OnScreen Review: "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw"

  • Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic

The Fast & The Furious came out in summer of 2001, starring Paul Walker and Vin Diesel as a movie about an LAPD officer infiltrating and taking down an illegal street racing gang that was also performing high-speed robberies. Also that summer, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was coming off WrestleMania 17, one of the hottest WrestleManias in WWE history, and promoting his first film, The Mummy Returns. Jason Statham was coming off two films with Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), and was starring alongside Ice Cube in John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars. Eighteen years and seven sequels later, we live in a world where Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is an actual title of a movie released in theaters. Yes, the Fast & Furious franchise is now a shared cinematic universe.

Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) are previous established characters dating back to Fast Five and Furious 7, respectively. Coincidentally, Shaw puts Hobbs in a coma at the beginning of Furious 7, and Hobbs puts Shaw in a max security prison by the end of it. So, to say the two have something of a tortured history is something of an understatement. The Fate of the Furious took the incredibly shaky steps of turning Shaw into a good guy by the end of that movie, even though he had destroyed Dom’s home in Los Angeles and killed Han.

Surprisingly, this shared tumultuous history, distrust, and dislike for each other forms the backbone of this movie, an action movie equivalent of The Odd Couple. They are both brought in the catch a British MI:6 agent gone rogue and is alleged to have stolen a highly lethal bioweapon known as the Snowflake. This agent turns out to be Shaw’s younger sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who has injected the virus into her own bloodstream to prevent it from falling into the hands of Brixton (Idris Elba), a cybernetically enhanced former agent working for a hidden terrorist organization known as Eteon. Hobbs and the Shaw siblings have 72 hours to extract Snowflake from her body before she becomes contagious and kills most of the world.

Even though too much of that sounds like a half-baked rehash of Mission: Impossible 2, this spinoff is actually pretty successful at what it sets out to be and to do and I found myself enjoying it despite myself. Some of the script is painful at times, with the subtlety of a chair shot to the head in wrestling. Scenes very early on in the movie clearly foreshadow scenes that will happen later in the movie as Hobbs talks to his daughter about being estranged from his Samoan family while Shaw visits his mother (Helen Mirren) in jail and she hopes for a day to see her oldest son and her daughter, who used to be so close, come visit her together. The climactic fight between Hobbs, Shaw, and Brixton at the end also features the most on-the-nose line of dialogue likely to be found in any movie released in 2019 as it spells out in the most obvious terms possible the theme of the movie, which is these two working together.

And yet, a lot of this movie is fun, mainly because of the actors involved. Johnson and Statham have really great chemistry playing opposite each other and trading insults with one another. They’re almost like a muscle-bound version of Gimli and Legolas or Woody and Buzz Lightyear. And it works. Also, Vanessa Kirby more than holds her own with these two as the female lead. Idris Elba, who has been criminally underutilized by Hollywood movies, gives a very strong villain performance, never entirely chewing the scenery, but being just menacing enough to make him formidable. The action is mostly good and even though none of it stands out as among the best of the franchise, it all fits in the ludicrous world that the franchise has established for itself where cars can jump between skyscrapers, subs fight cars on a frozen lake, and airport runways are never-ending.

The one thing that impressed me most about the film, though, was the commitment to the structure of the story. The script has its weaknesses, particularly in the dialogue and in being so obvious so much of the time. However, the story is structure in a way that shows Hobbs and Shaw in parallel to one another, beginning with a split screen of their daily routines. It keeps this parallel juxtaposition between the two for the entirety of the movie, essentially giving equal time to them and their individual styles of fighting and problem solving. It works to show how they clash with one another, but it also works when they finally start to get on the same page with one another. At least that part of the story is well-crafted, and I appreciated the commitment to following through with it all the way to the end.

On the Box Office Preview podcast that I record with Greg Ehrhardt, we discussed whether Universal wanted this to be the franchise’s James Bond equivalent. In some ways, it clearly is, because it sets up a shadowy terrorist organization and future sequels, though I’d say the hope is something closer to a mix of Bond and Mission: Impossible. There are also some crowd-pleasing cameos that could easily lead to more cameos or even a bigger team in subsequent sequels.

We’ve come a long, long way from the street races of 2001’s The Fast and the Furious. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw has all the ridiculous action people have come to expect from the Fast & Furious franchise, as well as the mindless plot and storyline of most of them too. Thankfully, the film has the considerable charisma of its lead stars: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, and Idris Elba. It’s also bolstered by a director in David Leitch who knows how to direct action. As long as Johnson and Statham are game, I suspect we will be seeing a Hobbs & Shaw 2 in 2-3 years’ time. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It’s a reliable summer action flick.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars