Although it may seem like every other film Hollywood releases these days is a sequel, it is rare for a single franchise to reach upwards of eight films – rarer still for that brand to be written, mostly, by just one person. Yet, the Fast and Furious behemoth is a strange beast, eight films in with no signs of slowing down (sorry) and screenwriter Chris Morgan being along for the ride (sorry again) since the third instalment, driving solo (I refuse to apologize for this third pun).
With The Fate of the Furious having just earned $1.2-billion (U.S.) at the worldwide box office and the film likely to dominate the home entertainment market when it's released on Blu-ray on July 11, Morgan spoke with The Globe and Mail about the weighty expectations, from both the industry and the audience, that come with running a franchise.
It's rare to be the sole writer on a franchise this deep into things. Were you never pressured to bring aboard a co-writer or others since taking on The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift?
No, and I think it all just comes down to being incredibly passionate about the material and the franchise. I saw the original film as a fan and I loved the Butch and Sundance nature of Dom and Brian and how the crew treated each other as family. All of that spoke to me in a very hard way, so when I got the chance to come aboard, I tried to narrow everything in the film down to that emotional connection. And involve cars as much as humanely possible.
I imagine most screenwriters dream of lucking upon a franchise, but in your wildest dreams, how far did you think this property would go?
Absolutely not this far. Originally, for Tokyo Drift, they were going to do a straight-to-DVD sequel, maybe costing a small $10-million. I came in and said, "Listen, something happens to a friend of Dom's, he has to go to Japan and learn about this new driving technique called drifting." They said it was too expensive and I didn't get the job. Two weeks later, they call me up and say, "What's that drifting thing again?" They said, "Listen, we can't bring back the main actors, so we're thinking of setting it in a high school." I said, "God bless, but I can't write high school, you can hire someone else." They came back and said, "No, no, no, you're right, you're the guy." I should do the Dom goes to Japan thing. So I worked on a draft, turned it in and I got just one note back: it's great, but let's set it in high school after all. I was under contract, so I had to do it. But the beautiful thing was, it all came together, we got that tag at the end featuring Vin [Diesel] as Dom, and the studio said marshal our forces, let's get these guys back together.
As you're working on parts nine and 10 now, are there any set pieces that are simply jump-the-shark moments for you – scenes too outrageous that you know they would kill the series?
I have this loose set of rules, specifically with physics. I mean, we're a heightened franchise, physics are a little elastic for us. But they do break at a certain point. If we're doing a set piece and the physics are so egregiously broken that the audience can't recover from it and it breaks the connection we have with the characters, we won't do that. We've gotten close, but nothing has stopped you from enjoying the momentum of the film.
Speaking of character moments, what do you feel about the strong fan reaction from Fate, in which Jason Statham's villain was basically absolved from killing fan-favourite character Han [played by Sung Kang]?
First of all, I love the conversation. It makes me very happy that fans are offended, that they are so attached to a beloved character that they take it personally when there's a turn they weren't prepared for. It means that Han reaches them on a personal level. I feel it, too. But what I would say to them to allay their fears is that we owe them a debt of explanation, and that is coming. We knew this when making the movie. We know where we're going and I think those people will be satisfied with how we deal with that.
The current marketplace is one obsessed with these shared cinematic universes, which Fast seems a natural fit for, given its range of characters. There's already been reports of a Statham/Dwayne Johnson spinoff – how deep are you into expanding this already lengthy series?
Our franchise is an expanded one. We'd like to be able to focus on not only the main one, but personal stories for Dom and the other characters, and what you said, Hobbs and Shaw. We're having those talks right now with how that expansion would take place … I love these characters, and I want to see more of them. But the difference is we're not rushing to put some universe together. Fast doesn't work like that. It's a continuous story, told out of temporal order, sure, but it all has to connect to this crew. We have to figure out what personal stories we can share.
In addition to being the gatekeeper for Fast, you're overseeing Universal's other big franchise bet, the "Dark Universe" monster films. How is that proceeding in the wake of the poor critical reception for Tom Cruise's The Mummy?
Well, I think I would just say that right now, the studio is very focused on Bride of Frankenstein, which they have a great script for, they have an amazing director, and they're just taking in all the lessons from the first outing and focusing on what comes next. I think that critics and audiences are going to be very happy, very surprised, when we lean into the kind of things they're hoping for out of a monster film.
This interview has been edited and condensed.