Movie Review: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ succeeds at ‘Fast & Furious’ spinoff

August 2, 2019

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Dwayne Johnson, left, and Jason Statham in a scene from "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw." (Frank Masi/Universal Pictures via AP)

November 29, 2020 | (Jason Fraley)

“The Fast and Furious” franchise has grossed over $5 billion worldwide since 2001. It peaked with “Fast Five” (2011) and should have wrapped with Paul Walker’s posthumous appearance in “Furious 7” (2015), but the franchise continues making bank, so it rolls on.

In 2019, it’s time for a rebranding, turning the ninth installment into a spinoff with “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” an action-comedy romp that is as gloriously ridiculous (and funny) as we hoped.

Vin Diesel is no longer at the wheel; rather, the spinoff reunites the series’ show-stealing supporting stars, Jason Statham and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is quickly becoming the must-see popcorn king of summer blockbusters.

Written by Chris Morgan (“Fast Five”) and Drew Pearce (“Iron Man 3”), the story follows well-known frenemies: Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a former agent in the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service, and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a former British military officer turned mercenary.

Now, they must form an unlikely alliance to stop a cyber-genetically enhanced villain named Brixton (Idris Elba), who threatens the fate of mankind.

There’s a reason Johnson and Statham are the ones getting their own spinoff. In the land of bodybuilding action stars, their ripped physiques are chiseled footnotes to their innate charisma and smack-talking bravado. Ever since their first appearance together in “Fast & Furious 6,” a groundswell of fan support built to a dream bout against each other in “Furious 7,” similar to “Game of Thrones” fans rooting for the proverbial Clegane Bowl.

In “Hobbs & Shaw,” a colleague remarks that the last time we saw them was breaking glass in an L.A. high-rise. Once again, their witty banter is priceless with laugh-out-loud put-downs during an airplane ride. There are also juicy Easter eggs for their respective fan bases, as Statham nods to his car from “The Italian Job” while The Rock does the People’s Eyebrow and watches his WWE cousin Roman Reigns perform a Samoan Drop.

Still, the most electrifying character is Vanessa Kirby, who earned an Emmy nod in “The Crown” (2016-2017) before starring in “Mission Impossible: Fallout” (2018). In “Hobbs & Shaw,” she kicks butt as rogue MI6 agent Hattie, carrying several plot twists. One is very predictable, the other quite compelling. Either way, we appreciate that she’s given agency, rather than languish as a love interest (although The Rock claims she’s such an independent woman that it’s entirely her choice if she decides to “climb his mountain”).

Rounding out the cast is Helen Mirren (“The Queen”) as Statham’s jailbird mom and Eiza Gonzalez (“Baby Driver”) as Statham’s old flame supplying weaponry, not to mention two hilarious cameos that we won’t spoil here. One plays The Rock’s wannabe best friend, while the other plays an overeager air marshal. Expect the crowd to react out loud.

Of course, the most talented actor of them all is Elba, who has delivered two of the best villains of the past 15 years as Stringer Bell in “The Wire” (2002-2008) and Shere Khan in “The Jungle Book” (2016). This time, we watch him receive injections like Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV” (1985) and mechanical upgrades like Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2” (2004). If anyone doubted whether he’d make a great James Bond — or even Bond villain — the answer is a resounding “yes” after seeing him stop bullets with his high-tech palms.

At times, Elba’s Brixton might feel a little too superhuman, depending on your ability to suspend disbelief. It’s the same beef that applies to superhero movies, where villains are so indestructible that each punch, kick and gunshot loses exponential significance. That said, we’re willing to go with it for the sake of this one, clearly-defined bio-tech character.

It only becomes a problem when other human characters appear just as indestructible. Early in the film, we watch Johnson and Statham run down the side of a building in a sequence that would make your father go, “Oh, come on!” while watching Saturday afternoon TV. Later during the climax, we watch a helicopter crash into a waterfall, only for multiple mortals to survive. Chalk it up to the action genre; more fighting awaits.

Director David Leitch has a mixed track record, starting as an uncredited co-director of the successful “John Wick” (2014), then helming the misfire “Atomic Blonde” (2017) and the mediocre “Deadpool 2” (2018). In “Hobbs & Shaw,” he stages a number of compelling action set pieces, highlighted by Johnson and Statham battling a gauntlet of baddies in parallel hallways divided by soundproof glass, mocking each other with hand motions.

For much of the movie, the reliance on hand-to-hand combat rather than car chases may seem out of place in a “Fast & Furious” movie. Not to worry, we get plenty of high-octane engine revving during the final battle in Hobbs’ native Samoa, linking cars together to pull down a helicopter with plenty of the franchise’s trademark Nitrous firing from tailpipes.

After the rousing finale, the conclusion features melodramatic speeches about heart vs. technology and an abrupt ending where the credits prematurely roll without much “falling action.” The end credits attempt to tie up loose ends, showing what happened to The Rock’s daughter, The Rock’s mother and Statham’s mother, but these brief flashes shouldn’t count; the answers should be provided within the body of the movie. I suppose the editor felt that at 135 minutes the movie was already pushing its genre limits.

In the end, you’ll walk out smiling. Can you call it a great movie? Not with a straight face. But damned if it isn’t one of the more enjoyable “Fast & Furious” flicks in years.

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