Review: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
I love the Fast and Furious series, let me start by saying that. I’m in awe of a franchise that started out as a Point Break riff involving a gang of fast car obsessed criminals who go after trucks filled with DVD players, then in the span of 16 years took some of those same characters and had them fight a Russian nuclear submarine. It went from goofy crime thriller to goofy action-adventure popcorn flicks, reminiscent of the best testosterone-filled ‘80s and ‘90s action movies, before our very eyes, and we’re all the better for it. While the action went larger, what keeps the series grounded (which is very hard to do when you’re fighting a goddamn submarine) is its mission statement: it’s about family. When Dom says it, you believe it, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. The Fast gang can go into space, find god, convince him to street race for the fate of the universe, and as long as they come back home and have a Corona at the end, you’ll buy it. That’s to say the series really does stand tall because of Vin Diesel’s Dom and his crew, so what happens when the focus shifts to a spin-off film, featuring two newer characters of the series, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham)? The results are somewhat mixed; it doesn’t feel like a Fast and Furious film, even though it does try. But it most certainly holds its own as a fun summer action film.
The set-up is simple enough. Federal Agent Luke Hobbs is forced to team up with British mercenary Deckard Shaw to save Shaw’s sister Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), who has a deadly virus that is sought after by a crazed militia cult whose forces are led by a robotically enhanced superhuman, Brixton Lore (Idris Elba). Okay, it’s a little out there, but at this point in the series, fighting a robotic Idris Elba feels like par for the course for Fast and Furious. Elba as Lore chews scenery with pure delight. His character has enhanced vision, able to allow for perfect attacks and counter-attacks, while also being incredibly strong, making him a formidable match for Hobbs and Shaw, who easily hold their own over just about every henchman thrown at them. And that’s a running joke in the film; Johnson and Statham are two of the biggest action stars today and they’re given dozens and dozens of moments to completely obliterate goons in hand-to-hand combat. Director David Leitch (John Wick, Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde) knows a thing or two about setting up interestingly choreographed set pieces, and there are plenty to be had here. Smaller moments, like Statham hammering a wine bottle to the throat of a bad guy, to larger moments, like Johnson hanging on to a flying helicopter with a steel chain, all are well-executed and frankly damn fun.
Vanessa Kirby (The Crown, Mission: Impossible - Fallout) has her moments as the as the MI6 agent who kickstarts the plot. She kicks ass, yet is still confined to the romantic interest of Hobbs and the sister to Shaw. Rarely does she feel like her own character, but then again, the Fast and Furious films haven’t really done much to help female characters in its later entries, so that fact that Kirby’s Hattie is as proactive as she is is a good thing. Screenwriter and producer Chris Morgan, the sole writer of the Fast films from Tokyo Drift all the way through Hobbs & Shaw, is a mastermind of the universe with the some of the successes and failures of the Fast films falling on him. Back to the female characters issue, in Furious 7 and The Fate of the Furious, women characters were indiscriminately set aside (killed or otherwise), so Hattie may be a response to that, but she still adheres and exists to serve the two bald leading men. Whether she’ll continue to be an asset and whether her character can improve, we won’t have those answers until Hobbs & Shaw 2, unfortunately.
In trying to address certain franchise issues, while also bringing the mood of the Fast films to Hobbs & Shaw, Morgan falls into the trappings of modern day blockbusters. Cameos in the film feel very, painfully forced. There are moments that push for a pure comedic tone that derail the plot. It’s frustrating when the comedy beats were more streamlined in previous Fast films. It feels like a desperate move, reaching for easy laughs when the film should just stick to the shiny headed duo, their female sidekick, and the villain. Morgan also never confronts the other issue that arose in The Fate of the Furious: the fact that Shaw killed the beloved character Han in Furious 6. It might be a small issue, and newcomers to the series won’t mind one bit, but it’s something that’s been irking me and other fans since Fate. But hey, who’s to stop “progress” when it feels like the road of Fast & Furious seemed destined to have a fork in the road specifically made for superstars Johnson and Statham? Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t really feel like a Fast film at times, which is certainly purposefully if this wants to be a new separate franchise, which, by the end, it most certainly sets up.
And really, Hobbs & Shaw is a platform for Johnson and Statham to shine, and they do. When they’re bouncing off each other, in a classic buddy comedy, Midnight Run-Lethal Weapon-Tango & Cash sort of way, the film works. Even when Morgan brings in that keyword of “family” and makes it a theme in Hobbs & Shaw, it mostly succeeds. Statham and Kirby play brother and sister who are shown as troublemaking kids growing up (age gap be damned), making for easy familial connections. The film makes Hobbs’ character’s background the same as Johnson’s; Samoa serves as the film’s third act setting. While it’s sometimes contrived, it has its heartfelt moments, especially with the help of Cliff Curtis playing Hobbs’ brother and a shirtless crew of Samoans taking out bad guys with their bare fists.
Hobbs & Shaw serves as a fun action film that plays to the strengths of its two leading men. While trying to bring over the themes of the Fast films, it both succeeds and fails. It relies too much on soulless camoes and comedy that fails too many times. Really, when it comes to ultimately bringing about an overall joyful glee in watching destruction this side of ‘80s and ‘90s action fare, Hobbs & Shaw does the trick. But I can’t help but miss Dom and am looking forward to the next true chapter in the Fast saga; Hobbs & Shaw is a worthwhile detour.