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35 Things We Learned from Justin Lin’s ‘F9: The Fast Saga’ Commentary

“It’s always better to have more than less.”
Michelle Rodriguez and a big baby in F9
By  · Published on September 22nd, 2021

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter presses the pedal to the medal with the latest entry in the The Fast Saga, F9.

Whether you love or hate the Fast & Furious franchise, there’s no denying the behemoth it has become. From a movie about street racing and minor thefts to giant blockbusters dealing with international espionage, world-threatening tech, and more, this is an escalating series of over-the-top, nonsense-fueled shenanigans. The latest entry, F9, is no different and sees some of the gang finally head to space… because why not?

The film is new to disc complete with an F9 commentary from Justin Lin. This is his fifth time behind the wheel of a Fast film, and he has plenty to share about where the franchise has been, where it’s going, and what the hell is happening in F9. Keep reading to see what I heard on the director’s cut commentary for F9!

F9 (2021)

Commentator: Justin Lin (director, co-writer)

1. Lin has been a fan of the Universal Pictures logo since childhood, and he chose this older style one to coincide with the opening late 80s-set flashback.

2. He feels that Vinnie Bennett embodies young Dom Toretto well “but at the same time brings something that is original and new to the character.”

3. Lin loved the concept of bringing in a lost Toretto, someone never mentioned across the previous eight films, but he was incredibly nervous that they wouldn’t be able to find someone to help pull it off. He met with John Cena, though, and “within the first thirty seconds I was able to breathe.”

4. He and Vin Diesel have been talking about a “final chapter in the saga” for a decade. This is the first entry in that chapter, and while he thought he was done with the franchise after Fast & Furious 6 (2013) he realized these final story beats needed to be told. He sees it as having the characters explore the mythologies of their past so they can keep moving forward.

5. One of the scenes restored into the director’s cut is a brief reunion between Dom and Mia (Jordana Brewster) when she arrives to babysit.

6. Phuket, Thailand stands in for the Central American country the team heads to early on.

7. Lin helped moved the franchise into “world-ending” scenarios with Fast 6, but he was torn on doing it again for F9. He ultimately decided he had to respect where the franchise went after he left — “it’s kind of gone a lot more sci-fi” — and while it took some effort he felt it was the right thing to do. Lin does suggest that this might be the last such endeavor, adding “as we going into our final chapter, we’re gonna be exploring our characters through other elements.”

8. He wanted to start the action with a more tactile sequence, hence the cars running and exploding through a minefield. “It was a very conscious effort to rebuild the tone of this franchise,” he says, adding that while CG is a big part of blockbuster filmmaking these days he thinks “there’s something really exciting and visceral about practical effects.” To that end, regardless of how outlandish the action sequence, “we always make sure that we shoot it practically first.”

9, “You don’t notice it,” says Lin, but he admits that the real cars don’t always allow for the shots and angles that he wants, so he uses physical or digital trickery. The shot at 22:58 is an example as the Mustang’s open doors don’t actually offer that right angle view.

10. The script approached two-hundred-pages at one point before they came to their senses and trimmed it down.

11. Dom recounts beating a man with a wrench in the very first Fast & the Furious film, saying he kept swinging and hitting until his arms went numb. We finally see the event here via a flashback, and Dom only hits the guy once. They did tests and realized that more than a single blow would start crushing the skull, so they knew they couldn’t have him actually turn the guy’s head into pulp. So yes, Dom is a lying son of a bitch.

12. Lin’s F9 commentary teases future films when he mentions Cipher’s (Charlize Theron) comment about Jakob’s (Cena) jawline, the Nordic strain, and it’s a tip-off to where upcoming films will be going. “I’m not gonna spoil it here, because I’m hoping that in the next few years we’re gonna be able to tell that story.”

13. A scene is added at 40:00 that answers “how can they afford all their transportation, all their cars?!” It doesn’t actually answer that, but it’s a fun little beat with Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel).

14. Lin recalls meeting with Diesel to discuss a cameo at the end of Tokyo Drift. “I had heard that there’s no way he was coming back to the franchise,” but they connected on the mythology, and Diesel should be *very* grateful to Lin for pulling him back in to this money-printing enterprise.

15. “When we do these films, these driving scenes are the most artificial feeling,” says Lin, perhaps unaware of the irony. The scenes involve green screens, motion rigs, and more meant to simulate driving — probably the simplest of the action beats in these films.

16. Another deleted scene at 54:10 shows the car that Sean (Lucas Black) wrecks in Tokyo Drift is now sitting in a Tokyo garage. “It was a big deal” getting the car shipped to London, painted, etc, and then he cut the sequence anyway.

17. Lin’s F9 commentary touches on real-world concerns when he recalls Michelle Rodriguez‘s public comments about the treatment of female characters in the franchise and says it “was really weird for me because when I was part of the franchise I always felt like our female characters were so… I had such a great time crafting them with the actors and building the characters.” He says he doesn’t know what happened after he left but acknowledges that Rodriguez was upset.

18. Helen Mirren insisted on learning how to drive the Noble during Queenie’s chase, and she did so quickly and never lost continuity in her movements while filming.

19. Lin had no engagement with the franchise after he left — he directed films three through six — so he was surprised to discover what unfolded in the eighty film, The Fate of the Furious. (Check out what we learned from that film’s commentary here.) Han (Sung Kang) is killed in part six at the hands of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), but part eight sees Shaw join the family to fight a common foe and then celebrate with everyone at a barbecue. “To this day I have no idea why it was handled that way.” He acknowledges that retcons are part of the franchise, but he went so far as to sit and talk with studio executives asking what happened “and nobody could give me an answer.” All of that said, he says that “if they actually did handle it correctly then Han would probably stay dead.”

20. The original plan to offer #JusticeForHan was going to keep him dead and address it all via flashbacks, but Lin wisely changed course on that idea.

21. Lin says creativity in Hollywood is something you often have to fight for, especially when it comes to big movies. This franchise is different, though, in that they fully embrace ridiculous ideas.

22. The kids losing their phones at 1:20:50 belong to Lin, Brewster, and others on the cast/crew. “When we started there were no kids,” but as they arrived and grew over the years they started adding them into the mix “to connect with humanity in the middle of set-pieces.”

23. He says there’s logic to the electromagnet gags and action beats. Uh huh.

24. Lin’s F9 commentary reveals that he also hopes to revisit adventures with Han, Gisele (Gal Gadot), and Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) in future films.

25. Anna Sawai auditioned for Elle, and as is the norm to avoid spoilers, the name was just a placeholder at the time. “But when I saw the audition with Anna the way she said “Elle” was so, something about it felt so right,” they he made it the actual character name.

26. That’s Diesel’s son playing Dom as a kid at 1:42:08.

27. People had joked for years about the franchise going to space, and “to be honest, I wasn’t sure if we were ever gonna be able to do it.”

28. “This was not going to be James Bond where it’s the same characters just going through different adventures, we were gonna honor these characters as they grow.” I’m not sure Lin has seen the Daniel Craig Bond films?

29. They spoke with a NASA engineer about the space-set sequence, and “at first he just thought we were crazy.” He got more in tune with them, though, when he realized Lin was serious about wanting to get as many of the specifics right as possible.

30. Roman’s comment that “You know ain’t nobody gonna believe us, right?” was an improv, but Lin loves it as an observation not just on the space adventure but on the franchise itself. None of them could have imagined the global phenomenon that would arise from the earlier, far smaller films.

31. Lin’s F9 commentary really wants us to believe the magnet tech is realistic despite the continuous inconsistencies, and he actually shot footage showing the more detailed controls on Mia’s laptop but “it was an overload of intel.” Simpler is better for a film like this.

32. The crew spends so much time, ammo, and magnetic carnage trying to stop the Armadillo — the big truck — but he never addresses why they don’t just shoot the damn tires. That gatling gun would pop those puppies in a heartbeat.

33. There’s an extra beat in the final action set-piece added back for the extended cut as the upside down Armadillo — still sliding, improbably, minutes after flipping onto its roof — that sees the truck and cars slapping through buildings, girders, and construction sites.

34. Lin had brought Statham in for the end of part six but then decided to leave the franchise. Statham said that if Lin left he would leave too, but the director convinced him to stay with it… and bringing him back for the end credits tag here is a hint of what more is to come for the character.

35. Lin doesn’t mention a crossover with Jurassic Park and makes no utterance of Dwayne Johnson‘s name.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“Even on films with huge budgets like this one, still, you never have enough money.”

“It’s amazing how filmmaking has become so global.”

“This is actually one of the most pivotal moments in Fast lore.”

“A lot of people are saying ‘how could John Cena be Vin Diesel’s brother?’ And that’s something we talked about.”

“It’s always better to have more than less.”

“I love Michael Rooker.”

“It still blows me away that they allowed us to be so close to Buckingham Palace.”

“There’s no right or wrong way to make films, and sometimes you just have to go with your gut.”

Final Thoughts

While he doesn’t spill specifics, Lin’s F9 commentary gives hints as to where the final two films will be heading. Again, no dinosaurs, but we will see more with Cipher, Han, Shaw, Jakob, and others. He suggests the next two won’t be world-ending affairs, but we’ll see how that shakes out. For now, Lin’s F9 commentary is a solid listen offering insight and explanations as to choices made throughout.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.