You can parachute cars out of a plane; you can have a chase sequence between a slew of supercharged cars and a submarine in an icy tundra; you can jump a sports car from one hundred-story tower to another; you can have a guy rip the cast off his arm with his bare hand; heck, you can even defy gravity to save someone’s life and no one would expect anything less. But introduce your audience to a transforming, self-driving motorcycle and you’ve suddenly gone too far.
Suspension of disbelief is a tricky thing. There are certain expectations that come along with being able to set reality aside and enjoy whatever is being thrown at you. Ever since The Fast and the Furious franchise veered off from centering around fast cars and hot women to becoming what amounts to an international spy series, you’d think the whole thing would have broke down on the side of the highway. Fact is, the franchise only became better as it became more and more absurd.
It only makes sense, then, that as the franchise grows more popular, producers would want to milk it for all its worth. Best way to do that? Spin characters off into their own wild and crazy franchises. The first choice, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, is the smartest choice, as it highlights two very bankable stars (and fan favorites since their respective introductions into the franchise) in an effort to see if this type of offshoot will work.
Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is an agent with a branch of the U.S. government who’s occasionally tasked with breaking some heads to retrieve intelligence from the bad guys while taking care of his young daughter (Eliana Sua). Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is some sort of secret operative who’s occasionally tasked with breaking heads to retrieve intelligence from the bad guys while looking after his mother (Helen Mirren) in prison.
After a raid to secure a deadly virus goes wrong, MI6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) injects the virus to keep it out of the hands of Brixton (Idris Elba), a former MI6 agent who has been upgraded with cybernetic body parts for a company who want to eradicate all of the “weak” from the Earth. Hobbs and Shaw are recruited to find Hattie and retrieve the virus before it becomes active and infects the entire world.
As per usual, the macho egos get in the way of them actually working together until their individual investigations collide, forcing them to work as a team alongside Hattie to save the world. If it sounds familiar, it should—it’s almost identical to what happens between the pair in The Fate of the Furious.
What makes the two characters likable as a pair is the bromance brewing under their constant bickering and occasional fist fight. They hate and respect each other at the same time. It’s a fun dichotomy that worked extremely well in the Fast films. What’s the catch? It worked well among the ensemble of the Fast films.
We’ve seen time and time again producers trying to capitalize on popular characters by spinning them off into their own films, only to find that those characters aren’t quite the same on their own. Whether it be Captain Jack Sparrow or the minions, too much of a good thing becomes repetitive and labored.
By the halfway mark, you realize the reason Hobbs and Shaw worked so well in the Fast franchise is because they are surrounded by a larger ensemble that play perfectly off one another and balance their partnership with stability and nuance. Without this additional chemistry, the interplay between the two characters simply becomes tiresome with no relief from the constant squabbling.
This, I believe, is the same reason the absurdity goes beyond its limit as well. As an ensemble, the cast of the Fast franchise is able to subdue the silliness as a team, so that when each new film ups the ante, we’re able to go with the flow because we love the camaraderie between the characters so much. Remove that ambiance and all we’re left with is the absurdity. And though Johnson and Statham have both gotten away with making plenty of films that were full of nonsense, they can’t escape the preposterously heightened reality in Hobbs & Shaw.
If we had Vin Diesel and the whole crew fighting against Brixton and his evil conglomerate, I don’t think I would have batted an eye as Hobbs kept a helicopter from flying into the distance while holding onto a moving truck, or when a team of ex-car thieves hook several cars together by throwing chains at them while driving at top speeds. It would totally makes sense in that universe with those characters. Alone, all I saw was Johnson flexing his muscles like Captain America in Civil War and being reminded how ridiculous the idea is outside of an actual superhero film. Luke Hobbs, no matter how much we want to believe it, is not a superhero and this is not a Marvel film.
It doesn’t help that director David Leitch chooses to inter-cut several fight sequences like a mad hatter on crack. Whenever Hobbs and Shaw are separated, their fight scenes are cut together so that we bounce back-and-forth between them. What on the surface would seem to be a way to unite their prowess and styles ends up diluting the action. We’re only able to see five or ten seconds of each fight sequence at a time, so by the time we’ve settled back into one of their fights, we’re forced into the other’s again. We can’t ever get a chance to become fully invested in either, thus, we lose interest in both.
On that note, when the two characters are together, the action sequences are beautifully choreographed and fit into the Fast world quite well. Kirby is a great addition to the cast as well, and I would love to see how she plays with the cast of the main franchise in the future. As for the glorified cameos by a couple of superstars, one plays really well (but could have been utilized better) and the other feels a bit labored, as if the actor, who’s usually quite funny, seems to be trying too hard to play up his own perceived persona. I’ll let you decide which is which.
Hobbs & Shaw on paper was definitely a great idea, and for the most part, the execution of the film is right on point with the rest of the franchise. The new tech is cool (though somewhat questionable at times) and Elba brings some fantastic charm to his evil mastermind. But without the chemistry from the rest of the Fast cast to counterbalance the absurdity, I’m afraid the film falls a bit short of what makes the Fast franchise fly.
My Grade: B+
Next week, new movies include Dora and the Lost City of Gold, The Kitchen, Brian Banks, The Art of Racing in the Rain and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.