'Hobbs & Shaw' Review: Too Fast and Too Furious
The first spin-off from the 'Fast & Furious' films left me in the dust.
There are moments in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw that will live on for eternity, and others that vanish like vapor. You will remember Dwayne Johnson lead a Samoan Siva Tau, or steal Captain America’s thunder holding down an airborne helicopter with a chain. But you’ll forget every dump of exposition — the who, what, and why — that got you there.
Though inheriting the spirit of the Fast & Furious — that you can accomplish anything with family, and who is family is for you to decide — Hobbs & Shaw, out Friday from David Leitch and writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, lacks the same emotional oomph and lunkheaded earnestness that made the movies with Dom Toretto’s crew transcendent.
Instead, it’s relentless action set piece after chase sequence that’s all too self-aware but never clever enough. As a result, Johnson and Statham’s turn at the wheel evokes an explosive Beverly Hills Cop in the Blu-ray dust jacket of a Mission: Impossible that fails to soar to similar heights.
The first spin-off from Fast & Furious, Hobbs & Shaw reunites Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham as their respective bald-headed badasses: Luke Hobbs (Johnson), a “brown mountain” DSS agent from sunny Miami, and Deckard Shaw (Statham), a master criminal from London. A mega virus hides in the blood of Deckard’s estranged sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), and so the two must team up against an ex-black ops agent turned superhuman puppet, Brixton (Idris Elba). There’s also a parade of cameos who establish new characters, a clear indication of the path this sub-series aims to take off in inevitable sequels.
No one, not even Universal Studios, expected Fast & Furious, released in 2001, to have lore, continuity, or spin-off potential, which is why people love these movies so much. Fans aren’t rolling their eyes at the possibility that a future installment will be set in space because Fast & Furious had no pretension from the start. This only made its most resonant ideas, that F word “family,” feel everlasting.
So allow me to pick a bone for a moment: Hobbs and Shaw ended 2017’s The Fate of the Furious on good terms. So, why do they still hate each other? Hobbs & Shaw never answers this question, which makes its excellent elevator pitch almost go to waste.
As two alphas who resent each other, Johnson and Statham both have weapons-grade charisma to make that relationship fun and funny. I don’t know this for sure, but I’m convinced Johnson and Statham improvised a sizable portion of their insult dialogues. They’re that good together.
But in spite of the two leads’ quick quips (I really can’t wait to quote this movie with my best guy friends), there is no protein to their animosity the film needs to power the ride. Their shared hatred is altogether abrupt and out of nowhere, and the script never properly reignites their feud.
It’s hard to wrestle with this foundation-less feud when Hobbs and Shaw aren’t that different. They’re awfully similar, which is the movie’s point, but it only makes their rivalry all the more unearned. An immensely playful split-screen framing device, as if (500) Days of Summer were nuclear blasted by testosterone, illustrates how much Hobbs and Shaw are made for each other. If only the film had the bravery to underscore its heroes with something other than the relentless, heterosexual dick-measuring they do for two hours.
But if dick-measuring is your bag, then Hobbs & Shaw is Christmas. Through director David Leitch, on his way to becoming the new James Cameron of action after turns with John Wick and Deadpool, an endless series of well-crafted set pieces structure the film to an almost tiring degree. A showdown set in Chernobyl thrilled me before wearing me out. I remembered from the trailers that there was still a third left in Samoa to go. Where most of the Fast & Furious are sprints, Hobbs & Shaw is a marathon at full speed, and you will only last if you’ve got the mettle for it.
The secret weapon in Hobbs & Shaw is also its most underutilized. Vanessa Kirby, whose prolific English theater background makes her almost overqualified to be in Fast & Furious, gets her share of the action including choking The Rock not once but twice with her thigh muscles. (Also quite funny her mother is played by Dame Helen Mirren, who makes her second Fast & Furious appearance in Hobbs & Shaw — What a world!)
Beyond being what Hobbs calls “the baddest, most capable woman” he’s ever met — a well-worn Joss Whedon brand of movie feminism — Hattie still plays third wheel to the bald dads who occupy most of the movie’s posters. I get it, the movie’s Hobbs & Shaw, not Hobbs & Shaw & Hattie, but I don’t know, let homegirl drive more or something.
Idris Elba, too, is rote as a super-powered villain in a Black Power Ranger costume, but because it’s Idris bringing his A-game swagger, he’s just plain fun.
Hobbs & Shaw is far from a bad movie, it’s just an exhausting one. No one in the ensemble offers anything close to their best single work, but together, they can still play a tune and keep audiences entertained.
As a superhero movie without capes and powers but all the Easter eggs, post-credits scenes, and suspension of disbelief you bring to Marvel, it’s in the third act where Hobbs & Shaw rocks.
“Family” is so intrinsically tied to Fast & Furious that it’s hard to tell when it’s sincere or a meme. But when Hobbs fights with his brothers in a mini-cultural celebration like it’s Polynesian Black Panther, that’s when Hobbs & Shaw truly feels at home. It’s just a rocky road to get there.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw hits theaters on August 2.