FAST & FURIOUS (PRESENTS): HOBBS & SHAW – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Jason Statham (Crank), Idris Elba (Thor), Vanessa Kirby (Mission: Impossible – Fallout), Eiza Gonzalez (Baby Driver), Helen Mirren (The Queen)

Director: David Leitch (Deadpool 2)

Writers: Chris Morgan (Wanted) and Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3)

Runtime: 2 hours 15 minutes

Release Date: 1st August (UK), 2nd August (US)

So Fast & Furious 8 (The Fate of the Furious for you Yanks) was a pretty decent movie, eh? I mean, it was hardly the best film in the franchise, but it was a lot of fun and proved the series still has plenty of interesting sharks left to jump. For many audiences, the big surprise was the unexpected chemistry between Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, so much so that many thought a spin-off just about them would be a neat idea. Well, it seems Universal had the same thought, and so now we have Hobbs & Shaw. Does the focus on these two bickering knuckleheads bring new life to the franchise, or can you really have too much of a good thing?

For the first time since arguably Tokyo Drift, Hobbs & Shaw is thoroughly understandable without prior investment in the franchise (though familiarity with it, especially the eighth instalment, does help). Now less constrained by the car-centric perspective of its mother series, the story now feels more opened up to dabble in all kinds of ridiculous blockbuster spectacle, and with it the series trajectory towards the fantastical has only increased. This film has now leapt into the territory of superhero movies, with biomechanically enhanced soldiers, viral super weapons and Darwinian technology cults now thrown into the mix without an eyelid bat. The film wastes no time throwing these leaps in logic at you either, and if you’re willing to roll with the punches it only makes the experience that much more ridiculously enjoyable. Anybody going into this movie expected anything other than an implausible extravaganza in Hollywood excess is completely missing the point.

With that said, that jump in irreverence does come with a less-welcome leap into self-depreciation. Hobbs & Shaw is easily the most overtly comedic entry in the series thus far, with barely a scene going by without some kind of one-liner or sly wink at the audience. In moderation, this twist in tone helps to differentiate the film from its forbearers, but at many points it oversteps the mark into cloying and unnecessary. The new framing inevitably throws off the film’s balance, which results in not only an oversaturation of comedy but the story’s actually sincere moments coming off far cheaper. The Fast & Furious franchise since the fifth instalment has thrived not just because they’ve grown increasingly ridiculous, but because they’ve retained a po-faced sensibility in spite of it, and that’s ultimately far funnier because it’s not overtly trying to be.

If you liked the way Johnson and Statham played off each other in Fast & Furious 8, you certainly get more of that in Hobbs & Shaw. Their never-ending squabbling and one-upmanship is certainly still entertaining, and the two actors share a much more natural chemistry than Johnson ever has with Vin Diesel, but their rapport also feels stretched to the absolute limit here. Their relationship fails to evolve satisfyingly, with the pair cycling through the same set of jabs over and over again until the third act, when their differences are ultimately resolved because the plot needs them to. Lacking their own tangible evolution or identity, the film simply falls back on the “it’s all about family” themes of the other films, and as is it’s basically just two hours of these two trading yo mamma jokes interrupted by the most ridiculous action scenes this side of Con Air.

As the villainous Brixton, Idris Elba absolutely knows what kind of film he’s in and relishes the opportunity to go full ham. He’s just as naturally charming as ever, but there’s a sadistic joy to his performance that makes him a perfect adversary for Hobbs & Shaw, but I wish there was a little more to his motivations than just “I believe I am a supreme human and the world must be culled because this mysterious cult person says so”. Stealing much of the film away from even our leads is Vanessa Kirby as Shaw’s secret agent sister Hattie. She’s an absolute delight from her first moments on screen, matching (if not besting) the boys not only in the action but in the comedy too. The film occasionally runs the risk of just turning Hattie into a plot token/damsel, but the film does its best to fight against those expectations and so much of that is down to Kirby’s performance. Seriously, she deserves to not only come back in future Fast & Furious instalments, but someone please give Kirby her own blockbuster franchise. As for the rest of the cast, it’s mostly just an avalanche of cameos from a wide spectrum of Hollywood talent, with some of them arguably having more screen time than credited cast members. I won’t spoil them all given the marketing hasn’t, but much like the rest of the film their wink-and-nudge presence constantly threatens to push the entire film into outright farce.

David Leitch has more than proven himself as a talented action director by now through John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, and with Hobbs & Shaw he finds the perfect balance between his own penchant for grounded, tightly-choreographed brawls with Fast & Furious’ tendency to ignore all the laws of physics. Every set piece here would be the standout in any other summer blockbuster, but that’s just a testament to Leitch’s ability to stage action with an attention to detail most of his contemporaries don’t even aspire to. There’s the occasional moment when the film succumbs to quick cuts and tight cinematography, but for the most part this is a fluidly shot and executed piece of action cinema. Tyler Bates’ score for the film is suitably bassy and rock-influenced, but as usual it’s the film’s soundtrack that takes centre stage, and this film threatens to rival Suicide Squad at points for the number of needle drops throughout its runtime. Heck, Idris Elba even raps on the soundtrack! How much more 90s action blockbuster can you get?

The best Fast & Furious movies know they’re stupid but try not to act like it. Hobbs & Shaw admits its stupidity early on, and your mileage with its tone may vary from there. This is undoubtedly the most brazen and flat-out insane film the franchise has offered thus far, and within it are some of the best moments of the series period. However, the movie is often too high on its own supply, stuffing its overlong running time with self-aware digs at itself and celebrity cameos that somewhat detract from the delusional fun of it all. If you’re a fan of the franchise or either of the film’s stars, you’re probably going to have a blast with this, and it certainly needs to be seen on a big screen for the full effect. However, if they’re going to continue on with Hobbs & Shaw as their own sub-franchise, we need to get past the childish quarrelling and give the characters somewhere else to grow. The next film could involve them fighting space iguanas on a guacamole planet whilst riding unicycles for all I care about story logic, but there needs to be more to them than just The Odd Couple hopped up on Mountain Dew.

FINAL VERDICT: 7/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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