Directed By: David Leitch
Release Date: August 2, 2019
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba
I have a strange fascination with the Fast and Furious franchise. Though the franchise has been a mainstay on the big screen ever since 2001, popping a new film out every couple of years, I'd never been interested in them. It wasn't until the release of 2015's Furious 7 that I finally gave the series a chance, mainly out of curiosity as to how the film – and the franchise – was going to work around the death of Paul Walker during production.
I dutifully binged the previous six films in the series, finding that the ones I enjoyed most – 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – were also generally regarded as the worst entries in the series. Regardless, though I didn't come to love the franchise overall, I was taken by their eccentric charm. This series has only gotten bigger and stranger over the years; what started out as a film about a cop investigating a gang of street-racing criminals has since blossomed into a globe-trotting adventure series where its characters have essentially become physics-defying superheroes called upon to save the world from cyberterrorists. On the surface, it's absolutely insane, and yet this series remains held together by the simple fact it's oddly amiable and thoroughly unapologetic about what it is.
It's become a billion-dollar franchise, and it's clear that Universal has no plans to let this series go anytime soon, especially with ninth and tenth entries in the mainline series in the works. With the release of Hobbs & Shaw, a spin-off built on the foundation of the chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham on display in 2017's The Fate of the Furious, Universal is dipping its toe into the type of expansive storytelling that has given the Marvel Cinematic Universe such success. (And the very public bad blood between Johnson and his former cast members like Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson most certainly has something to do with this film's existence as well in order to keep the ever-popular Johnson in the franchise yet away from the rest of the now-fractured "Fast family.")
The new spin-off sees Johnson's Luke Hobbs and Statham's Deckard Shaw coming together to find Shaw's sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who has gone on the run after injecting herself with a dangerous virus to keep it out of the hands of Brixton Lore (Idris Elba, wasted in yet another blockbuster franchise). Brixton, a former ally of Shaw's who has been brought back from the dead by a shadowy organization named Eteon and enhanced with a whole host of cybernetics, will do whatever it takes to retrieve the virus and unleash it upon the world, and it's up to Hobbs and Shaw to put aside their differences and come together to stop him.
And that's about all you need to know about the plot of the film, which really hangs much of its downtime on the aforementioned chemistry between Johnson and Statham. The best parts of the film tend to come when the two of them are on screen together, riffing off one another; when they're apart, the film often feels as though it's slowed down to a crawl, even when things are exploding left and right.
And things certainly do explode, as Hobbs & Shaw is packed with action, from a chase that starts on the side of a skyscraper and through the streets of London to an old school, knuckles and gasoline brawl on the island of Samoa, but at a point it just becomes numbing. By the time Hobbs is reunited with his estranged family in Samoa, it feels as though the film has already overstayed its welcome as it nears the two-hour mark despite the fact the Samoan final act is a high point simply for its visual changeup from cityscapes and concrete to serene coastal views.
It's just that so much has happened by then that it's hard not to wish for the film to just get to the point and wrap things up. Had the film shed 15-20 minutes throughout its first two acts, particularly in some of its action scenes that drag on, Hobbs & Shaw would've been able to maintain its energy from beginning to end rather than sputtering to the finish line.
Ultimately, though, that's the only thing Hobbs & Shaw is designed to provide: A slew of action scenes strung together by the goodwill around the fact one of The Fate of the Furious' major strengths was seeing these two guys together. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it often rings hollow due to the fact that it feels so disconnected from the series it's a part of. Lest we forget, just two films ago, Deckard Shaw blew up Dominic Toretto's home, nearly killing Brian, Mia, and their kids, slaughtered a ton of innocent people at a hospital, and, of course, murdered the fan-favorite Han in cold blood.
None of that is even touched upon here. There's a throwaway comment about how he has a past he has to make up for, but between the events of Fate and this film, it feels as though everyone involved behind the scenes just kind of wants to let Shaw off the hook despite how much more fascinating it would be to see him put through the ringer of karma. Even beyond that, though Shaw's mother (Helen Mirren) turns up after her debut in Fate, Shaw's brother Owen (Luke Evans) isn't so much as referenced once, directly or indirectly, despite being a pivotal part in why Deckard is even in this franchise in the first place, which lends to the overwhelming sense that this film is holding its predecessors at arm’s length.
Not that I have any pretense of this franchise being deep, but Hobbs & Shaw really could've done something different from films past based on the history of its characters, one of whom has a lot to make up for in this universe. Instead, it plays it incredibly safe, upping the ante of what's possible in the Fast and Furious world – now we've got Illuminati-esque organizations and super-powered people in the picture – without actually challenging its characters in any sort of meaningful way.
If all you want is to see Johnson and Statham banter amidst a series of crazy action sequences, you'll be more than satisfied, and there are a couple of surprise cameos that certainly tee up possibilities for further adventures with these two separate and apart from the main films. For fans of the Fast franchise, Hobbs & Shaw is really just more of the same harmless, increasingly over-the-top fun that’s kept audiences coming back every few years. But it’s just unfortunate that it relied on the same formula as always, because it could’ve challenged itself and tried something new by virtue of being a spin-off. I didn't love it and I didn't hate it, just like the rest of the franchise, and – for better or worse – that's all the praise I can give it.
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