Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw completes the slow development of the Fast & Furious franchise into whatever they goddamn want it to be at any specified moment. This ninth installment and the first spin-off of the insanely profitable franchise from Universal bears nearly no similarity to the 2001 film that began it all, apart from a couple of smart nods and callbacks. But it’s better for it in many respects.
When Fast Five breathed new life into the 2011 series, Dwayne Johnson, like Luke Hobbs, became the symbol of that creative resurgence by hiring the main heroes to pull the government’s high-profile heists. Johnson hasn’t left the franchise ever since, bringing the hulking quantity of energy and charisma that makes him one of Hollywood’s most continuously enjoyable stars. Luckily, Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, the electric villain of Furious 7, has not left either.
Hobbs & Shaw is quick to mercifully put together their two leads. Following an opening scene that introduces Idris Elba to the film Brixton Lore’s cyborg villain, as well as Shaw’s completely badass MI6 sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), we briefly catch up on their private life with the title heroes before they get the same call for action. The script of Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce uses the ancient “virus that will wipe the earth” ploy that every series of a high-octane spy has before. For Hobbs, saving the world is another task, but for Shaw, keeping his alienated sister is an individual quest.
Not that she requires to save a lot. The “Shaw” in the title could also be plural, as Hattie is doing nearly as much butt-kicking as her two masculine counterparts. And Kirby transfers, not for nothing, the charmingly enigmatic energy she introduced to last summer’s Mission: Impossible–Fallout straight into this film, and with a more significant leading role. Better yet, as extremely bankable action stars are Johnson, Statham, and Elba, she is also the only principal cast member with something to demonstrate here. She succeeds boy. Kirby is acting her way through her action scenes (like the ever-expressive Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt does), adding gravitas to every punch and kicking more than the men she shares with on the screen. And when she doesn’t fight, she has the attitude and charisma to carry the movie through her plot that’s barely strung together. Give this woman her own action vehicle. Tomorrow, like that.
Having the title duo becomes a trio fundamentally is, of course, an unexpected joy, but those who came to watch Johnson and Statham face bad people and each other will surely be happy. The Fast & the Furious flicks became lighter and funnier as they went along, but Hobbs & Shaw could be the first to be correctly labeled an action-comedy. Much of what these two do together on screen is funny, even though most of the jokes boil down to who can bend their muscles harder and who is supposed to have more prominent private individuals.
These two stars are mostly capable of selling their tired comedy material alone on the presence of chemistry and screen. You can almost feel them competing to outdo each other on set, and in a few cases, director David Leitch appears to let them lob each other’s improvised insults with intense camera close-ups to capture every tiny face attack. It’s just kind of works, as well, at the moment quips and physical comedy, Johnson and Statham are merely better. In these insult standoffs, about three of which exist, the film feels self-congratulatory in succeeding in bringing together these two megastars and thus becomes a little off-putting. They’re not holding a candle to, say, what Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista are pulling off in the Galaxy movies ‘ Guardians.
However, the action works primarily. Leitch is once again proving capable of shooting close-quarters fighting here after Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. In a sometimes incomprehensible storm with explosions and CGI swirling around each other, all the hand-to-hand scenes excel where some of the larger set parts come off as Michael Bay-lite.
But the film’s duration is a larger issue. Hobbs & Shaw can not maintain the charm of their stars between two hours and fifteen minutes between the big action sequences. The story drags, and it doesn’t assist the script step back and set a plot for another half hour just when it feels like it’s about to end. The film has almost two-thirds of acts, and Elba’s turn as self-proclaimed “Black Superman” is neither engaging nor deep enough to maintain legitimate tension in either. Brixton Lore is a one-note villain for whom Elba is only present to add some dramatic pomp and frills instead of a real character.
Nevertheless, the central ethos of the franchise remains intact. With Shaw struggling to keep his family together (for a few scenes, Helen Mirren reprises her role as his criminal matriarch), it is Hobbs who ultimately has to learn the value of his own roots, with a visit to Samoa for the final battle highlighting a culture not often seen on film. It feels a bit forced in, But it’s fun at least to see how the first Fast Spin-off finds a way to run the same temperature on the series ‘ critical family values (laughably hokey as they might).
ŪWhile Hobbs & Shaw is by far the most thematically and stylistically removed from the first Fast & the Furious, it shows that this franchise still has places to go and individuals to see. This entry may be sloppier than some of the recent highs of the series (at one point, an extensive sequence of action goes from nighttime to daylight in about three minutes to a sudden thunderstorm), but there’s something happy about that sloppiness. The leads are all conscious of it, providing the rapid fury required to rise above the mistakes of the film. Although it’s too long and not every action scene or comedy bit works, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, and excellent up-and-coming star Vanessa Kirby make sure there’s fun to have in a Fast & Furious movie that doesn’t focus on vehicles or racing.