Look, I’m as surprised as the rest of the world that a little drag racing crime movie starring two B-grade actors has somehow spawned what is now, thanks to the release of Hobbs & Shaw, a cinematic universe but we’re here now and we just have to accept how awesome the Fast & Furious series is. The movies might be ripped apart by those who judge them before seeing them, but this series has delivered some of the best action we’ve seen over the last two decades, ramping up the stakes each and every time to the point of amazing absurdity. They are action incarnate and they’ve honestly helped define the genre in great ways over the last two decades.
That is why Hobbs & Shaw, the first spin-off film for the franchise, is so exciting. We’re getting more of that awesome and this time the lead actors are two of the most charming onscreen action presences working: Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Couple that with Idris Elba as the bad guy and Vanessa Kirby as the sidekick, add in the director of Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, and it all feels like it should be the biggest ball of action greatness that’s ever been made.
So why doesn’t it feel like that?
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Director: David Leitch
Release Date: August 2, 2019
If you are not up to date with the now eight-film-long plot of Fast & Furious, have absolutely no fear: you really don’t need to know any of it. There are hints and throwbacks to the histories of both Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), but all you really need to know to get going in this film is that they know each other and they do not like each other. After Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), is set up for stealing a deadly virus by the evil villain Brixton (Idris Elba), the pair are forced into action together to clear her name and take down Brixton and the evil organization he’s working for. By the way, Brixton is a cyborg with superhuman strength and nigh-invulnerability. Car chases, explosions, fistfights, and other action scenes ensue… and so does a surprising amount of talking.
Coming from a series of films that has always paced itself surprisingly well, Hobbs & Shaw seems to have none of that. Director David Leitch, who is starting to show a trend for great action but subpar storytelling, careens through the screenplay cutting the film together with poor timing and sloppy shooting. When the film isn’t in the midst of action it can be almost hilarious to watch how hackneyed it is, with Leitch panning his camera around his action stars like he just got his degree from the Michael Bay School of Action Cinema. The film often feels more like a collection of cool shots and snappy one-liners than an actual movie and there are directorial moments that seem amateurish. For example, there are extended takes of people walking like badasses but from four different angles, so the coolness wears off and it just feels like some sort of gag. Someone should have got in and curbed Leitch’s excesses just a bit. There’s over-the-top and then there’s just plain over.
Thankfully, those guys walking like badasses are Statham and Johnson and no amount of poor editing or bad timing can ruin the charm these two have on-screen, let alone on screen together. The banter between the two is fantastic (though again, someone could have cut it down a bit) and the tongue-in-cheek tone the movie plays with separates it nicely from the franchise it spun off of. Elba is also a fantastic villain, given just enough depth to make him fun and fearsome. The scenes between these three often work wonders and Kirby does nothing to hurt the proceedings, though she’s clearly just there as the film’s McGuffin.
There is some absolutely stellar action in the movie. When Leitch has his heroes in cars, he is in the zone and electric action sequences explode across the screen. The man is no Justin Lin, so you don’t get the same sense of flow and rush from his sequences, but man, are they fun to watch. The slight sci-fi bent that Brixton and the evil tech organization that he works for add to the mix allows for some absolutely ridiculous moments that you’ve never seen before. To be fair, action sequences are a large part of the film so one could argue it’s other issues are minimal. In fact, the action is so big that the penultimate sequence feels like the final set-piece, just that the film keeps rolling on after it.
This is when the fist bumps really start. The conclusion of the movie features a truly prolific action sequence involving multiple cars chained together, a helicopter, explosions, and a fistfight with some of the more clever slow motion I’ve seen in a long while. The car chase, itself, actually rivals the safe sequence from Fast Five, but to get to it you have to sit through a painful “preparing for battle” montage that is half shots of a guy doing technology and half shots of Statham and Johnson just fist-bumping everyone they see. They’re throwing out fist bumps like Oprah gives away cars. This is coupled with a cliched bit of Fast & Furious #family storyline that feels entirely unearned and forced.
That’s the juxtaposition of Hobbs & Shaw: at times it is a relentless action movie that’s so absurd it blows you away and at other times it is a clumsily made film with little momentum riding solely on the charms of its lead. That makes it pretty easy to ride along through those rough patches, but it also highlights just how much better the movie should be. Hobbs & Shaw is a blast when it’s going fast, but unlike a lot of the Fast & Furious series, it doesn’t feel all that furious. I’m not saying any of this is high art (except the safe chase in Fast Five) and if you’re just going for the explosions and the muscles there is plenty of that here to satisfy you. I just wish there was less fist-bumping.