Movie Review: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ less Fast & Furious, more brisk & peeved
(Headline nicked from Norm MacDonald)
Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham return as mortal enemies Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, respectively, in the new action movie Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, a movie titled as such to remind viewers that these characters come from a franchise that this spinoff, the ninth (!) entry in the series, no longer resembles.
Johnson’s FBI agent Hobbs first appeared in Fast Five, which remains tops among the Fast franchise; Statham’s baddie Shaw debuted briefly in Fast & Furious 6 before taking center stage as the villain in Furious 7, when Shaw and Hobbs pummeled each other through an office building in one of the series’ most memorable scenes.
But the two were forced to work together to save the world in The Fate of the Furious, the eighth entry in the franchise that pitted the duo against Vin Diesel’s series hero, who had gone rogue under the threat of Charlize Theron’s supervillain bent on world destruction.
And now, in this groundbreaking ninth entry to the series… Hobbs and Shaw must team up, again, to save the world, one more time, against another villain bent on global destruction. Again.
But this time! The hulking FBI agent Hobbs and elite British mercenary Shaw must save the world without the ragtag team of drag racers that participated in the last eight movies. How will they manage?
Replacing those gearheads is MI6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who is also, coincidentally, Hobbs’ estranged sister (despite the 21-year age difference between Staham and Shaw, the two are only a few years apart in childhood flashbacks).
The baddie in Hobbs & Shaw is “Black Superman” Brixton (Idris Elba), a former military colleague of Shaw’s who is now more machine than man, and part of a super-secret Ukraine-based Bond villain cell commanded by a mysterious voice only heard via computer, who will surely be back as a shock reveal in Fast 9 or Furious 10 or 2 Hobbs 2 Shaw.
Brixton is out to obtain a virus that will kill off half of the world’s population - Thanos style, but this time only targeting the weak among us - which Kirby’s MI6 agent has injected herself with the deadly virus to keep from falling into the wrong hands (can’t they just…burn it with fire?)
When Hattie - along with Hobbs & Shaw, who have been called in to save the world by CIA handlers - are set up as terrorists, they must outrun Brixton from London to Moscow to Ukraine to Samoa to keep the virus from him - and save Hattie’s life in the process.
The globetrotting locales are fun: early scenes in London are a highlight, even if the city has become overused as a setting for large-scale action movies (see also: Spider-Man: Far From Home), and the Samoa finale provides some picturesque reprieve after 35 minutes in an abandoned Ukrainian factory.
But what isn’t fun here is all the carnage. While as cartoonish as the action in any of the previous Fast & Furious movies - Johnson’s Hobbs leaps down a London skyscraper in an early scene, punching villains rappelling down the side of the building as he falls - the action scenes are largely a snooze. Well-shot but ruggedly edited, without much sense of spatial awareness, there’s precious little thought put into the action choreography beyond smash-punch-boom, and extended scenes of action havoc turn into Man of Steel-like endurance tests for the audience.
Get back to the characters and dialogue: Johnson and Statham are genuine action movie stars in their prime, and sequences of machismo bickering between the two of them is Hobbs & Shaw at its very best. Shots of Johnson raising an eyebrow and Statham sneering in response top any explosion Hobbs & Shaw can muster.
The lackluster action in the movie is a real surprise coming from director David Leitch, a former stuntman who also made Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde and gave those movies a far more polished - and gruesomely consequential - battle scene ballet compared to the Looney Tunes yawnfest going on in Hobbs & Shaw. An assembly-line music score from Tyler Bates, which feels like it could have been downloaded from a stock music website, certainly doesn’t help the action come alive.
Viewers don’t need to have seen any of the previous eight Fast & Furious movies to follow where this one picks up - and in fact may be better off having not seen (or remembered) them; Hobbs & Shaw ignores the introduction of Statham’s character as a cold-blooded killer, as well as the rest of the world-saving Fast & Furious team.
But earlier movies established a baseline for what to expect here, and it’s one the Hobbs & Shaw only barely satisfies. While not a failure by any stretch - most critics are giving this one, like its predecessors, a pass - Hobbs & Shaw is among the weaker Fast & Furious movies, and action stars Johnson and Statham really deserve a better team-up movie.