The Fast & Furious franchise has evolved quite a bit since its early days of fast cars and illegal street racing, and Hobbs & Shaw keeps the evolution going. For me, the franchise peaked with the adrenaline-fueled heist setup of Fast Five, where the action set-pieces (which brushed right up against the edge of believability), overt themes of family, and winking self-awareness were the most well-balanced.
Since then, the filmmakers behind these movies have seemingly been trying to match the size and scope of today’s superhero genre, to repeatedly diminishing returns. Enter Hobbs & Shaw, a franchise spinoff that could actually be categorized within that genre. Every one of those aspects I listed above is ratcheted up more than a few notches, making for an experience that is fun, until it becomes exhausting.
Action superstars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham reprise their roles as federal agent Luke Hobbs and British mercenary Deckard Shaw, who are forced to work together when a terrorist organization led by Brixton (Idris Elba), cyber-genetically enhanced super soldier, threatens to use a deadly virus to wipe out humanity…or something.
Shaw’s sister, MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), who injected herself with the virus during a mission that was compromised by Brixton, is the sole key to unlocking the virus. It is up to the unlikely duo to track her down and stop Brixton from achieving his genocidal goals.
There you have it: three charismatic action heroes, a superpowered villain, and the fate of the world hanging in the balance. If you needed any more evidence that Hobbs & Shaw is a superhero movie, the filmmakers knowingly took a page out of the Marvel playbook by adding two mid-credits scenes and a post-credits scene, which don’t serve much of a purpose beyond having a couple extra gags thrown in there. Which is fine by me, as the strongest aspect of the film ends up being the constant bickering and badgering between Johnson and Statham, whose characters never pass up an opportunity to insult one another.
If we are being honest, The Rock and Statham can play these roles in their sleep at this point. The macho, smooth-talking action hero is not much of a stretch for these guys, and having them roast each other for most of their time onscreen together becomes a fun way for writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce to play around with their onscreen personas. Not all the jokes land, but with how many one-liners and insults they jam-pack into almost every scene, there’s more than enough comedy to keep Hobbs & Shaw afloat. A couple of huge recurring cameos also help break up the occasional monotony of the action.
Vanessa Kirby, who had a minor role in last year’s action epic that was Mission: Impossible – Fallout, more than holds her own against two of the biggest action stars of the century. Here, she gets to be part of the action, as well. It’s a shame that she is relegated to being the MacGuffin of the story AND the love interest to The Rock.
But she brings more to the proceedings than she is given, the same of which goes for Idris Elba as Brixton. Playing a character who, on-the-page, seems like nothing more than a one-note villain, Elba relishes in the opportunity to deliver lines like “I’m black Superman” and “genocide schmenocide” with as much charisma as possible.
The action itself is competently put together, although there is a stark contrast between the very down-and-dirty fistfights and the CGI-filled, overblown nonsense. The former is much more effective than the latter. This is extremely apparent when a well-staged action scene inside a warehouse devolves into a mess of pixels, CGI explosions, and people punching each other in front of a rather unconvincing green-screen background moving at 50 mph. After a while, the action in Hobbs & Shaw does begin to feel repetitive, with a certain lack of variety to the choreography that becomes noticeable with each passing set-piece.
It all eventually becomes sensory overload; at an egregious runtime of 135 minutes, the barrage of action and comedy began to test my patience. There is a point during an action scene about two-thirds of the way through Hobbs & Shaw that I thought “if this ended right now, I would be more than satisfied.”
This is also the point where Hobbs & Shaw finally decides to bring the familial themes to the fore (and to a very culturally personal place for Johnson), which I appreciated, even though it does feel noticeably tacked on to an otherwise bare-bones action set up. I just wish they had integrated Hobbs’ backstory better into the narrative, because by the time we get there, I have already been beaten into submission by the barrage of jokes and set-pieces.
Hobbs & Shaw does exactly what it sets out to do, and it does it A LOT, perhaps way too much. The Rock and Statham have a good enough rapport to keep you entertained and distracted from the fact that the story machinations make practically no sense.
If you’re a fan of what these Fast & Furious movies have been delivering, then you will find plenty to enjoy here. For me, this is the exact type of movie that proves there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.”
Hobbs & Shaw is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.