Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
There’s a strong sense of “How did we get here?” with Hobbs & Shaw, the spinoff from the Fast & Furious series. Mathematically, the film takes two series addendum characters – Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who was introduced as an avenging agent in 2011’s Fast Five, and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who was, uh, an avenging agent in 2015’s Furious 7 – and plops them together into a standalone bit of popcorn fun.
The story begins with the heist of a dangerous piece of medical science. As members of an elite MI-6 squad attempt to rescue the cargo, they’re interrupted by a gang of motorcycle rampagers led by Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a cybernetically augmented super soldier (or “Black Superman,” as he’s called in the film), who has a fancy transforming bike and explosive fighting abilities. The last surviving agent (Vanessa Kirby) escapes her attackers, only to be slandered as the person responsible for crime. The plot is then set in motion as a pair of CIA agents (Ryan Reynolds and Rob Delaney, both from director David Leitch’s Deadpool 2) independently convince the two title alphas to join forces and right the wrongs.
From there, the story expands into even more surreal territory, bringing a franchise that was once about inane shots of feet pushing pedals in sexy cars to one where, well, all that happens, but there are also increasingly absurd chases (this one has a helicopter being towed like a parasail), a global-reaching nefarious tech company called Etheon that does Wolverine-like nonsense on Brixton, and globe-trotting adventures facilitated by an over-eager air marshal (Kevin Hart). Oh, and there’s Deckard’s imprisoned mom Magdalene (a welcome return of Helen Mirren) and an exotic billionaire fixer called Madam M (Eiza González, wasted in an all too brief appearance).
Things blow up, the notion of “family” gets bandied about in seemingly infinite ways for both characters, and it all churns along with appropriate madness for a 135-minute running time (including THREE post-credit sequences). It’s unfair to say the film asks you to turn off your brain. There’s genuine charm here, and the character beats between all involved are pretty juicy, but if you think too hard about what’s going on, it all seems preposterous. Annoyingly, the heightened elements wrought by the RoboCop-y Brixton make the stakes feel lessened just as the explosions get bigger. The Furious movies work best when they’re anchored in some sort of appropriate physics so you feel the crunch of the cars, but when anything can happen, the comic-book nature rears its head to lesser effect. The character parts are actually the most fun in the whole thing, with many of the bigger action sequences feeling not quite as thrilling as previous entries.
Kirby’s character is well drawn, and her action beats are effective and believable within the context of a film where she can somehow tackle Mount Hobbs. Johnson’s charm remains as warm as ever, and Statham is an excellent foil to play against.
A major sequence set in Samoa (but shot in Hawaii) directly evokes Johnson’s Polynesian roots. The irony that this franchise started with a film about car racing seems pretty much lost at this point, but the sentiment works without spending too much time taking apart. When Hobbs quotes Nietzsche and Bruce Lee with equal temperament, it’s not wise to look for deeper philosophical meaning.
If the most summer-y of summer blockbusters are meant to make you revel in big, brash fun, Hobbs & Shaw delivers. For the most part, it’s a batch of silliness that knows exactly what it’s trying to do. Leitch adds a bit too much of his comic-book shtick for my liking, but thanks to committed performances by an ace cast completely comfortable in being larger-than-life, there’s plenty to recommend about this branching-off from the main Furious storyline.