It seems that the biggest trend in Hollywood these days is franchise building, with studios offering more spin-offs and reboots each year. The possibility of a ‘Fast & Furious’ Extended Universe, if you will, has been thrown around for quite some time, and as someone whose interest in the series has steadily declined over the years, the announcement of ‘Hobbs and Shaw’ was one that elicited nothing more than a yawn from me. Besides, how many more times could I possibly watch Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (‘Rampage’) defy the laws of physics with stunts that should have killed his character ten times over by now?
Where the original series eased into its silliness, ‘Hobbs and Shaw’ decides to go for apocalyptic broke from the get-go. After an attempt to retrieve a capsule containing a deadly virus goes haywire, frenemies Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, ‘The Fate of the Furious’) are once again united to track down the virus, take out bionic enemy Brixton Lore (Idris Elba, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’) and save the life of Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, ‘Mission: Impossible - Fallout’), who has 42 hours before the viral capsules hidden in her body dissolve with disastrous results.
The fact that this is a spin-off from the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise is both a blessing and a curse. The film has a license to be funnier and weirder, both of which this film is. The opening 20 minutes is some of the most fun I’ve had with the series in years, with a wonderful split-screen scene depicting each lead’s very different morning routines. The scene in which they find out they will be working together contains the best use of the one-time, American PG-13 allocated use of “fuck” since ‘Alita: Battle Angel’.
Unfortunately, as the plot kicks in and the stakes stack up, the jokes become fewer and further between, and the film begins to lose its flavour in the interest of going bigger and harder than those before it. It seems to be working overtime to find a reason to exist, when really there’s no need to be looking further than the chemistry between Johnson and Statham. Both are playing their Hollywood typecasts to a tee here; there’s even an in-joke referring to Statham’s role in the remake of ‘The Italian Job’. The scenes in which they share petty insults and jokes, while incredibly stupid, are also the best moments in the entire film, which should somewhat speak to the quality of the action scenes.
By standards set by similar mammoth-budget action films ('Hobbs and Shaw' is set at a staggering $200 million, and deserves to break even at the box office), the 135-minute runtime boasts the exact pacing one would expect from such a film – that is, it’s perfect. There’s almost a sense of comfort in knowing almost exactly what plot beats it will hit and when, allowing for extra energy to soak into the action scenes. Unfortunately, this is where the film is let down in a major way. No one would ever accuse the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise of having coherent action scenes where characters actually seem like they’re in peril during a massive stunt, but at least most of the action in those is fun. With the exception of the final climactic fight, the action is just plain bland here, becoming more and more beige and downright boring as the film wears on (at this point, most of the jokes have stopped in the favour of stern-faced stakes establishing). Bigger, it seems, doesn’t always mean better. As much as the final fight, a threeway showdown between Johnson, Statham and Elba looks stunning with rain piercing the frames like glass, yet this shooting technique has been done before and much better, such as in the iconic (and much bloodier) fight scene in TV’s ‘American Gods’. The scene also criminally wastes Kirby, who proves her worth by kicking her fair share of ass throughout the film, including Johnson’s.
There’s almost a sense of comfort in knowing almost exactly what plot beats it will hit and when.
Sadly, the biggest sin this film commits is the lack of cars. Sure, Shaw owns an impressive garage of modern and retro vehicles and next-level engineering is a pivotal aspect of a major action scene, but to have only three major car chases/action scenes in a ‘Fast & Furious’ film gives the impression that this instalment doesn’t know why the series is considered so much fun in the first place. 2017’s ‘Baby Driver’ proved that car action can be well-shot and exhilarating, so there’s also no reason or excuse for the editing in such ‘Hobbs and Shaw’ scenes to be so shitty. Just because there is the chance to make a cut to another shot doesn’t mean it needs to be taken.
By this point in the franchise, ‘Fast & Furious’ fans will know exactly what to expect from ‘Hobbs and Shaw’, and there’s just enough here that's fresh enough to warrant taking another ride with the series.