Despite the always slick Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s best efforts, the first Fast & Furious spin-off can’t save a rusty franchise from driving off a cliff.
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw
Director - David Leitch
Cast - Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Cliff Curtis, Helen Mirren
Rating - 2/5
Unfolding like the most ridiculously chest-thumping vanity project in years, the elaborately named Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is a film so macho, that any woman watching it will inadvertently initiate her transition to masculinity, and will immediately be issued a membership card to the boys club.
At one point, Dwayne Johnson leaps off a building, and instead of living up to his name and falling like a Rock, he flies. Towards the end of the film - and this moment has been unsportingly spoiled by the trailer - he pulls an airborne helicopter with his bare biceps. And in one scene alone, I counted at least half-a-dozen fist bumps - the preferred communication tactic for testosterone- fuelled gents.
Watch the Hobbs & Shaw trailer here
Hobbs & Shaw is the sort of movie in which the plot takes a backseat in favour of quips and hijinks. In all honesty, the film’s best moments are not the ones in which The Rock and Jason Statham hurl office furniture at each other, but insults instead.
The chemistry of our follically challenged heroes is intact, but director David Leitch is clearly in two minds about the tone he wants. Confused about whether to embrace the cartoonish action that has been driving the Fast & Furious franchise of late, or to pitch Hobbs & Shaw more as a buddy comedy along the lines of the Jump Street movies, Leitch manages to do neither.
This is rather unfortunate, because with only a handful of movies under his belt, Leitch has displayed an instantly recognisable style - a rarity in this age of committee-driven studio filmmaking. His work on the first John Wick helped spark off the unlikeliest of franchises; he filmed one of the greatest action scenes of the last decade in Atomic Blonde, and he even managed to inject some of his signature style into the second Deadpool movie.
Hobbs & Shaw is, remarkably, the first film in Leitch’s career that feels compromised; not to meet the standards of an established franchise - that would’ve been understandable - but to suit the demands of its star.
While there are more than a few moments of genuine humour - thanks mostly to a couple of unexpected cameos that I will not spoil here - and the action is certainly more refined than it ever has been in this series, Hobbs & Shaw never really amounts to more than the sum of its parts.
I’m avoiding discussing the plot because it’s honestly quite ordinary, and needlessly convoluted. Hobbs & Shaw, the famous baby rescuers from The Fate of the Furious, are recruited to track down an evil villain known as Brixton. Played by a bland Idris Elba, Brixton announces himself as ‘the bad guy’ when we first see him, and later as ‘black Superman’ when he fully displays the extent of his genetically modified powers. Brixton is after Shaw’s sister, Hattie, whose body houses a dangerous virus that if released into the world, will cause massive death and destruction.
Hattie is, despite what they keep saying about her being a supremely powerful new character, essentially the film’s MacGuffin - an object necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself. Like most movies, Hobbs & Shaw is also under the incorrect assumption that the greatest evidence of power is physical strength. So when Hattie goes toe-to-toe with menacing dudes, it’s impressive, but in a superficial sort of way. “There is nothing subtle about you,” Shaw mumbles at Hobbs in one scene. He could very well have been describing the film.
At basically two decades old, the rust is beginning to set in, and even a slick (and famously well- oiled) movie star like the Rock isn’t enough to lubricate the franchise into motion. The film plays off his persona more obnoxiously than I’d expected, but I don’t know who I was kidding.
And despite stipulating in his contract that he not come across as a wimp, Statham is most definitely playing second-fiddle to the Rock. His is the less engaging arc, despite the built in brother-sister drama.
It’s one thing for huge movie stars to tailor a film around themselves - Tom Cruise does it, as do Shah Rukh Khan and Angelina Jolie - but it’s a whole new thing if that movie star essentially hijacks a pre-established (and universally beloved) franchise without honouring its legacy in any meaningful way. Even Salman Khan retained the title track in Race 3.
Leave alone rebranding a past villain as a loveable hero - #HanLivesInOurHearts #NeverForget - but for almost the entirety of its runtime, Hobbs & Shaw seems to be aggressively ignorant of the older Fast & Furious films. And on the only occasion it chooses to relent and unleash some of that famous vehicular mayhem that it is known for, you can notice the energy in the room change.
If only there was more of that, and less posturing, less flexing, and less curling of the eyebrows.