, since Han’s death was shown again in 6 and 7 and made watching Tokyo Drift pretty unnecessary for following the franchise, it finally gives people a reason to catch up with the most underrated entry and appreciate every time Han reunites with his old pals in F9. Plus they’ll get to see the Donkey Kong exchange, my personal vote for funniest line delivery in the series.

Lee: Yeah, listen, I like every F&F film, but Tokyo Drift, 8, and 4 are my least fave of it all. You’re riggt about 4 being needed to course correct and allow us to catch up with the crew and where they’ve been. I just always felt like Braga was a weak villain made weaker by casting someone severely unintimidating (same with 5, but that’s aided by having The Rock be the primary antagonist for 75% of it). Like I said in one of my reviews for 4, had Braga been played by a Denzel Washington à la Training Day, or a Jaime Foxx, Andy García, or Jimmy Smits, it would have worked. It was Lin trying to emulate Michael Man’s Miami Vice, while also dealing with the whole Letty subplot. But hey, nobody can take away Lin’s credit as Godfather of this franchise. Doubling up what you said about his complete awareness and knowledge of the characters, he knows exactly what the narrative needs and is the best person to try and seal off some rogue potholes along the road. F9 was a greatest hits of the series, bringing back almost every possible key player (slight spoilers: Ted Levine, Suki, Eva Mendes, John Ortiz, The Rock, and Luke Evans still missing). It was cool to see (24 year old) Lucas Black, (not so Lil) Bow Wow, and the tech guy back from Tokyo Drift. It was also nice to see young versions of Vince, Jesse, Letty, and Mia in the background of the Dom & Jakob flashback race. You can tell Lin cares about this family, which includes us the fans.

Sorry to make such a quick u-turn, but in bringing up Han. Full spoilers here for Tokyo Drift, Fast 6, and F9. I was not all for the very lame and uncles explanation for how he survived Deckard’s T-boned collision and explosion. Han was clearly in his iconic RX7 at one point, then seemingly gone across the street behind the pillar with an onlooking Mr. Nobody in the next moment? The “nice magic trick” is not explained at all? I was expecting a generic sewer escape beneath the flipped car somehow, but if you watch the incident in Tokyo Drift and F6 closely, there’s just no possibility he gets out of the car without anyone seeing. It felt like Lin didn’t completely know how to clarify it, and with the mid-credit scene in F9, I’m sure we’ll get the full scope in Hobbs & Shaw 2. Speaking of, that was a fun little reveal there as Deckard answered the door shocked to see a not snacking Han waiting. Personally, I think they planned the death together somehow, and Han is bringing over some food for them to eat and talk over their next move with Hobbs, and Mr. Nobody.

Henry: I think the series has always been a bit unsure what to do with Han, killing him off in his first film (or second if you’re inclined to count Better Luck Tomorrow as part of the universe) but bringing him back because he was such a great character before eventually having to kill him off again to keep the series making sense but then making everyone feel like he got a raw deal. Then with a combination of real life tragedy, in universe deaths, contract disputes, and a feud between The Rock and Vin Diesel, the early team was all but gone and bringing him back to put the series back on track seemed like a good plan. He didn’t have a whole lot to do here and the revival story was less than satisfactory, but his presence was appreciated and when he was reunited with Dom and co and later with his Tokyo compadres, the film found some of its best moments and drove home it’s family ideas better than anything with the Toretto brothers. The end was the most exciting bit of his time back for me though because it does seem like it’s setting him up for time in Hobbs and Shaw 2 and that could mean he has more time to shine than he could get in the overstuffed ensembles of the main series, plus his more subdued persona could be a good compliment to the titular characters, especially as they’ve both been enemies of his in the past. Hobbs and Shaw was one of the weakest bits of the franchise so far but a little Han action could certainly bring it more towards what makes the others special. Really, his coming back made the whole movie for me and I wish it could’ve been saved as a surprise instead of being a major marketing point. Or at least that something was saved since the most insane action bits like going to space and the bridge jump and the reveal about Jakob were all also given from the trailers. Really the only thing that wasn’t shown was the flashbacks to Dom’s past but they were pretty easy to guess from the first one even though they’d never been explored before. But I suppose none of it really matters. These films are basically unspoilable and the action is thrilling and the emotional moments weirdly always hit no matter how much you know beforehand. Really the only gripe I had with the film itself rather than the marketing was that Mia showing up alone didn’t seem like something that would happen, though obviously there was a reason for that and explanations about the amount of times children were used as leverage could be good enough to say why Brian had to stay with them while Jakob being her brother and making it more personal for her similarly could work well enough. And anyhow that all got dispelled when, for the third film in a row, they managed a tribute to Paul Walker that didn’t just feel like fan service but keeps his legacy in these films going and shows how much the people involved really do care about that.

Lee: You’re absolutely right about the trailer not doing this film justice. I had a similar gripe with Blade Runner 2049 revealing Harrison Ford. I just think it’d be a spectacular in theatre moment if both 2049’s Deckard and Han had been kept underwraps until it they actually appeared in their respective comebacks. That’s one thing I love in films, where a filmmaker is able to keep the inclusion of a specific actor completely secret, like with Interstellar. Even Hobbs & Shaw (which I enjoy unlike most), kept two actors under wraps. I am glad F9 kept the flashback moments out of the trailers because those were very much appreciated, especially the whole underwater sequence with Vin Diesel going from Bane meets Riddick above, to Daniel Craig in Sky all beneath. That was a nice touching and emotionally resonant moment that tied the midpoint of F9 together for me. The only thing it was missing was a nice throwback transition to him and Brian, which would have worked seamlessly using a direct scene from past films within this flashback. Shout-out to Lin shooting them on film too.

Shockingly, I was pretty underwhelmed by Han, but I’m very excited for the prospect of him and Elle joining Hobbs, Shaw & Shaw, and hopefully also Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Hart, and Luke Evans—the latter who had confusingly been discarded probably for reasons relating to how he tried killing them all. And in terms of Statham, he’s already paid his dues to enter la familia, because people tend to forget he saved Ramsey from being crushed aa well as little Brian in F8. And as I mentioned above, I’m sure we’ll get some more reveals with him, Han, and Mr. Nobody. Not counting a more dramatically restrained Dom here, Tyrese was actually the highlight for me in F9. I really liked the self-aware nature and how he had officially become the stand-in for thr audience and their unrealistic scenario critiques.

I’m with you on Mia appearing to help being a bit problematic. On one hand I’m all for the girls getting it done, as it’s really only been Letty getting some moments to brawl and pull off some sick stunts. But on the other, obviously we all know Brian would never let Mia go and risk her life without him. But we all know that’s not possible without relying on some more shoddy and now unnecessary CGI. The Tokyo section with her and Mia was very fun, including how Jordana seems like she doesn’t know how to eat some tasty noodles. I’m hoping we get more of that, and they better include some Charlize Theron Atomic Blonde choreo when Cipher appears next. She’s great as the overarching 007 villain, but she needs to flex those muscles we know she has. The inclusion of Brian via his empty seat and the iconic Nissan Skyline GTR was the perfect amount given the restraints the film has with Walker’s unfortunate and deeply felt passing. RIP Pablo. There is a part of me that thinks they’d be able to get away with him pulling off one save in a future film, with his car being the only thing shown. But I can also see how that is unnecessary and risky given the perfect ending they gave Brian. It’s a difficult thing, and for the most part, the franchise has been able to handle it with care and love.

Henry: The thing that surprised me most when I watched all the films for the first time was how, as stupid and overblown as they all can get, they all have this sincerity to them and a belief in the whole family thing that turns most of the villains into members of the group and makes moments like Han’s return that could easily be a bit hokey into good things. The way they’ve treated Walker’s character since his passing is the prime example of that and is especially touching because it shows that, at least for some of the people involved, it goes beyond the films. These are folks they’ve been working with for decades and they’ve often developed real friendships outside of the films and seen many of them go from starting out their careers to being household names and watched each other’s real families start and grow and seen their kids grow up. So I don’t know if they can pull off an action scene with Brian in one of the future installments but I’m certain that whatever they do, it’ll continue to be respectful to Paul Walker and that’s what matters most in my mind. So much of franchise fare seems so cynical that the commitment to la familia really feels refreshing even as it gets rehashed for two decades. As for Tyrese, I’m entirely with you on that. I’ve always appreciated a good self aware moment and he delivered plenty here. One of my favorite moments in recent blockbuster history was in Iron Man 3 when the one henchman is about to get blasted away by Tony and instead goes fuck this these guys are weird and he just leaves. I’ve watched a thousand (lowballing here) action films and I’ve always wondered why people are so committed to the causes for these terrorists and paramilitary groups to the point that not one ever questions it and that little joke was finally an answer. Similarly, Tyrese realizing they shouldn’t be invincible did something along the same lines. Some action franchises like James Bond can get away with Bond being shot a few times throughout or Mission Impossible starting to realize Tom Cruise has been at this for decades and might be a little old but this franchise doesn’t go for those types of serious moments so the humorous spin really works. In fact, not only did the whole cinema erupt in laughter every time Tyrese would speak, there was one gentlemen near me who gave a commentary every time and had us all laughing a second time. He’s been around the franchise forever but this was really the first time he got that chance to be the most memorable part of the film and I loved that shift to give him his moment. I mean, he’s been to space now. Not even Dom has done that.

Lee: They are a literal family. Corona jokes and bustas aside, they are as close together as can be. Hell, Vin Diesel even named his daughter Pauline, and he is in close contact with Paul’s daughter Meadow. They were two dudes from different paths who became not only best friends, but brothers. Their bromance is top tier and the Top Gun level homoeroticism fuels the franchise. Vin doesn’t look at anyone else in the franchise as he does Paul, and thars something that always hits my emotional core when I see them smile at each other. That look Dom gives to both Little Brian and to Brian’s parking GTR in the end before grace was the successful one-two punch to my love for these characters and this franchise. I trust that Vin, Lin, and company will all carry his legacy with respect and deep deep love.

I do love a good audience when seeing a brand new film. F9 was my 6th film back in theatres since over a year and a half of being forcefully seperate from my fave past time due to the pandemic. I saw mine with two buddies and we had a great time, but there wasn’t much else to the other maybe 5 people in the auditorium. Honestly, I prefer not having large groups still, and I’ve gotten spoiled since COVID in that manner. My Quiet Place 2 viewing was affected by a group of inconsiderate people who even answered a call in the middle of the tension. But post-pandemic etiquette is a whole different discussion.

What are your hopes or random wild ideas you want to see in Fas10 (your seltbelts), F11: The Last Ride, and Hobbs & Shaw 2 and 3? I personally still want Liam Neeson to be included as Papa Shaw, I want Luke Evans to return in some capacity (even if it’s to die), the mysterious Etion voice better be Tom Cruise or Keanu Reeves (not Ryan Reynolds), and maybe an underwater base element to F&F. The crew still needs to go to Africa, India, and Australia as well. Maybe they’ll also face off against some rogue contingency that is seeking revenge for all the collateral Dom’s crew has caused across the globe. F7 onward, they’ve destroyed and most probably killed plenty of civilians with all thise set-pieces. It’s only a matter a time before a Baron Zemo Sokovoa villain arrives cough cough Mads Mikkelsen (who should also be in a M:I).

Henry: I think what you say about reckoning with their actions could be an interesting way to take it in the next film. For all the world saving they do, the crew is mostly criminals and they do leave a lot of collateral damage in their wake and they never really face the consequences. Since the eleventh film is apparently the last in the main series, it could be an interesting way to wrap it up. The sort of thing that would make sense as a reason for retirement since I don’t think they’ll go so far as to kill off the characters. To the world hopping angle you bring up, I agree they could do a bit more to bring in those other areas, though as road rage in Australia goes, do we need more than Mad Max? Having been to India and seen the state of driving there, I’m just imaging the insane possibilities for entirely different setpieces and driving scenarios they could concoct. Really the one part that I don’t quite align with you on for future hopes is Neeson. I think he does some great work and could be a good addition to the franchise but in an ideal world, the dad is Michael Caine. For all the Fast films have done for car related cinema, the scene in The Italian Job has never been topped and having him included would be an immaculate callback (or perhaps even a direct tie in) and a nod to the place where this sort of cinema began that could only be equaled by reviving McQueen and having a throwback to Bullitt. As for the Hobbs and Shaw stuff, I’m sure we’ve got a ways to go on that sort of franchise branch and once the main one ends, it’ll probably pick up some of the folks from the recent films (Han seems very likely but others like Ramsey could definitely have a few more films in them) and branch out to bring in the bigger stars like Reynolds if the paychecks are large enough, so I have no idea what route it’ll take as it already seems poised to get even more outlandish with superheroes and whatnot but it’s got time to find its footing. Really, whatever path the main series and any spinoffs take, I just hope they stay true to the spirit of the franchise so far. It’s really the only major player right now that makes it clear that there’s room for everyone at the table, as long as their drink of choice is a Corona, and everyone can be accepted into this ever growing family and play an equally important role in it.

Lee: You bring up an excellent choice with a Michael Caine Italian Job connection. That would be spectacular warranted he can handle it. At this point, I agree that killing anyone off would feel strange, and they really wrote themselves into tighter and tighter corners by already faking multiple deaths. At this point, the only reasonable death would be a Dom sacrifice for his entire family in a touching final final closer. Not something I want, but really the only one that works narratively at the speed we’re going.

Before I transition us into a different lane, did you have any gripes with F9? My only major complaints were the whole Han revival confusion not being clarified and John Cena—who I thought was just unfortunate casting for Dom’s all of a sudden fabricated long-time brother. I’m sure Dave Bautista was offered the role first (sparking his claims of never wanting to join the franchise unfortunately), and he would have definitely fit better. Cena just has an unfortunately action figure comical face, and I just cringe laugh when I see it. He’s not as awful as I had thought he’d be, but it’s definitely a weak point in this film both visually, physically (since he had one fight only), and narratively because this was brought out of nowhere. I also think he should have just been Cipher’s new right-hand man from the start of the film, because Theron was wasted, and that German/Scandinavian financial character was terrible. Cena just does not work as a super suave and secret spy agent for me at all. His msucoal theme did slap really hard though. F9 might just have rhe best score of the franchise, and Lin sure knows how to pick a soundtrack more so than James Wan and F. Gary Gary.

Henry: Crazy retcons have been a part of the franchise since it became big enough to warrant them so everything with Han didn’t bother me too much and we chatted earlier about why I can forgive everything with Mia that doesn’t quite add up so I guess, other than Cipher being sort of sidelined for some bozo who didn’t matter at all, I don’t really have any gripes with it so much as feeling like some things could’ve been fleshed out more. Though in a 2.5 hour film, I’m not sure it could’ve worked to add in a lot more explanation. My brother once thought Charlize Theron was pronounced ‘Charles The Ron’ though so I’m always looking for more of her so I can rib him about it though I haven’t gotten the chance to yet since the rest of my own familia is presently on vacation. I know you have some reservations about Cena but honestly I think he’s always very entertaining and back in the day his theme was often used to accentuate certain moments with my friend group so I’m always happy to see him. To touch on one last thing before you shift gears here, I forgot until you just mentioned it that F. Gary Gray was one of the directors of the series but he also did the remake of The Italian Job so I think it lends even further credence to my Michael Caine idea. Tie them all together. Make the remake part of the lore a la Better Luck Tomorrow. Cipher started there perhaps. They should hire me to write for these. Honestly if we can get Helen Mirren for a three minute cameo, I don’t see why we can’t finally resolve the greatest cliffhanger of all so many years later and get the tie in we all deserve. All he has to do is sit there for a couple minutes and say a couple lines and it would be the crossover event to top Endgame for me and any other enthusiast of driving cinema. Then it leads people back to the original and to Noel Coward then David Lean and just a whole new world for people who thought they were just going to watch a car movie. Let me have my moment!

Lee: At this rate we might as well also say Bullitt was actually Brian’s father. That would then tie in why he was never around as Brian explains in the paternal Fast 5 moment between him and Dom, as they sip on not neither Corona nor Brasil’s most popular brews: Skol and Brahma. Just as a closer to this whole brilliant Italian Job connection (which is further made sense by the fact that Statham directly pays homage to his role in the remake within Hobbs & Shaw), I was really disappointed in F. Gary Gary’s F8, as he did an excellent job with Italian Job. But now some more gears are shifting in my head, seeing how Charles the Ron’s character in Italian Job matches as a very early stage Cipher, as they are both hackers or sorts and good with tech. Seth Green would fit as someone she still works with—her man in the chair—Mos Def and his explosives affinity could be an old friend of Roman’s, and Mark Wahlberg would easily fit into the F&F franchise as someone Jakob once worked with on a heist. But anyway, yes, more Theron is always welcome. Hype for Atomic Blonde 2 hopefully.

Don’t get me wrong on Cena, he’s a top shelf meme. His theme, the fact that we can’t see him, and the “on the WWE network” and “are you sure about that” vids are hilarious. Just to clarify, Universal Pictures provided me and Henry with special glasses that enabled us to actually see John Cena as Jakob Toretto. They also gave us exclusive tickets to the future Montecito Universal ride, scheduled to be completed in 2028. I just don’t buy him as the character they set him up so abruptly as. Same goes with how Dom would turn his back on the one thing he cherished the most. When you think of it, this is the most “It’s personal this time” it has gotten for the franchise, literally: it’s blood. But like I said, it’s a very personal gripe, and it doesn’t detract too much from the film and where it’s inevitably speeding to next.

So I’m sure you’ve heard the ridiculous rumours that F&F is thinking of joining the Jurassic Park universe. What are your thoughts on that? Personally, I’ll watch anything the F&F label releases, but this is just wild and makes no narrative sense. There’s no doubting that it’d make even more money, and Chris Pratt brings along even a wider audience. But what are they planning if it goes through? Dom, Hobbs, and Jakob riding T-Rexs into battle against Cipher’s rogue Raptors? It’d make more sense for Jurassic Park to combine with The Meg, seeing how Alten’s source material books eventually have the Megalodon face off against giant crocs and other prehistoric beasts.

I think that of there is any other franchise F&F should join, it’s none other than Mission Impossible or John Wick. Ethan Hunt being tasked with taking down this chaotic crew that’s been traversing the globe causing havok wherever they go. And obviously, the two crews ended up coming togerher by the end. Vanessa Kirby’s respective characters in each franchise already match to be one, and I for one have always wanted Statham in M:I (and Wick). Hell, even XXX would make more sense than Jurassic Park. Those I believe much more, especially since each Fast film has seemingly progressed gradually more into fight choreography over actual racing. But I’d also be fine with them not joining any universe, and riding it out for their final miles. Our Italian Job spitballing would be damn fine though. Damn good stuff on you bringing it up.

Henry: I tend to agree that it would get to be a little too absurd with all of that going on and it would be odd from both franchises to just add the other in there but I’ll see whatever they make. I’m not really sure it would mesh that well with the spy franchises either because they have such different styles of action and different senses of humor but I could definitely see those working a bit better. I sort of jokingly said the other day that one day we’ll find out all the cars were Transformers all along but honestly that’s one crossover that (studio differences aside) I could see somewhat working since Transformers has given up anything with continuity and is now hopping around to different decades with different casts and could make for some different types of auto action. Really though, I think they won’t join any other franchises at least until after 11 wraps it up for Dom and the core crew and then it’s anyone’s guess where they take it.

Lee: For sure! Transformers came to mind after I saw Hobbs & Shaw, as Idris Elba’s motorcycle was essentially one in how it could just morph to his body and change its shape at will. I could honestly see that, and they already have the Tyrese crossover, although I’m not too sure anyone would believe that Roman was a US Marine before becoming the Barston demolition champion on house arrest. Seeing the Project Aries pieces in F9 also brought the All-Spark to mind, and hey, both Optimus Prime and Dominic Toretto are all about family and protecting the world from destruction. And…cue Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done.”

Henry: Oh one last thing, let’s slap our grades for the film onto the end here. I’m gonna go with a B.

Lee: Let’s go a quarter mile further and also include our franchise ranking as well. From fave to least mine goes: 1, 5, 6, 9, 2, Hobbs & Shaw, 7, 4, 8, 3. I’d give F9 a strong recommendation to fans of the franchise, to those who lost a little faith after rhe drop in 7 and 8, and even to those who just want some solid action spectacle. I give F9 a B-.

Henry: As everyone out there knows, I can’t resist a heist so I gotta put 5 at the top and 1 is just classic so that probably follows but I’ll go with 9 next followed by the underrated Tokyo Drift. Then for the rest I guess I’m going 6, 7, 2, Hobbs and Shaw, 8, 4.

Lee: ¡Salud mi familia!

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