Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
2019, PG-13, 135 min. Directed by David Leitch. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Helen Mirren, Eddie Marsan, Roman Reigns.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Aug. 2, 2019
There are 99 combined years between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson, but you wouldn’t know it to see their Fast and the Furious characters. This franchise has always worked in service of the athleticism of its leads; unfortunately, it is this very ethos that Hobbs & Shaw, the new spin-off from the blockbuster series, has taken to a little bit of an extreme.
When they’re not busy saving the world, ex-Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and former British special forces officer Deckard Shaw (Statham) lead two very different lives. This changes when the CIA recruits both men to find Hattie (Kirby), a rogue MI6 agent who disappears with a deadly supervirus and a cybernetic supersoldier (Elba) hot on her heels. Now the soldier and the spy must learn to work together – or at least make a conscious effort to shoot around each other – as they face off against a secret futurist society with a penchant for global genocide.
Ever since the franchise brought Michelle Rodriguez’s character back from the dead, the Fast and the Furious movies have existed in a narrative limbo. Death holds no sway in this universe; characters are never subtracted, only added, and their inevitable drift toward broad heroism often dulls any sharp edges they once possessed. What direction can you offer as a franchise when your only narrative drive is to showcase all your recognizable names? This is The Expendables with a younger cast and an A-list pedigree.
This film’s best addition to the franchise is Elba as Brixton, a proto-cyborg who has given himself entirely over to the cult’s cause. While Elba may never be given the opportunity to play Bond, here he offers his best possible take on a classic Bond villain as an ideologue who is all too happy to show off his increased strength and reaction speeds. My biggest concern going into the film was that Elba would prove to be more interesting – and more deserving of his screen time – than either of the male leads, and indeed Brixton often feels like the lead in a far more exciting action movie.
Granted, there are fun ideas present throughout Hobbs & Shaw. The film’s memorable opening montage that shows both characters’ morning routines on split-screen; one of the film’s final brawls also requires characters to take a punch to deliver a blow, an inspired subversion of both characters’ aura of invulnerability that still could have been played to better dramatic effect. When director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) eases up a bit on the self-satisfied action beats – Hobbs and Shaw spent almost every fight sequence jockeying for literal or metaphorical position – the film finds exciting ways to lean into Johnson’s larger-than-life physique.
But if you’re a billion-dollar movie franchise being slowly subsumed by Johnson’s genial-dad schtick, isn’t this the place to take some risks? To offer something outside the family-first formula of the broader franchise? When your movie is more concerned with resolving two sets of sibling conflict than delivering a satisfying final fight, one has to wonder why this had to be a Fast and the Furious spin-off at all.