*** out of ****
(for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material, and some strong language)
Released: August 2, 2019
Runtime: 135 minutes
Directed by: David Leitch
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren, Eiza Gonzalez, Eddie Marsen, Eliana Sua, Cliff Curtis, Lori Pelenise Tuisano
As instantly disposable as it is thoroughly enjoyable, the first spin-off from the Fast & Furious franchise is more than a tangential lark; it actually works better than its prime source.
Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t reinvent anything from the eight Fast & Furious films that have come before it but (with all due respect to Vin Diesel, the late Paul Walker, et al) it streamlines its focus on what have become that series’ two most entertaining characters. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham have chemistry to burn and gleefully set it ablaze as two burly oil-and-water opposites who love to hate each other.
The Rock’s Hobbs is a U.S. government agent to Statham’s Shaw, a quasi-reformed U.K. super-criminal. The last thing these guys want to do is be around each other, let alone be forced to save the world together, so of course forcing them together to do exactly that is a perfect premise for a summer blockbuster.
There’s a lethal virus and a 72-hour countdown to stop it from being unleashed. Idris Elba’s Brixton, a tech-enhanced superhuman and self-declared Bad Guy, is out to snatch it for his mysterious and unseen boss. As fate would have it, the microscopic capsule containing the apocalyptic virus has been implanted into Shaw’s younger sister Hattie (Mission: Impossible’s Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 agent who’s been framed as a thief. Hobbs & Shaw’s respective governments conspire to team the two up to get Hattie and the capsule before Brixton does, or before time is up. Action-comedy ensues.
Hobbs & Shaw trades out the franchise’s cool posturing and intense glares (that fit Vin Diesel’s tough guy persona) for rapid-fire takedowns between the two leads. Johnson and Statham could trade bitter barbs back and forth all day long and they’d never tire of it, nor would we.
The script gives them plenty of extended scenes to do just that, at length, with each exchange so hilariously macho that they never wear out their welcomes. Sure, the fate of the world is at stake, but that doesn’t keep these two and their ego-clashing attitudes from being cavalier about it, nor should it.
This being a F&F movie, there’s plenty of high-speed action (from muscle cars to sports cars to a variety of other suped-up vehicles, including Brixton’s transformer-esque smart-motorbike), all as outlandishly staged as you’d hope, plus countless throwdowns where Hobbs and Shaw take on hordes single-handedly. Yes, every fight is rooted in the ridiculous trope that each henchman waits his turn to get his butt kicked, but who cares? This physics-defying absurdity is a self-aware live-action cartoon, is all-the-better for it, and certainly a more entertaining one than the CGI’d dirge of The Lion King.
Writer/Producer Chris Morgan (F&F’s guru mastermind Feige-equivalent) doesn’t hand this off to a protégé. He writes and produces Hobbs & Shaw as well, which suggests just how much Universal has invested in this being the future of F&F. (The spinoff was initially conceived and pushed by Dwayne Johnson, actually, a further testament to his savvy instincts for populist entertainment).
To navigate the madness, Morgan has hired director David Leitch. He brings his slick, explosive stylings from Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde, and the John Wick films to bear on this testosterone-laden romp. Of course, it’s all about family, too, keeping the franchise’s heart even as its led by two new faces (further complicated by a romantic spark between Hobbs and Hattie), and then juices all of that up with surprise extended-cameos from big name stars that will likely be back for more.
The victorious denouement (spoiler alert!) sets up a separate mythology (and villain) for this sequel-series, built further with the now-standard multiple end-credit scenes — including one at the very end, though it’s just for laughs. I’m sure there’s plenty of more bonkers fun to be had in the upcoming final two films of the main F&F franchise, but the brand’s future is clearly with these two charismatic brawlers.