Reviewed on August 2, 2019
[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hen the words “Fast” and “Furious” appear as part of a movie’s title, it communicates a certain set of expectations.
Big fights, unbelievable car chases, stunts and explosions galore, and in general a level of absurdity that just throws traditional logic headfirst through a plate-glass window.
All of these factors are present in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Director David Leitch’s franchise spinoff sees Fast & Furious’ ex-DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and bad-guy-gone-good Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) team up alongside Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) to take down scientifically enhanced villain Brixton Lore (Idris Elba).
Leitch, a stuntman who cut his directorial teeth on John Wick and later made a name for himself with Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, brings his signature over-the-top practical showmanship and sense of wild fun to the proceedings. The movie strains a little within its franchise constraints, but it still manages to deliver on its promises of big, dumb fun.
What’s It about?
The action kicks off with Hattie, an MI6 agent, taking part in a raid to arrest Brixton and secure the deadly virus he’s trying to pick up for his employer, a cult-like global biotech organization called Etheon. When the mission goes sideways, Hattie injects herself with capsules containing the virus to keep Brixton from getting his hands on it. Brixton uses Etheon’s tech capabilities to spread the story that Hattie has gone rogue and is responsible for killing her fellow agents in the raid.
Hobbs and Shaw are separately recruited by the CIA to track Hattie down and bring her in for questioning. Hattie, who’s still on the run from Brixton, is also trying to find the scientist responsible for creating the virus. She needs expert help to safely remove the capsules from her body before they break down and turn her into a walking contagion. After realizing Hattie’s innocence and the importance of her mission, Hobbs and Shaw have to put their differences aside for the sake of the world, and, of course, family (it’s a Fast & Furious movie, after all).
Between the wickedly stylish Atomic Blonde and the violent, bombastically fun Deadpool 2, Leitch has more than proven himself a skilled action director with an eye for inventive, well-executed stunts, and a cheeky sense of humor. Between his skills and the script from action and franchise pros Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, Hobbs & Shaw more than fulfills the requirements for a movie of its type. Plus, it includes some fun surprises along the way (among them, Leitch throws in a delightful Deadpool 2 reunion).
Statham and Johnson have fun bouncing off each other (verbally and physically), and that enjoyment is infectious. However, Kirby is the standout. Her Hattie is capable, practical, charismatic, and able to easily hold her own against the men. Kirby gives the character grit and charm, and makes a great case for her future casting in more action movies.
Of course, the stunts are also appropriately epic, covering both the expected (cars squeezing under semi trucks) and the absurd (a chain of cars lifted off the ground by a helicopter). Fast & Furious movies are always about spectacle over substance, and Hobbs & Shaw delivers on that score, too.
Hobbs & Shaw is fun and over the top, but it’s not anything new. The lack of substance in the moments between the crazy heroics and car chases starts to feel old by the end of the movie. Some of the writing choices — while always self-aware — are also groan-inducing (for example, Hobbs’ daughter seems to exist solely to spout exposition).
The movie also mightily misuses Idris Elba as Brixton. As written, the character is just a badass super soldier. Elba puts some of his characteristic charm into the character, but he isn’t given much opportunity to really have some fun with it. Between him, Johnson, and Statham, Hobbs & Shaw should be a triple-threat movie. Instead, it ends up lopsided in favor of the title characters.
The film also chafes under the weight of its franchise’s mythology. Hobbs & Shaw stands enough on its own that it could have been made into an independent story with no ties to the Fast & Furious movies, and it’s easy to get the sense that Leitch would have preferred that. He throws so many random new details and characters into the mix (none of them unwelcome, for what it’s worth) that in the moments when he has to tie things back into the franchise, the movie starts to lose its momentum.
Perhaps that sense comes not from a lack of absurdity, but a lack of pathos. Leitch’s other films always take themselves just seriously enough that we’re invested in the characters’ journeys, whether we’re solving a spy mystery with Lorraine Broughton, watching Wade Wilson get over the death of his girlfriend, or going on a revenge mission with John Wick. By contrast, the world of the Fast & Furious movies cares so little about taking itself seriously that any attempt to inject actual drama just bounces right off.
Fast & Furious movies aren’t meant to hold up to much scrutiny. They aren’t about great storytelling, but rather mindless, crazy fun. The goofy performances, excellent stunts, and assured directing from Leitch make this film a success in that sense, even if you’re left with the impression that the director would rather have had the freedom to really make this movie his own.