Review: HOBBS & SHAW

The Fast & Furious spinoff mostly keeps the wheels on, while driving an uppercut of fun into your face.

Hobbs and shaw

There’s a scene in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw where our body-sprayed buddies Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) wrestle mightily to keep a tow-truck attached to a helicopter from being pulled off the side of a Samoan cliff. Through sheer act of manly perseverance and the belief in FAMBLY, they join into a convoy of Frankencars powered by island NOS to overcome physics itself, gripping that last available spot of horizon for dear life, and the traction necessary to not careen over the edge into disaster. Raise your hand if you see where I’m going with this. 

The scene I’m describing  is pretty much a perfect encapsulation of Hobbs & Shaw, the first spinoff film from the Fast & Furious series of films. Hobbs & Shaw fights tooth and nail to stay in motion, and it mainly succeeds. Picking up after the events of F8 Of The Furious, this movie pivots us away from Dominic Toretto and his Fambly, and drops us into a conspiracy of super death cultists who can only be topped by the toughest, baldest members of our favorite squad. The areas where it falls flat (spotty editing, inconsistent hand-held fight scenes, bombastic CG chases, and the occasional directly-on-the-nose line delivery) are evident, but are mostly overcome by sheer force of will and a surprisingly sweet tone. The roots of the Fast series (be they ever so humble) took purchase in the soil of The Fast and the Furious, a low-rent Point Break ripoff that acquitted itself through both an exciting cast and a surprising amount of earnestness. Eventually, the series transcended these unambitious beginnings, flowering into a modern day superspy saga fueled by incredible yet practical action set-pieces, a willful dismissal of physics, and a diverse cast of beloved characters who we absolutely love to see bounce off of one another. Put simply, this series has now made a formula out of embracing the ludicrous and making it a feature, rather than a bug. 

In this regard, Hobbs & Shaw is no exception, moving the volume knob one degree higher than super spy movie and planting both feet right in the realm of a superhero movie. The plot kicks off in London, where Deckard’s estranged sister Hattie (a bad ass Vanessa Kirby) and her MI6 team intercept a virus known as Snowflake from a transhumanist terror group called Eteon. Eteon’s number one cybernetically enhanced enforcer Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) arrives on the scene, murders the entire team save Hattie, then frames her for the assault and theft after she escapes with the virus. Hoping to salvage the situation and prevent the murder of billions, the CIA recruits the two assets they believe have a chance of bringing in the virus and bringing down Eteon, Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw. Fans of the series will remember that Hobbs and Shaw are in love not the best of pals, and do not get along in the slightest, despite their grudging respect for one another. From this point, it’s a bone-crunching, prank-pulling, insult-lobbing, fisticuff-throwing race against time to save the world (which, at this point, is just the expected stakes of these films), as well as Hattie’s life. And it’s mostly right in line with the stakes, spectacle, and excitement we’ve come to rely on in the Fast films, even if David Leitch doesn’t quite have what it takes to make Chris Morgan’s (and Drew Pearce’s!) writing sing the way Justin Lin, James Wan, and even F. Gary Gray have done. 

Hobbs & Shaw is, much like Luke Hobbs, absolutely devoid of subtlety. This is a big, brash, goofy movie that pushes right past the gossamer-thin grounding of the main series to nearly become the cartoon version of the franchise. It wears the themes of family and sacrifice proudly emblazoned on its sleeves. Functionally, it’s Fast. We love Fast because of all that earnest interstitial stuff that takes place between the cast, balancing the bombastic fights and action sequences. But this is a movie that is wholly made of that interstitial stuff, and spread over a smaller cast. The movie’s biggest issue is that the first half (which is still very fun) is a little pummelling in execution, while the second is a gonzo blast of pure joy. Whether it comes down to Leitch’s direction or to Christopher Rouse’s editing, I was more aware than ever when a character had a thematic beat to drop because they would stop the scene cold for them to do it. Scenes occasionally either cut away much too quickly, or linger a little too long during a comedic back and forth. While that approach works with the scenes between Johnson and Statham, guests like Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart risk wearing out their welcome in spots. None of it is fatal, but coming off the high that the last 4 Fast films have delivered with near perfect pacing, it’s very noticeable. Also, some of the fights, while very cleverly orchestrated, stumble a bit in execution, as Leitch opts for a tad messier handheld approach than we’re used to for most of the physical confrontations in the film. Finally (and landing more in the ‘mixed’ category than an outright negative), the vehicular stunt setpieces in the film lean heavier than any previous entry into blockbuster CGI shenanigans, which doesn’t so much derail the proceedings as draw a contrast against the more practically executed scenes the series is known for.

If it sounds like I’m a little down on the film, it’s only because the nits I have to pick are what keeps the things that really work about this movie from fully taking flight. I mean, this is a movie where Eddie Marsan goes killcrazy with a flamethrower. It’s got charms. What really works is the boiling chemistry between our three leads, and their supporting casts. Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, and Dwayne Johnson play off of each other perfectly, and watching them together is an absolute joy. Vanessa Kirby faintly walks away with the movie for stretches, seeming like she was born for this kind of action and excitement. For every sort of lame Game of Thrones reference or bone-headedly obvious observation tossed between them, there are at least two genuinely cracking barbs or jokes amongst the core trio. 

Even more enchanting is the way the film plays with the series’ central theme of family, demonstrating the way that we place the needs and security of those we love before ourselves, even if they’ll never know or appreciate what we’ve done for them. I mentioned before that Leitch leaves something to desired when playing in the same sandbox as directors like Justin Lin, but the way he weaves this theme into the final battle between Hobbs/Shaw and the unstoppable Brixton is delightfully clever (even if the moment didn’t need our characters to spell out how clever it was). Hobbs & Shaw understands a vital truth about the series that spawned it, and that is that these movies live or die on their unwillingness to settle for half-measures. A Fast movie has to be willing to go all in on the spectacle and the catharsis. In the second half, this movie absolutely goes for broke, building a genuinely thrilling series of setpieces and fights that ramp in intensity along with the best entries in the series. I didn’t know I needed to see a family of Samoan outlaws set off barrel rockets on a country road to fight a helicopter until Hobbs & Shaw told me I did. I wasn’t aware that the Fast series needed its own Hydra/Cobra until a robot voice helped Idris Elba attack our heroes with both his fists and fake news. There are interesting little choices throughout Hobbs & Shaw that add up to a very satisfying (if meaty) stew.

With Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Universal have basically proven that the magic this series has managed to sustain since Fast Five can bear to be pulled in more than one direction. While it verges on cartoonish in places, and lacks some of the polish we’ve come to expect, it never breaks faith with the beating and empathetic heart at the center of the Fast & Furious franchise. If you can match speed with it, and get past a few of the rougher patches of road, Hobbs & Shaw is just the right mixture of Samoan NOS to get you across the finish line of Summer 2019.