Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

 

(Leitch, 2019)

When The Fast and the Furious was released in 2001, it was just a mid-budget street racing movie starring two relatively unknown actors, Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker. Eighteen years and eight movies later, it is a multi-billion dollar franchise known for its fast cars, bankable stars and absurdly over-the-top action. The latest installment is Hobbs & Shaw, a spin-off that follows two of the franchise’s former “bad guys,” Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Despite its status as a spin-off, Hobbs & Shaw has a lot in common with its franchise — it’s full of ridiculous action set pieces, macho banter and themes of family and belonging.  But even though it looks like another fun and frivolous Fast entry on the outside, it’s hard not to notice that there’s something a little bit off here.

As far as casting goes, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are a gift. Unlike Diesel and Walker, who are known within the Fast franchise for their rather serious and sentimental performances, Johnson and Statham seem more comfortable when they’re cracking jokes. The film is at its best when the co-leads bounce off each other, playing it more like a buddy comedy than a straight action movie. This energetic dynamic should prove alluring for casual fans of the franchise looking for a reason to catch this installment. You don’t have to have seen any of the previous Fast films to see Hobbs & Shaw. In fact, you don’t even have to know who Hobbs and Shaw are — you only have to know Jason Statham and The Rock. Jason Statham has been steadily coasting as a recognizable action star for a while now, but Dwayne Johnson is a newly minted movie star, and he is bigger now than he has ever been. Since the last Fast installment, Johnson has starred in a number of high-profile studio films, including Baywatch, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Rampage and Skyscraper, making him wildly popular in the United States and abroad. But in the off chance you don’t care about Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, or The Fast and the Furious franchise, this movie also features the devilishly handsome Idris Elba (as Brixton Lore, a genetically enhanced terrorist and the film’s big bad) and relative newcomer Vanessa Kirby, of The Crown fame (as Hattie Shaw, an experienced MI6 agent and sister of Statham’s character). Needless to say, Hobbs & Shaw is about as “stacked” as a 2019 action movie can be… at least on paper. 

The cast has chemistry, the director has a great track record (he created John Wick, directed Deadpool 2), the franchise is internationally beloved, and yet none of it coalesces to create something greater. There’s a little bit of everything — some good action, some funny laugh lines, and some intriguing character work — key word, some. Its brand name stars and big vehicular stunts may have generated a good amount of buzz, but Hobbs & Shaw still struggled to shine (both financially and artistically) compared to its recent predecessors. Its $60 million opening weekend is nothing to scoff at, but it’s the lowest opening weekend for a Fast movie since Tokyo  Drift in 2006, and it’s almost $40 million behind 2017’s Fate of the Furious, which opened to $98 million (without adjusting for inflation). Still, it will likely do well enough overseas to warrant a sequel or two. The real problem with Hobbs & Shaw is in its narrative. The plot is haphazard, appearing as though it only exists to string together the fight scenes and comedy bits — neither of which are near franchise best.

Hobbs & Shaw has enough explosions, muscles, and teen boy humor to keep the average moviegoer at least mildly engaged, but don’t go in expecting anything new or nuanced — it’s not Mission: Impossible — Fallout. Last year’s Ethan Hunt epic may have a lot in common with Hobbs & Shaw to the untrained eye (globetrotting action, fast chases, similar color palette, even Vanessa Kirby stars in both), but the difference is Fallout did it better, and with purpose. It was an exceptionally produced, emotionally rewarding film about the consequences of living up to one’s moral code. What is Hobbs & Shaw but a slightly amusing romp? Yes, it’s serviceable action movie with an inexplicably (and deceptively) entertaining trailer, but it could have been more. It’s a movie that had every vital ingredient in the palm of its hand, and only a vague idea what to do with them. ★★★

 
David Merkle