Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba
Synopsis: Lawman Luke Hobbs and outcast Deckard Shaw form an unlikely alliance when a cyber-genetically enhanced villain threatens the future of humanity.
Genre: Action, Adventure
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language)
Runtime: 2 hr 17 min
Release Date: August 2, 2019
Few franchises have evolved as drastically as the Fast and Furious franchise. From humble beginnings as a $38 million street racing crime action film to the now 9th film--the $200 million spinoff Hobbs & Shaw about DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) reluctantly teaming up to stop a cataclysmic virus from being unleashed into the world--it becomes clear no one could've anticipated the magnitude of the franchise or the technical and thematic changes it would endure during that time period. But here we are, 18 years later, and the franchise is showing no signs of slowing down.
If the previous films in the franchise came close to jumping the shark in terms of realistic action, David Leitch's (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) Hobbs & Shaw undoubtedly and unabashedly breaks that boundary. Surprisingly though, this doesn't come into play until the final act. Everything that comes before, at least for the most part, is grounded in a sense of realism. Part of this stems from a character standpoint in that Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) is basically a cyborg--yes, hear me out--a cyborg that, in this case is a former regular man re-engineered to possess superhuman abilities. As a result, we can believe the things he's physically able to do would in fact be possible because of the cybernetic components built inside him. He's fast, strong, agile, and doesn't injure near as easily as a human counterpart. That being said, he should’ve sustained many injuries at certain points in the film--and he doesn't. At the very least we should’ve seen some sort of weakness displayed, but we never get it. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator, composed entirely of a cybernetic skeleton, sustained injuries during his mission to kill Sarah Connor, as did the T-1000 in Terminator 2, who several times had to stop to re-generate. Yet somehow, Brixton manages to squeeze through the vast majority of this film with only a few scratches. It's frustrating, especially considering he's not even entirely cyborg--he's still a human being, just cybernetically enhanced. For what it's worth though, Idris Elba gives a strong performance, having come a long way from the days of Michael Scott's adversary Charles Minor in The Office. And on a character level, though he’s the antagonist, we empathize with him—he’s doing what he thinks is right--saving lives in the long run by destroying lives in the present, much in the vein of Thanos in Infinity War. And that makes him an interesting villain, even though he doesn't get much more to work with than that.
The best element of Hobbs and Shaw though is, of course, in the title itself—the relationship between Hobbs and Shaw. That was the selling point of the film, and the writers milk everything they can comically from this odd couple relationship. Most of it works, too. We enjoy watching their banter, watching them make fun of each other and argue about petty things like claiming a door to go through. The incorporation of Shaw's sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) also yields even more fun-filled tension and humorous moments, as Hobbs takes an immediate liking to her, much to the displeasure of Shaw. As an added bonus, the film even has some surprising A-list actors appear (which I won’t spoil), one of which has a significant role and adds substantial humor to the film. The other lasts only lasts about five minutes, but it still makes for a great scene.
Since the original film, the franchise has used the importance of family as a recurring theme in its films, and though it deviates from the franchise in many ways, Hobbs and Shaw still retains that theme. It stems from the aforementioned incorporation of Shaw's sister Hattie as well as the introduction of Hobbs' family, which was a fun, touching element to see. But it also comes from that fact that, despite their odds with each other, Hobbs and Shaw become brothers in the film. No, not as close as Dom and Brian, but still brothers who, while initially reluctant, ally themselves together to defeat a common enemy. It's an unlikely bond, especially when you consider what Shaw has done in the past (remember this is the same guy who coldly killed Hans in Tokyo Drift and burned Dom's house to ashes, nearly killing him and Mia in Furious 7) but one that’s satisfyingly strong by the film's end.
Hobbs and Shaw is fun entertainment, for sure, mostly due to the interplay between Johnson and Statham. But the film's action, while mostly in the realm of realism for the first two acts, completely derails in the third act, making for action--vastly CGI action of course--that is not only comically ridiculous but hard to follow. It makes you yearn for the days when the franchise was more grounded, or at least better executed (even the outrageous car parachuting scene in Furious 7 worked purely on how it was handled directionally). The film is certainly behind most of the other main installments, including the first, five, six, seven, and eight in terms of story and action. That said, it's a passable film that still brings humanity to its characters, even in the midst of its over the top CGI-laden action sequences. But the franchise remains at its best when it incorporates its stellar ensemble cast, and the tenth film in the franchise will see them return, so I’ll be looking more forward to that entry.
Written by Anthony Watkins, August 16, 2019