The first The Fast and the Furious debuted in 2001. Back then, the series tapped into the long forgotten thirst by bros to admire cars, women, chases: of women and cars, and high octane dumb action sequences. The winning formula has spawned a $5 billion franchise, and while it’s taken eight films, a spin-off has finally joined their ranks. Director David Leitch of John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and Deadpool 2, helms Hobbs & Shaw, a gravity and logic defying frenemies spy-action film that at its best provides laughs and at its worst spins wildly out of control.
Opening in London, a team of MI6 agents work to retrieve the CT17 virus: a bio engineered weapon that melts people’s insides. They’re attacked by Brixton Lore (Idris Elba, who slays as an evil Black Superman), a mechanically modified super soldier and assassin from a shadow company named Eteon who wants the virus to wipe out the world’s weakest humans. The lone MI6 survivor of his attack, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), injects herself with the virus and must extract it from her body within 72 hours or the virus will activate itself, go airborne, and kills the entire world. Framed by Bixton for her team’s murder, she must do so while on the run from several government agencies. Here enters Hobbs and Shaw.
Both characters are familiar with one another, having various tussles since Fast & Furious 6. The two are polar opposites, and Leitch and cinematographer Jonathan Sela make such clear in a split screen, as Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) occupies a gritty, orange filtered Los Angeles: lifting weights and chugging eggs, while Shaw (Jason Statham) lives in luxury and class in the austerely muted London. The two are approached by their respective CIA contacts, one being a surprising cameo, to track down Hattie and the virus. Cross-cutting action ensues as both go to their underworld contacts, and their varying fighting styles are put on display: Hobbs is the bulldozer whose first thought is to throw furniture, while Shaw’s technique is refined, akin to John Wick in fact. The two: Johnson and Statham, do have great chemistry and comedically play off each other well, as their respective characters perform games of one-upmanship and hi-jinks, the best occurring during a flight to Moscow.
When the two do meet, a good chunk of Leitch’s film becomes a testosterone race with Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce’s screenplay of one-line insults providing the soundtrack, as each character hurls degrading and hilarious offenses at one another. Ultimately, Hobbs and Shaw must learn to work together because they have more in common than they think: they have family issues. Shaw’s mother Queenie (Helen Mirren, who makes this film 30% better whenever she appears on screen), remains in jail, while Shaw has not spoken with his estranged sister for years. Hobbs, on the other hand, does have a wonderfully precocious daughter, but hasn’t visited his home: Samoa, or his brother, in the same span.
Through a series of events, the three: Hattie, Hobbs, and Shaw, do team up, while on the run, to stop Brixton and Eteon. In the process, another surprising cameo happens. And during this period, there are obviously a few chase sequences. The first, which happens in London, occurs between the three protagonists riding in a McLaren 720S and Brixton and his cohorts on motorcycles. The sequence is somewhat reminiscent of Mission Impossible, reliant on slow-mo frames, yet retains the Fast and Furious style editing: close-ups of car parts: tires and rims, engines, and steering wheels, made more enlivening by a mounted backseat angle masquerading as a near-dashboard shot. Did I mention that during this sequence the Rock literary jumps from a building to catch Brixton running down on a rope? With a little CG help of course.
Ultimately, both Hobbs and Shaw do learn to work together and heal their respective wounds with their siblings. Like the other Fast and the Furious movies: “It’s about family,” to the point of meaninglessness. In fact, the final showdown occurs on Samoa. The Samoan sequence is out of place: in style and substance. Leitch goes out of the way to demonstrate the beauty of Samoa, especially with the use of circular drone shots in fields basking in the setting sun. It’s as if Dwayne Johnson only agreed to do Hobbs & Shaw under the requirement of making a travel ad for the island. And while it’s wonderful to see the historic Samoan culture take center stage in a large-scale battle sequence with Brixton and Eteon, the moment feels misplaced in this near Sci-Fi action movie, especially as the setting and time switches frm idyllic sunset, to dawn, to rainy Tarzan-esque night within a span of a few minutes.
Made worse, barring the moment when Johnson lassos a helicopter in mid-flight, the final chase sequence lacks sharpness and punch. Much of this owes to the lack of practical effects and stunts, and cars too. Instead, these chases rely on more CG than any other Fast and Furious, and it shows, because the CG isn’t high quality either, even with the movie’s $200 mill. budget. Instead, shots are out of focus, and the cuts are generic in pacing. In fact, I found myself bored during Hobbs & Shaw‘s final moments, with only Elba’s character providing any drama, and Elba is truly savage throughout in a could’ve been Bond performance of action and brute force. Because ultimately, no one is going to a Fast and Furious spin-off for its message: “It’s about family,” or jokes, we’re going for cars, chases, and action. All three come up short as the film listlessly spins out of control during its bloated 136-minute run time.
Additonal Note: there are two post-credit scenes.