The action credentials of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw are unmatched.
Not only does the film bring together two of the titans of the genre in Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, it comes from Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 director David Leitch, and it is also a spin-off of one of cinema's most bombastic and high-octane franchises, The Fast and the Furious.
Considering the previous eight instalments have grossed more than $5.1 billion (Dh18.73bn) worldwide, with its past four films even managing to earn impressive reviews, there is huge amount of pressure on Leitch to take the series to the next level. Luckily for viewers, that's exactly what attracted him to Hobbs & Shaw in the first place. "I was always fascinated with how the Fast universe keeps on reinventing itself," he tells The National. "I want Hobbs & Shaw to be no different."
'Dwayne wanted Hobbs to evolve...he wanted him to have a little bit more sophistication'
Leitch knew the franchise's legion of fans were only willing to see the Fast posse go on increasingly insane journeys and adventures because of the relationship they've developed with characters such as Dominic Toretto, Brian O'Connor, Letty, Tej, Roman, Hobbs and Deckard Shaw over the years. That was something he had to honour and build on in his latest film. Unsurprisingly, this led to endless, detailed discussions with Johnson and Statham about how to do their characters – they play Hobbs and Shaw respectively – and the Fast world justice.
"Dwayne wanted to have Hobbs evolve," Leitch says. "He had a strong point of view that it was time for Hobbs to be elevated. He wanted an evolution. And he wanted him to have a little bit more sophistication, while still keeping the swagger and charisma, and lone gunman, lone lawman mentality."
The treatment of Statham's Shaw was much more complicated, as he entered the franchise as a villain in Furious 7 (2015) only to become part of the gang in 2017's The Fate Of The Furious. Leitch says both he and Statham wanted to make sure they took clear steps to develop Shaw and his world in a precise way, while leaving plenty of room for "more journeys with these guys" in the future.
Key to that was the introduction of Vanessa Kirby, who plays Hattie, Shaw's sister, especially as Leitch was well aware he had to live up to the Fast world's proud history of having strong female characters. "Vanessa is a talented actress," he says. "And I've never gone wrong by betting on great actors."
Leitch wanted this to be different to its predecessors, and more of a spy film
Of course, Hobbs & Shaw's action scenes were the priority. Leitch encouraged Johnson, Statham and the rest of the creative team to think outside the box constantly to find different ways to up the ante with set pieces that would make the film "a fun and wild ride for the audience". But through all of this, Leitch was intent on making sure Hobbs & Shaw wasn't simply another "full-on street-racing" film like its predecessors. Instead, he says he wanted to establish that it was distinctive and different, and more of a spy film.
Leitch began work on Hobbs & Shaw during post-production on Deadpool 2. After reading the original script, he envisioned a modernised take on the buddy cop movies of the 1980s, with 1987's Lethal Weapon being a particularly strong influence because of the relationship between its two leading characters, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtagh (Danny Glover). "I wanted to focus on the dichotomy of who the characters are on the outside, but the fact they're really very similar on the inside," says Leitch. "We wanted to make a story about two people that are so different and how they somehow find a way to come together to save the world. That's a really cool, bigger message."
'They definitely have a rapport and a charisma together and this banter that flows between them'
For this to succeed, the patter established between Johnson and Statham's characters in Furious 7, and then built on in The Fate Of The Furious had to be edgy, hilarious and on point for their own adventure. But while American screenwriter Chris Morgan continued to add to his draft and Drew Pearce was brought in to add a British voice, Leitch says the on-screen dynamic wasn't that difficult to create because Johnson and Statham have a strong relationship off camera.
"They definitely have a rapport and a charisma together and this banter that flows between them," Leitch says. "They are really fun and brotherly together. Plus they're two distinct personalities. So it wasn't hard work. It was a fun time exploiting something that came naturally with them, and finding ways of making it work with our narrative."
But it wasn't all plain sailing. Leitch says the aggressive production schedule meant editing Hobbs & Shaw, adding its vast amounts of visual effects and conducting reshoots was a challenge. Leitch says this isn't anything new, and is simply how Hollywood operates with films of this size.
"Everybody involved in production is used to it," he says. "But I think we can allow ourselves a little bit more leeway next time. For sanity's sake. Not for the quality. Because ultimately putting us in the pressure cooker allowed us to get great results."
It speaks volumes for his personality and temperament that Leitch, who has worked with the same cinematographer (Jonathan Sela) and production designer (David Scheunemann) on each of his feature films, was able to keep the production on schedule and everyone involved happy and sane despite such demands. It is to the director's credit that he was also able to coax refreshingly self-deprecating performances out of Johnson and Statham, while populating the film with some jaw-dropping cameos.
"I hope it is a little bit of a reflection of how I am as a filmmaker to work with," he says. "I love to work with the people I've had great, great experiences with in the past. I love my leading actors. I love to collaborate with them. I really want to do them justice."
Hobbs & Shaw is out in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday