F9: Actioner Turns to Family Secrets on Chapter 9 of Franchise

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.

Director Justin Lin returns to the fold for the latest, COVID-delayed installment in the ‘Fast & Furious’ saga.

“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.”

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 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.”

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 embraced the return of the visionary director who transformed the series into 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.