The “Fast” franchise is all about cars and family, and cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) destroys both in the spectacular New York car chase in “The Fate of the Furious,” when she forces Dom (Vin Diesel) to go rogue and betray his family.
Director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton,” “The Italian Job”) turns the notion of fast cars against the Furious in the New York sequence. Cold-as-ice Cipher hacks hundreds of self-driving “zombie” vehicles and creates a Times Square demolition derby in order to stop an impenetrable limo with the suitcase she is chasing.
Meanwhile, Cipher manipulates Dom into apprehending the suitcase, as his gang is powerless to stop him. The chase, therefore, contains a two-part narrative that underscores Cipher’s power and Dom’s street-racing prowess.
The dirty little secret: All of the car crashing occurred in Cleveland and only the tie-ins were filmed in Manhattan and on the Brooklyn Bridge. But most of it was accomplished with real cars and innovative stunt work.
“We laid the sequence out with an entourage heading into Manhattan and we put the two police bikes in to start it off with a bang and they get nailed by these zombie cars,” said second-unit stunt coordinator Andy Gill, who’s supervised the last three “Fast” films.
“We scouted streets in Cleveland to perform crashes — intersections and an alley that didn’t make the final cut — and one street with a lot of windows that was closed down was turned into a car showroom,” added Gill, who’s currently working on Marvel’s “Black Panther” in Atlanta.
Spiro Razatos, the second unit director, and Gill have always wanted to hurl cars from a roof and they got their chance when raining cars to stop the limo. “J.D. Schwalm, the special effects supervisor, put the cars on ramps inside the bays that were part of an actual parking structure with a very short retaining wall,” Gill said.
“So we built platforms but put our own guard rail in. Spiro figured out how much of an angle he needed and he had the cars hooked to a weight drop, so, when released, the weight would pull the cars forward and down the ramps,” added Gill. And the level of the weight drop determined which lane the cars fell from.
Razatos tested speed, accuracy, and timing for precise impact so the limo was never hit. “And Spiro was extremely specific about seeing seven cars in the air at the same time but not all of them together,” Gill said. “And then J.D. started putting them on a timer and as soon as the entourage got to a certain point, he hit the switch and everything was automated from then on.”
Then Gill put stunt guys in cars coming head on and from behind and created a huge pile-up. They did about half a dozen drops using different camera mounts on the cars and put explosions in a few as well to heighten the excitement.
After Dom snatches the suitcase, he tries to escape in his ’72 Plymouth Road Runner GTX, but his gang harpoons him. Only after throwing off Roman (Tyrese Gibson) — the butt of every joke — is Dom able to brute force his way out.
“Gary’s original idea was to have him do donuts to shake off his friends, but that proved impractical,” Gill said. “So we came up with the idea of Roman getting over-anxious and Dom turning his car over. Then he immediately backs up between two other cars and sucks them together. And on the end of it, we were pretty adamant that Dom’s car gets destroyed too.”
Gill was also adamant about keeping it as real and practical as possible. That is, until the zombie cars turned CG. “We had plenty of cars — 25 — and they added another 15 or 20 digitals to make it bigger, which wasn’t necessary,” he said. “The shot of all those cars coming around the corner wasn’t [believable] and it takes you out of it.”
But what a sight seeing 150 real cars, from vintage Corvettes to Bentleys to Lamborghinis. “And what a wreckage,” added Gill.