In a world of cinematic and extended universes, one franchise that has seemed poised to expand is the Fast and the Furious series. No one could have expected it to turn into the well-crafted car action franchise that it has become, and after introducing Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in Fast Five and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in Furious 7, the two have now formed an unlikely alliance since they broke out of prison together in The Fate of the Furious. Forced to work together in order to save the world from a deadly virus, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is over-the-top in all the wrong ways. This excessive-to-the-point-of-draining spin-off demonstrates the fine line between absurd machismo and melodrama that the Vin Diesel-starring series has been walking to both box office and critical success.
When a virus called “Snowflake” gets into the hands of Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), it’s up to Shaw and Hobbs to put aside their differences in order to get the virus before Brixton (Idris Elba). If it isn’t readily apparent before the movie begins, Hobbs & Shaw is a very different beast than the street racing franchise it has spun off from. Sure, there are cars involved, and the final set piece contains a fairly decent amount of vehicles, but this is action-first, and director David Leitch will get there no matter how much logic he has to destroy in manufacturing a spectacle. Which is what puts Hobbs & Shaw at a severe disadvantage compared to virtually every other acclaimed action movie — there’s nothing even remotely close to “family” to care about, and there’s no relationship that doesn’t feel forced into existence.
That being said, the spectacle is sometimes enough. The final set piece is entertaining and actually feels like a logical next-step in absurdity from a franchise known to lean into comically over-the-top action. A lot of the choreography is well-done, which lends to some great fist fights, and the banter between characters — though the cheesiest it has ever been — adds a lot of levity to the brawls so that they maintain a summer blockbuster feel. Also, each character’s fighting style being different makes more interesting action.
There is a problem with the choreography getting lost amidst some pretty shoddy camerawork, but it’s a crapshoot as to when that will happen. Occasionally the composition is great, and other times it’s indecipherable; even though they are aided by obvious CG-effects and an abundance of slow-motion, the action scenes struggle to maintain a level of quality. And when momentum is stopped for whatever reason, it becomes clear that Hobbs & Shaw is a movie forcing itself to be engrossing. It clearly can’t do it with interesting characters or engaging subplots, so the screenplay instead forces a romance, makes characters work together, conjures up a rationale for the heroes to not be killed, and then just does whatever it wants. It can be painful.
This also highlights the main struggle that the Fast & Furious franchise has had since it entered the upper echelon of action movies: how much logic is necessary for things to still feel tense? When a character jumps off a building ten stories high (at least), he should not live — even if he does land on another person’s body. But in Hobbs & Shaw, logic and physics are absolutely tossed out the window right at the beginning. Brixton refers to himself as “black Superman,” has implants that allow him to deflect bullets, and can see an enemy’s movement before it even strikes him. He’s not just superhuman; he’s a supercomputer with super-strength — and a superego to boot. That last point is extremely vital to why the film often flounders when it comes to creating any connection with the audience. There are three big, burly men who all think they’re the greatest at what they do, and the difference is that one of them is the villain (which Brixton explicitly identifies himself as in the first scene of the film). Where is the empathy? Where is the concern for any of the characters’ livelihoods when there is never a real threat to their lives because they’re all so good at what they do?
Of course, all concern for every character comes from how much fun the actors are. Some great banter and chest-beating moments make the performances uniformly charismatic and enjoyable to watch. Vanessa Kirby probably gives the best turn of everyone, though Elba is also a lot of fun as the cocky bad guy. And Johnson and Statham have already proved they have chemistry, so there’s a reason this movie exists. However, the grating cameos — while yes, adding humor — also contribute to the grossly excessive attempts to entertain. They add nothing other than bringing characters into the F&F universe who are likely be forgotten in future films.
Besides the chemistry of the main characters and last thirty minutes, however, there is no reason to call Hobbs & Shaw a ‘Fast & Furious Presents’ joint. It’s unlike the films in almost every regard, save perhaps The Fate of the Furious’s airplane-baby-shootout or Furious 7’s Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner-esque plotline involving Shaw chasing down Toretto and crew. It’s the distillation of all the Deckard Shaw moments, stretched out and forced to be over two-hours long. The silliness of driving cars between skyscrapers pales in comparison to driving cars up weapons factories in the middle of the Ukraine, or transforming motorcycles, or any of the other wild stunts that happen. But that doesn’t make for a better movie — it just makes for more movie.
For those who have never watched a Fast & Furious film, or like your movies with no thinking necessary, this may be your cup of tea. It’s the summer blockbuster done wrong, where the only effort put into it was action worthy of a big screen. Without heart, however, this side story will lose most fans of the series pretty early on after the spectacle wears off. The extravagant set pieces will continue, but the rule of diminishing returns exists for a reason. Hobbs & Shaw is one step away from breaking the fourth wall at every turn, asking the audience one simple question: “Are you not entertained?”