While we await the inevitable ninth entry in the main “Fast & Furious” franchise, Universal decided to tide us over this past weekend with the series’ first spinoff film “Hobbs & Shaw” focusing on the standout titular characters played by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. I’ll admit I’ve only ever really been a casual fan at best of the “Fast & Furious” franchise. What started as essentially cinematic car porn has evolved into a genuinely fun if completely ridiculous action franchise and one of the highest-grossing film series of all time. After hearing about this spinoff a few years ago I genuinely questioned how it would make itself necessary or stand out among the many other ridiculous entries in the series. Then I learned it would be directed by David Leitch, the fantastic mind behind three of the action genres most recent gems “John Wick”, “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2”, and I was hooked. This guy is a master of action set pieces and nonstop, pulse-pounding thrills. Suddenly, I saw promise in what “Hobbs & Shaw” had to offer, but as a certain Disney live-action remake revealed a few weeks ago sometimes it takes more than promise to make a decent film. So, let’s see how well this spinoff gets the job done. This is my review of “Hobbs & Shaw”.
Taking place sometime after the events of “Fate of the Furious”, “Hobbs & Shaw” finds the two rivals, DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and criminal turned anti-hero Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), going about their lives. Shaw’s sister, MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), is tasked with a team to recover a dangerous virus capable of destroying any target based on their DNA. However, the virus is also sought after by Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) a cybernetically enhanced operative of the terrorist organization Eteon. After her team is killed Hattie steals the virus and goes on the run, eventually being hunted down by Hobbs and Shaw who are forced to unwillingly team up when Brixton attempts to kidnap Hattie and steal the virus once again. With the fate of the world and society as they know it at stake, Hobbs and the Shaw siblings seek to secure the virus while outrunning the unstoppable Brixton and his army of enhanced soldiers bent on doing Eteon’s bidding.
“Hobbs & Shaw” is so much better than it has any right being, even if it’s just as ridiculous and convoluted as almost every other entry in the “Fast & Furious” franchise. There’s plenty of action, some genuinely great laughs, and a story that might feel like a generic action-spy concept but actually has real stakes and forces the two leads to evolve as characters while giving their stories time to be fleshed out. It also avoids taking itself too seriously, which is a mistake most other “Fast & Furious” films tend to make and yet “Hobbs & Shaw” still has plenty of its own heart. I can’t say it’s David Leitch’s best film as it ditches a lot of the smooth, one-shot camerawork we’ve come to know from him. Even still, Leitch makes careful use of slow-motion action and some fun set pieces to drive the action forward knowing when to slow down and when to amp the energy back up to keep the audience engaged. Even at its most ridiculous I found myself having a lot of fun seeing how everything would pan out and how our heroes would escape each roadblock that stood in their way. It’s just pure, adrenaline-driven, mind-melting action fun. That’s all it wants to be, that’s all it needed to be, and it does a good job being just that.
The chemistry and charisma of the cast helps too. Hobbs and Shaw (played by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham respectively) recapture the fun rivalry their characters shared in past films flawlessly and while they do go a little too heavy on the macho name-calling and, for lack of a better phrase, dick-swinging it’s genuinely fun to see these two men of completely different statures and fighting styles try to get the better of one another with words more than fists. It eventually evolves into a pretty fun buddy action film as the two typically have to put their differences aside and help each other out in order for either of them to win. But they’re not the only ones who own the spotlight. Vanessa Kirby gives us probably the most badass heroine in the entire franchise with Hattie Shaw, Deckard Shaw’s sister. While Hattie still has plenty of sex appeal (a standard for these movies) she’s developed as this capable badass that truly needs no one else to help her out. She’s cunning and fierce, willing to sacrifice to keep society safe and even saves the boys’ lives a few times making her so much more than many “Fast & Furious” women could ever hope to be. While the series has done a fine job righting the ship in its depiction of women in recent films, Hattie is the full package showing that it IS very possible to present a beautiful and stunning female lead while also making her a very capable hero on her own.
The villain is also a standout as Idris Elba brings us a definite top-five baddy in the “Fast & Furious” canon. Brixton is a former ally of Deckard Shaw who has been cybernetically enhanced by the terrorist group Eteon. He calls himself “Black Superman” and he certainly lives up to the label by proving to be an undeniable badass. His story brings the “Fast & Furious” series that much deeper into the world of science fiction-based action and also introduces a potential new antagonist for the series, the unseen head honcho of Eteon. The best villains are ones we can sympathize with and Brixton fits that bill. He’s a “new man” who follows Eteon because he believes they are helping humanity reach a new potential. He is disillusioned and brainwashed, making him a fierce supporter of the cause, but in the end he’s also simply a lacky seeking his own revenge while being kept on a leash by his brutal master. It also helps that Idris Elba just completely owns this role bringing his own machismo to the character and a confidence that makes him a truly frightening challenge for the titular heroes.
“Hobbs & Shaw” does a fine job developing it’s two titular characters and helping us learn more about their lives, their struggles and what motivates them, but it balances this out with some of the most insane and unapologetically ridiculous “Fast & Furious” visuals to date which serves as it’s weakest aspect. A lot of times this movie does fine by covering up the impossibility of its action through science fiction and the two leads’ natural physiques. But when it goes over the top it goes all the way. Watching four tow trucks try to pull down a helicopter or Dwayne Johnson hold said helicopter by a chain with his bare hands or Hattie Shaw survive numerous incidents and crashes that any normal human would die from in seconds might be fun to those seeking nothing more than two hours of action escapism, but it was a little much for me. A lot of times it does feel like “Hobbs & Shaw” tries too hard, even with the quips between the two main characters and a few gratuitous cameos that felt out of place and forced at best. Still, I enjoyed watching it and found myself genuinely engaged from start to finish. It wasn;t always easy to embrace the mindlessness of it all, but I managed. If you don’t take it too seriously…and unless you’re a critic like me why would you…it’s harmless cinematic fun.
“Hobbs & Shaw” doesn’t quite push the limit for the “Fast & Furious” franchise but it doesn’t phone anything in either. This story feels like a truly epic entry in the series all on its own and puts two entertaining and deserving characters and leads together for an epic two hours and fifteen minutes of fun. It’s absolutely ridiculous and over-the-top, sometimes going too far, but let’s face it that’s what it’s fanbase was looking for. This could have been a very easy film to phone in but instead we have a cast that feels really into it, a story that offers new paths for the franchise as a whole while standing well on its own, and enough ridiculous action, explosions and a great villain to tide us over until the series proper continues in 2020. “Hobbs & Shaw” is a respectable spinoff that I personally thought never needed to be made, but now that I’ve seen it myself I’m glad we have its myriad of minor flaws that, thankfully, fail to stain an enjoyable experience.