It’s no secret that the Fast & Furious films (there have been eight up to this point) get bigger and dumber as the numbers get higher. Now apparently, there are so many cast members that the franchise runners are being forced to do spin-off movies, the first of which is Hobbs & Shaw. This one follows arguably the two biggest actors in the franchise, both of whom were latecomers meant to add shock and star power to the series. In the case of both Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and even more so Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), these characters were introduced as adversaries who eventually Vin Diesel and his “family” of friends has to work with to fight an even greater threat. Hobbs and Shaw seem to hate each other with a particular flare, so it only makes sense that they get a spinoff in which they are forced to work together to, once again, save the world.
Hobbs is recruited by the CIA to track down a supposedly rogue MI6 agent named Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, from Mission: Impossible–Fallout). She reportedly killed every member of her team that was sent in to recover a deadly virus that kills a person in a matter of a few days, and then ended up stealing the virus by injecting its capsules into her own body. In truth, Hattie injected herself to keep said virus away from a cyber-genetically enhanced baddie named Brixton (Idris Elda, declaring himself “Black Superman”). What we eventually find out is that Hattie is Shaw’s estranged sister and Brixton is a former spy who worked closely with Shaw until he attempted to turn him, after which Shaw plugged him full of bullets and assumed that was enough to kill him. He was wrong.
After 72 hours (or some arbitrary time limit, designed for no other purpose than to give the movie a countdown clock), the virus-filled capsules in Hattie’s body will dissolve and she will become essentially a virus bomb, contaminating millions. Shaw is recruited to help his sister, but neither Hobbs nor Shaw know that these clandestine agencies plan to pair these two rivals up in order to help in recovering and containing Hattie and the virus. Admittedly, Johnson and Statham do have a certain reverse chemistry—there is no doubt in my mind that these aggressive alpha males who don’t play well with others hate the idea of working with each other.
The great thing about Kirby is that she kicks just as much ass as her male counterparts while also calling these two knuckleheads on their posturing and their inability to put humanity before their petty beefs. Eventually the three make quite the team—the Shaws with their more refined, stealthy approach to spy work, and Hobbs with his “punch first, ask questions later” style. But even the three of them combined are little match for Brixton, who is like the Six Billion Dollar Man, who can anticipate punches, rides a morphing motorcycle that comes when he calls it, and is just generally more menacing because he has nothing to lose, unlike Hobbs who has a young daughter (Eliana Su’a) or Shaw, who very much wants his family (including his incarcerated mother, played by the returning Helen Mirren) reunited and healed.
Directed by David Leitch (the former stuntman/stunt coordinator who helmed Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2), Hobbs & Shaw is at its best when it focuses on the action—a common thread in Leitch’s work. The zingers between the leads are amusing but they certainly don’t land every time. For those who want to hear The Rock and The Transporter fight over who has the bigger wiener, then you are in for the ride of your life. But a few of the jokes hit a little harder and almost seem like a mutual roast of the two actors and their personas, and those laughs are a little meaner and funnier.
The bigger problem is that a great deal of the action seems obviously CGI-created and phony. Look, I realize that a great number of the Fast & Furious movies feature a great deal of enhanced car chases and other physics-bending tricks, but this film uses such gross amounts of effects trickery that it renders most of the action boring. The one major exception to this is the film’s final showdown between Brixton’s forces and an army of Samoans—most of whom are Hobbs extended family members—fighting with spears, clubs and other more traditional weapons. There’s a sequence during this finale when five cars must link together to keep a chained helicopter from taking off (don’t ask); it’s a great sequence because it looks real and homegrown, despite the impossibility of the entire scenario.
Hobbs & Shaw features a few surprises, including a couple of very funny extended cameos, and maybe some of the least necessary mid- and post-credits sequences in the history of this franchise. Throw in a couple of car/motorcycle chases, a whole lot of explosions, and some fine supporting work from the likes of Eddie Marsan, Cliff Curtis and Baby Driver’s Eiza González, and you have a passable placeholder until next year’s official ninth Fast & Furious movie is released (and is said not to feature these two characters, but we’ll see).
Even with its flaws, it’s nice to see the energy of the main series transported to different characters, a shift in focus, and a wildly altered dynamic between lead characters. I liked Hobbs & Shaw, and would certainly welcome more films featuring these characters. But these blockheads need to grow (and grow up) a little before I start actually caring about them.
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