I’ve had a bit of trouble settling on a verdict for Hobbs & Shaw, the first(?) Fast & Furious spin-off film. On one hand, it is a very silly, over-the-top buddy cop action movie. On the other, it seems like the product of a bunch of bad decisions that just had to be followed through on because: money. It’s a movie where Dwayne Johnson pulls a helicopter out of the air, like Captain America. It’s also 135 minutes long and feels like it. Is this too much of a good thing?
Let’s recap: Paul Walker, undoubtedly the heart of the Fast & Furious series, died in 2013. Yes, Vin Diesel is the face of the series and Dom is the “dad” of the family, but everybody liked Paul and I think he really was a big part of making these movies fun to do. This led to The Fate of the Furious, which was a bummer, and also the beginning of a wedge between the original cast and rising star Dwayne Johnson. Whatever happened, happened, and so now Dwayne and Vin won’t work together. With the original cast apparently wanting to stop at Fast 10, it made business sense for Universal to start figuring out a spin-off to keep the money train on the tracks.
But since Dwayne Johnson is on his own, the movie has an immediate problem: who should team up with Hobbs? After all, the dude doesn’t work alone. His previous partner, Elena (Elsa Pataky), was murdered in F8 by Charlize Theron, which sucks and takes away that option. So, with no good choices left, the studio went with another reformed villain: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), with whom Hobbs had several amusing insult battles with in the last movie. If it worked as the C-plot of F8, it could probably work as it’s own movie, right?
Well, I think this movie wants you to forget that ever happened. Fast & Furious hasn’t gotten stale yet by constantly changing things up: it escalated from thugs stealing DVD players to super spies fighting a fleet of self-driving cars and nuclear submarines. They’ve gone from a Point Break knock-off to heist films to action movies unlike anything else out there. Hobbs & Shaw gets a bit stale in their very first movie because it never evolves, it just continues the macho bullshit dynamic from F8. And that reveals the other big problem: these are two of the same guy.
If you teamed Hobbs up with another member of the family, like Tej (Ludacris) or Roman (Tyrese), there would be more meat on these bones. Tej has computer hacking skills that Hobbs doesn’t, so they could find interesting ways for them to complement each others’ strengths. Roman is not a good fighter and often serves as the comic foil to the group, which could have given this movie a more conventional buddy cop vibe. But Shaw has all the same strengths and weaknesses as Hobbs, which means the movie has to hyper-focus on the minute differences between the two guys. So, like, Hobbs drinks raw eggs in the morning while Shaw makes an omelette. It’s actually impressive how well the movie pulls off making the slight variations between these two feel meaningful.
But I would have preferred some evolution in their dynamic. Retreading these guys learning to work together again is boring, and they could have just put more focus on Hobbs’ attraction to Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) or something instead. Speaking of, Vanessa Kirby is great and I hope she gets invited back to M:I7 because she was wasted in Fallout. Speaking of wasted, super humans are fun but Idris Elba is a disappointing villain. He’s arrogant, wants to end the world, has false sense of superiority, is desperate for angry revenge… in short, a stereotypical super villain. I did like his one speech about it being OK to kill most people on the planet (“genocide, shmenocide”) and his motorcycle that always comes back.
Hey, here’s a thing: If you have a movie about three unstoppable badass spies facing a super-powered bad guy, maybe let the bad guy win once? So that these tough guys have to be humbled for a little bit? And to actually make the bad guy scary? No, I guess we can’t do that, the stars’ contracts won’t allow it. So that means the movie has to be entertaining solely based on its stunts and zingers, which, to be fair, are surprisingly good.
David Leitch directed Hobbs & Shaw, only his second such gig after Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 (although it sounds like he was an uncredited co-director of the first John Wick). He brings his expertise in stunts to this movie, making each fight feel different from the ones that preceded it. The elevator thing in London is exactly my kind of ridiculous. That said, I think Leitch is not as interested in the CG stunts as he probably should be making a movie like this. I know F&F does a lot practically, but the series typically makes a big deal about the stuff computers made too. In this movie, scenes like the one where Hobbs and Shaw parachute into a smokestack feel like they’re there just to check boxes instead of be exciting moments. If you’re not into these parts, just cut ’em out! The movie’s long enough as is.
Anyway, I ended up putting this in the exact middle of my Fast and Furious rankings. Instead of a summarizing my thoughts here, I’ll just leave you with the one thing I really wished Hobbs & Shaw addressed: Shaw killed Han. In this movie Shaw says he did “things he regrets,” but I still can’t be OK with this dude because he killed one of the family. His brother seemingly had Letty killed and he was very badly burned to pay for it, even though she came back. Brixton was shot in the head and came back as Black Superman. So it’s obvious: Han needs to come back. It’s the only way we can make any of this work.