When it comes to directors, the Fast & Furious series is a bit of a revolving door. Actors, too, have come and gone, even though a steady, core ensemble was eventually established. But there’s been at least one figure in the Fast & Furious world that has remained constant since 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and that’s writer Chris Morgan. Morgan has been the writer of every film in the Fast & Furious series since Tokyo Drift (a movie that, despite its status amongst some as the redheaded stepchild of the bunch, ultimately helped position the series as a broad, interconnected universe).
With Morgan behind the scenes, over the last 13 years Fast & Furious has snowballed into Universal’s highest-grossing franchise; a multi-billion-dollar box office brute. Now, it’s about to get even bigger as it expands into spin-off territory for the first time with Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Hobbs & Shaw will pair up two of the Fast franchise’s heaviest hitters and pit them against a juiced-up Idris Elba as Brixton, an international terrorist with superhuman-like strength who describes himself as human evolutionary change. Instead of help from the Fast crew, this time around we can expect appearances by Vanessa Kirby as Shaw’s sister, MI6 agent Hattie, as well as Hobbs’ four brothers, who run a custom car business out of Western Samoa.
In the lead-up to today’s debut of the first trailer for Hobbs & Shaw, IGN spoke with Chris Morgan about helping steer the series to expectation-defying new heights, the differences between Hobbs & Shaw and the main series, and the dilemma of reorienting Shaw himself as a character for fans to support after his blood-soaked past.
IGN: I suspect that, with an audience as big and broad as Fast & Furious, there are probably a lot of folks out there that don’t realise that there’s been the same writer serving on the franchise since Tokyo Drift back in 2006. I did a little bit of digging around some similarly long-running franchises, and it really doesn’t seem like a very common thing. Is this a fairly unique situation, to have a single person writing all these films over such a long period of time?
I would continue to do this as long as the audience showed up and enjoyed it.
Chris Morgan: I guess it is! It is strange; you look back and are surprised by how many opportunities you’ve had to work in the universe and continue the stories of these characters that you love. It’s felt natural for me and the studio because we always get really excited every time we do one of these films and we’ll brainstorm about what sort of personal trial we should put the characters through next. With Dwayne on set we’ll always be talking about, ‘How do we learn more about Hobbs? What should Hobbs go up against?’ It’s really, really fun. I feel really, really lucky to have remained a part of it for as long as I’ve been doing it. I love the characters, love the family, love the studio; I would continue to do this as long as the audience showed up and enjoyed it.
IGN: One of the admirable things about the Fast & Furious franchise is the continuity there, and the respect that the series has always shown for previous characters, regardless of their popularity as an actor/actress, and even their roles on the films that they’ve come from – there are many minor characters that have popped back up again for various reasons. It feels respectful to viewers. How much of that is driven by having someone like yourself as a gatekeeper for so many of these films, and how much of it just the culture that has been built around the Fast & Furious franchise by the teams who put them together?
CM: It’s tough to say. I was a big fan of the first film, and I loved a lot of the stuff in the second film, and when I was pitching on a third film originally it was a straight-to-DVD, $10 million movie that was gonna be shot in LA that they were gonna make. And my pitch when I came in was, ‘Okay, so you bring back Dominic Toretto…’ and that kinda thing. At the time, because of money and finances, it wasn’t gonna work out – but we got really lucky to bring Vin back for a tag at the end of the movie. When [Tokyo Drift] came out it did okay – and now it’s kinda viewed differently than it was at the time – but everyone got excited about the tag at the end that suggested, ‘Oh my gosh, they might be bringing Vin and Paul back!’ Right?
So when we got another shot at that we were able to go back to the idea we were talking about originally, which is, ‘Let’s bring back Vin and Paul, let’s bring back Michelle, let’s bring back Jordana. Let’s embrace the characters from the second movie.’ I am a fan of the films, first and foremost… [E]veryone loves different things about them. For some people it’s one particular character, and for some people it’s another character. I like letting them know that we love them too; all of them. In fact, we kind of rearranged our timeline to preserve Sung Kang [as Han] for as long as we could in our world. You know, he dies in the third movie and he’s just an amazing friend and a really great character, and a great actor, and we thought, ‘We can’t lose this guy!’ So we reset the timeline for four, five, six, and seven to accommodate it.
[I]t is global, it is growing, it is largely positive. I just think that there’s something special about the Fast universe.
But I digress. I think it’s a collaborative effort, from the studio and our creative partners, and our collective brain trust; we’re all in the same groove on embracing what is special about Fast.
I remember sitting in the audience for the first one and I love the dynamic between the characters. All of them. How they interacted; they were cool but they respected each other. They all had a code. I just wanted to make sure that I felt, when I was sitting in the audience, that if I were to meet those people in real life – those characters – I feel like they would accept me. By that, I mean, as an audience member I feel like they would accept everybody. And I think that’s a hallmark of the Fast & Furious franchise; this world is embracing, it is global, it is growing, it is largely positive. I just think that there’s something special about the Fast universe.
I think that’s why I love it so much. Even though they say ‘family’ all the time, and it’s kinda become a joke a little bit – ‘Hey, every time somebody says ‘family’ you drink!’, that kind of thing – I’ve always said that – ‘cause I’m the one who’s writing that stuff down there – every time the characters say it, they believe it. They mean it. And I think the audience feels that. Even though it’s very earnest, it’s true. We don’t get enough of that in movies these days, honestly.
IGN: On that Han note, let’s talk about ol’ Deckard Shaw. Now, I’m a massive fan of Jason Statham, and have been since Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but how do you go about continuing to manage this heel-face turn with Shaw? He was very successfully painted into a bit of a corner as an extremely effective bad guy from the get go, especially after slaughtering all those people in the hospital at the start of Furious 7, and he’s the guy that killed Han! Even though Jason Statham is a real character and people love watching his films, do you ever worry that maybe Shaw was just a little too bad?
CM: I’ll tell you this: I love that you’re asking it, and I actually love the dilemma. I like having characters that you get to take big swings with, and discover new things about them that maybe we didn’t know, and watch them grow in ways we didn’t know they could. He has – I agree with you, there is a reckoning to come. I don’t want to give anything away prematurely but we have discussed it, there is a plan, and I think down the road people will be satisfied with the journey.
IGN: So now Shaw is partnering up with series regular Luke Hobbs and, from the trailer at least, things are looking very much cut from the classic buddy movie cloth. On the back of the long string of ensemble movies, what are the differences between a buddy film and a larger ensemble film, from your perspective?
CM: A couple of things. With the mainline Fast franchise, it’s such a big ensemble that every time we only really get to drill down on one or two characters, to really learn what’s going on with them; really give them a challenge. Everyone gets a challenge but there’s only so much screen time when you have such a big ensemble. You end up having to separate them; everyone has to have a crucial piece in solving the drama. It tends to be a little more plotty to justify all the large cast and the action. Which is great and good and satisfying; we’ve been doing, I think, a really good job with it.
Having a spin-off now we have the time and the luxury… to focus on two characters that we know very well.
Having a spin-off now we have the time and the luxury… to focus on two characters that we know very well – and we’ll introduce a bunch that we get to know in this film – but two specifically that we know really well and we get to learn lots of new things about them. We get to learn where they come from, we get to learn about their families, we get to learn about their history. That’s actually a great opportunity for us, especially in terms of expanding the Fast world, to learn more about these individual characters. I’d love to see that happen, and we’ve talked a lot about it, with various characters. To give them their real big moment in the sun. I think it’s good in that it expands the franchise…
We were very lucky to get David Leitch on this – he did Deadpool 2, and Atomic Blonde, and John Wick – and he wanted to stay true to the Fast tone, but he also wanted to bring something a little more unique. A slightly different sense of humour. It’s not a comedy – it is an action film – but there’s a little bit more busting on each other with this duo, just because they’re such polar opposites. I think it’s a nice, slightly different, unexpected flavour in the Fast universe, and then you can get back to the mainline franchise and learn more about the main characters and wait to see where it goes from there.
IGN: So speaking of busting chops, one particular moment in the trailer stood out as a bit reminiscent of Tango & Cash, which of course is a classic buddy movie where the main pair have a real grudge against each other for a decent portion of the film. What are the sorts of movie pair-ups that have stood out to you over the years as especially memorable, particularly ones where the main duo didn’t exactly see eye to eye? There must be a big bunch.
CM: Definitely there are. Definitely Lethal Weapon, definitely 48 Hours. A little bit, to a lesser degree – because they’re not hating each other, but in moments they are – a little Butch and Sundance.
[Hobbs and Shaw are] just two guys that, they don’t hate each other, they just worked successfully together in the last film. Doing their own separate parts, all the big dilemma, they respect each other – they had a beer at the end. So we really wanted to twist that.
The fact is these characters are both big, alpha figures. Heroes. Men of action. We needed to do a couple of things. One is we bring in a villain who is the toughest guy they’ve faced so far, which is why we have Idris [Elba] punching Hobbs in the trailer and Hobbs is rocked. Hobbs gets smashed back into a car; you’ve never seen that before. This guy is a real threat that, alone, they would not be able to defeat, but maybe if they could just get their s–t together, they might have a shot at taking this guy down.
That’s kind of the energy there; they both would like to split up and separate and try and solve this their own way, but there’s a variable in there which is the glue that holds them together: the very talented Vanessa Kirby, who plays Hattie Shaw, who is Shaw’s sister. She is an MI6 agent. She is tough and smart – you see her in the trailer, she kicks ass – and she’s a really good foil for the both of them. And she is the one thing, she kind of holds their leash. She will not allow them to deviate from sticking together and working together on this thing. It’s actually a really fun set-up in kind of a classic film sort of way.
IGN: So what do you want to hear about most from folks who’ve seen Hobbs & Shaw following its release?
There are three things. One is there’s a certain action set piece that I’m waiting for the audience to see and I’d like to hear that they think it’s crazy and fun. You know: the typical kind of Fast, lateral-thinking, big action spectacle set piece. That is always super-satisfying.
I’m curious to see how people react to learning more about Hobbs and Shaw’s families. Very curious.
I’d like to hear that they laughed and they enjoyed themselves and that it was a good experience for them; that’s something that I’m very cognisant about. I used to work at a video store for 10 years and my dad was a teacher and my mum actually ran a day-care out of my house and, growing up, we were middle class income but didn’t have a ton of money. My dad would take us to see films, and the one that gave me the biggest impression in my whole life was Raiders of the Lost Ark. We went down to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and saw it, and actually sat through it twice in a row. I think about that; my dad, he comes home from school – and he actually had two jobs – he has three kids and his wife and he takes them out on a Friday night and he has to buy the tickets, pay for the gas, drive to Hollywood, get everybody dinner, pay for parking. It is a serious commitment to go to a film for a family and my hope is that when they leave that film they’re all talking about it, they’re all laughing about different things. That they’re glad they spent that money, had that experience, and maybe they take home a little bit of something with them from our characters’ codes or how they interact with their family, that maybe they can use in their own lives. That’s what I love.
And, frankly, the last thing I’ll be looking forward to is I’m curious to see how people react to learning more about Hobbs and Shaw’s families. Very curious.
IGN: Circling around one last time to those set pieces: has there been a particular highlight over the films for you as the writer of most of them? A moment you saw and thought, ‘Yep, that’s brilliant; that’s just what I pictured.’ It must be a pleasure to put stuff down on a page and have a bunch of folks bring it to life on the big screen, surely?
CM: The one that sticks out to me – by the way, there are a lot of them – but the one that sticks out for me… is the dragging of the safe through the streets of Rio in Fast Five… That, for me, has a particular special place.
What is funny, though, is that there’s a pretty rigorous line that we use on these set pieces. Again, I was raised on these movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and things like that. I love big set pieces; it’s just something that naturally comes to me. But not every big set piece is something for Fast. So I’ll come up with a huge, crazy set piece and then I have to ask myself, like, okay, first of all: physics. Does this break the trust with the audience that this could never really happen? And, yes, we push it; in Fast 6 our runway was quite a bit longer than a runway would need to be to take down the Antonov jet, sure! But did it stop the people from enjoying the moment in the movie as they were watching it? And if the answer is no, then that set piece is just fine!
We’ve had others that we’ve suggested that have kinda pushed that boundary. There’s one from [Hobbs & Shaw] in fact, from the middle of the film, we had. I was so close; so close! Maybe we’ll use it down the road. Maybe. But they’re ones that are either a) too big, too expensive; can’t do it, or b) will push physics a little too much.
But that’s okay. I’ve got a list. We’ll squeeze them in somewhere!
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office and spectacularly breaking out of an arm cast to “go to work” is on his bucket list. You can find him on Twitter every few days @MrLukeReilly.