Hobbs & Shaw is partially successful in evolving the Fast & Furious property, yet mostly comes off feeling like a branding exercise for The Rock.
The Fast & Furious movies got a new lease on life when they added Dwayne Johnson to the mix in 2011. In many ways, The Rock was the perfect match for the brawny franchise and its exploration of multicultural brotherhood. Now, following his much publicized off-screen clash with Vin Diesel on The Fate of the Furious, Johnson and his costar Jason Statham are headlining a spinoff of their own called Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw - a project that, if nothing else, maintains the series' proud tradition of not being able to settle on a consistent title scheme. Hobbs & Shaw is partially successful in evolving the Fast & Furious property, yet mostly comes off feeling like a branding exercise for The Rock.
Hobbs & Shaw follows Johnson's Luke Hobbs as the Diplomatic Security Service Agent is recruited for a secret operation that pairs him with his sworn frenemy: British Special Forces assassin-turned mercenary Deckard Shaw (Statham). The two are tasked with locating Shaw's sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 agent who's allegedly stolen an extremely dangerous biological weapon. However, when they learn that Hattie is also being hunted by Brixton (Idris Elba) - a cyber-genetically enhanced terrorist who works for a powerful criminal organization - the pair gradually realize that, like it or not, they have to cooperate if they're going to save the world.
Written by longtime Fast & Furious architect Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce (who, funnily enough, has previous experience writing about cyber-genetically enhanced characters thanks to his work on Iron Man 3), Hobbs & Shaw falls short in its efforts to develop its concept into a satisfying cinematic experience. It tries to carry over the previous Fast & Furious movies' themes about family by retconning Shaw's backstory and explaining why Hobbs developed his lone wolf mentality, but in doing so the film muddles Shaw's ongoing transformation from vengeful bad guy to misunderstood antihero, and clunkily writes Dominic Toretto and his crew out of the picture when it comes to Hobbs' storyline. The movie similarly attempts to give Hobbs and Shaw their own crew for potential future adventures, but the characters (who only make glorified cameos) come off an uninspired carbon copies of the mainline Fast & Furious roster. For the same reasons, Hobbs & Shaw seems less interested in expanding the Fast & Furious universe and more like a calculating attempt to refashion - or, to put it less kindly, steal - the franchise for Johnson.
Even the action and set pieces are, surprisingly, somewhat underwhelming in Hobbs & Shaw. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) brings a number of his now-recognizable visual signatures to the table here - including, his preference for neon "bisexual" lighting in the night sequences and colder metallic hues during the daytime - and the results are generally stylized, but somewhat derivative this time around. The smaller fight scenes, however, are something of a mixed bag; while a number of the one on one brawls are shot and edited in a clear, kinetic, John Wick style, others are unexpectedly choppy or rely on blurry shaky camerawork to make things seem more exciting than they are. Hobbs & Shaw even pats itself on the back for its practical stuntwork by throwing in a message about how real people will always trump technology. It comes off as a metatextual criticism of modern superhero movies especially, yet seems a tad hypocritical considering that Fast & Furious itself has become an increasingly CGI-fueled "superhero" franchise over the last ten years (and Hobbs & Shaw does nothing to reverse this trend).
That's not to say there aren't fun action beats or new characters to enjoy here, nor that Hobbs & Shaw is completely impersonal; in fact, the scenes where Hobbs makes his way back to his childhood home in Samoa come the closest to matching the familial melodrama of the best Fast & Furious movies before it and give Johnson a chance to represent his real-life heritage on the big screen in a mostly meaningful way. Meanwhile, at other times, Hobbs & Shaw comes across as the best live-action G.I. Joe movie that The Rock never got to make, after his attempt to take the lead on that property failed to pan out. As a whole, though, it's just too much of a corporate product that tries to give fans more of what it thinks they want (whether it's Johnson simply playing himself or smack-talking Statham silly), but to diminished returns. And in the end, even talented character actors like Elba and Kirby are only able to inject so much life into the cardboard-thin roles they're saddled with here.
Altogether, Hobbs & Shaw is acceptably diverting for an August blockbuster, but doesn't bode so well for Universal's desire to spin-off multiple Fast & Furious characters into standalone films. The Rock has a distinct brand by this point in this career and has applied it successfully to other IPs in recent years, but the final result here shows the limitations of his approach and, if anything, illustrates just how integral Vin Diesel and his core Fast & Furious family really are to the franchise. Of course, if fans decide they're not interested in a Hobbs & Shaw sub-franchise after all, it's not like Johnson will be hurting for work in the future.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 137 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language.
- Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) release date: Aug 02, 2019
- Fast & Furious 9 (2020) release date: May 22, 2020