Director: David Leitch
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby
The promotional materials for Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw are something else. Cheaply green-screened face-offs to camera in which Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) shit-talk one another while a whole load of rapidly cut nonsense explodes all around them. These promos said one thing; set your expectation as low as they can go. In spite of the unlikely charm that this gargantuan franchise has amassed (just look at the box office), the series’ first spin-off looked like one to miss.
Having sat through the thing, the jury’s still out.
Fast Five reconfigured this ongoing carnival of outsized machismo into something more. There’s been less and less about muscle cars and more and more about pure muscle. A lot of that was down to the arrival of Johnson. With his entrance, stories of heists, vendettas and races were traded in for CIA missions, globe-trotting adventures, different vendettas and saving the world from mass destruction. Hobbs & Shaw isn’t a sidestep but a continuation of that arc. In keeping, it plays out with all the ejaculatory subtlety of Pierce Brosnan-era Bond.
David Leitch steps in to the director’s chair with experience on John Wick and Deadpool 2, and brings some sensibilities from both. In its early London sequences, Hobbs & Shaw is drenched in the kind of neon that our dear Keanu might otherwise have stalked through. The film’s earliest fight sequences, too, display some of the bravado staging we’ve become familiar with. From Deadpool 2 he brings the grand lunacy of the superhero movie. More than ever before, the heroes and villains of F&F appear impervious to harm and capable of inhuman feats of strength. Hobbs thinks nothing of jumping out of a building and using those in free-fall as platforms to hop between. He even wrestles with a helicopter.
And that’s fine. Mindless escapism is the order of the day. Nobody’s watching these films for nuance. Enter in the right frame of mind, and there’s a wealth of campiness and barely concealed homo-eroticism to fuel you a good chunk of the way.
But not all of the way…
Hobbs & Shaw is unreasonably bloated, and at no point justifies its 135 minute running time. The opening act in London is very strong, so much so that it calls to mind the fieriness of last year’s action high-water mark Mission: Impossible – Fallout (the abundant appearance of Vanessa Kirby here doesn’t hinder the association). However, a more tepid and generic detour to Moscow feels more like a third act than a second, leaving the Samoan finale as the egregious excess. This last section contains some of the movie’s dumbest (and by extension most enjoyable) moments, but the quality of the action choreography degrades rapidly, to the point of being borderline unwatchable. As the laws of physics are brutally assaulted again and again, the camerawork gets shakier and the editing more aggressive, exhaustion takes over.
The movie has a strange preoccupation with body modification, quite aside from Johnson’s Everestian form. As Shaw’s sister Hattie, Kirby finds herself pumped full of a lethal virus that will disseminate into her bloodstream after a very ephemeral amount of time has passed. She becomes a host – and a commodity – forever threatening to transform in ways that are not made clear. Opposing her (and, well, everyone) is Idris Elba’s bio-mechanical nutter Brixton; a former crony of Shaw’s with a robot spine gifted to him by Evil Incorporated. He also wears a tactical smart suit that pitches him closer to a Marvel villain than the series has pushed before. The limits of the human body are spoken of at great length, and are perpetual concerns for both of these new players positioned at opposite extremes, but these dramas are wholly undermined by the titular heroes, who ping around like meaty cousins of The Incredibles, making a mockery of the human condition.
The other key theme, of course, is family. Hobbs’ reticence to reconnect with his roots is ultimately something of a dramatic non-starter, while the only sign of sibling bonds between Shaw and Hattie manifests through Shaw’s anxieties that Hobbs might want to sleep with her. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but you end up missing the stronger connections of the core F&F group. Where’s Tyrese Gibson at?
There are scattered moments of gold. The final realisation from these two hulking clowns that they’re stronger working together than apart is so laboured, so staggeringly obvious and so cheesily delivered that it momentarily feels like the world is collapsing in on itself. Its hysterical. And there’s a sort of fun to be had ticking off the F&F tropes as they roll by, from the obligatory side characters whose sole purpose is to provide hardware and travel arrangements for our heroes, to the obligatory moment when the camera swoops slowly by some dancing girl’s butt. Staggeringly, however, I don’t think even a single bottle of Corona made the final cut. But please correct me on this if I just missed it amid all the other mayhem.
And then there’s that slow-motion fight in the rain… The self-awareness is real.
So Hobbs & Shaw knows how big and dumb and stupid it is. That’s easy to embrace in the short-term. But even before the movie’s over all you’re left with is big and dumb and stupid. The rest is money to burn.