Since Fast Five (give or take), the Fast & Furious franchise has become a continual escalation of ludicrous, physics-defying mayhem. Pushing the boundaries of imagination, logic, and audiences’ willingness to suspend disbelief, the films have left behind the grounded, Point-Break-with-cars style action of the early days in favor of sheer ridiculousness. Looking back, it almost feels inevitable that spinoff, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, a movie as bloated as that title and star Dwayne Johnson’s biceps, was destined to become an absurd action cartoon.
Whether Hobbs & Shaw is the dumbest movie ever made is a topic for debate, but it’s in the running. Sometimes that’s dumb in a fun, goofy way, but more often, it’s tedious, exhausting, and a test of patience. Many people have made the joke that this street-racers-turned-super-spies saga is going to culminate in Fast & Furious in Space, and given this installment, that doesn’t just seem plausible, it may even be probable.
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This is essentially a superhero movie. Dwayne Johnson’s beefy wall of man, Luke Hobbs, and Jason Statham’s spy/mercenary/I-don’t-even-think-the-franchise-knows-anymore Deckard Shaw, are nigh invincible, able to dodge every bullet and absorb any amount of physical damage with barely a scuff. They’re not even pretending anymore, especially with the villain, Brixton, played by Idris Elba. He is a comic book character pure and simple. A genetically modified super soldier, he’s a mix of Iron Man and Captain America, with a heads-up tech display embedded in his eyeballs and super strength delivered via artificial means. When he declares, mid-fight, “I’m black Superman,” he’s not posturing, he speaks truth.
Brixton’s plan, backed by a mysterious technological death cult, involves the pursuit of a “programable virus,” which the film uses to mean whatever it wants it to. They basically just say science words with ominous overtones. But whatever it is, it’s bad. This plot embroils Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). The 21-year age difference between the actors, and the film’s insistence they were precocious children of roughly the same age, illustrates how little anyone cares for anything resembling reality.
Even with the outlandish plot and who-gives-a-shit-about-facts approach, if the action delivers, no one would care—okay, I wouldn’t care. And I had hope in that regard. With the likes of John Wick and Atomic Blonde, director David Leitch certainly earned the benefit of the doubt. So, boy howdy was I disappointed.
As far as mainstream Hollywood goes, Statham is probably the top of the heap as far as fighting skills go, and he has a couple of solid brawls. Kirby builds on the potential we saw in Mission: Impossible—Fallout and has a few moments of her own. And Johnson does what he does, flinging bodies around willy nilly, always finding an excuse to flex in between. But even this action is limited and rather lackluster at best.
Many of the fights are over-edited, hacked to bits until they’re blurs of incomprehensible fists and feet. Elba is a trained kickboxer who’s actually competed in the ring, so him facing off with Statham should be fantastic. But the film is more concerned with its stars tussling on top of a moving vehicle than showcasing their abilities. Abundant car chases lean too heavily on CGI, devolving into digital smears that lack any visceral thrill or buzz. The other films certainly use digital effects, but it also balances that with hands-on, real-world stunt work that’s largely absent here.
A few moments provide a giddy jolt, but they’re few and far between, and the film muddles through so much mediocre dreck, it lacks all impact. All of this is extra disappointing since Leitch, a former stunt performer, made his reputation on clear, practical action. And for a film series where we totally buy cars parachuting from planes and leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper to skyscraper, you’d think a flamethrower car and chain of hotrods dangling from a helicopter would rule, but it inspires zero sense of awe or adrenaline.
Part of the charm of Hobbs and Shaw’s scenes over the last few Fast & Furious movies is that they show up, quip back and forth, exchange a few blows, and the film goes on about its business. Never the main attraction, they’re entertaining asides where two hunky dudes with strong natural chemistry pound the hell out of each other for a few minutes. Here, however, that’s all there is. Hobbs & Shaw is nothing but bluster and banter, and copious dick jokes, and while it has a few zingers, it wears out its welcome in short order.
Though the script harps on the franchise’s obsession with “family,” it all rings hollow and empty, with zero emotional weight. Shaw and Hattie attempt to hash out their past differences, which are extra muddy and unclear thanks to the horrid retcon job they did trying to make Statham’s character a good guy. And the Hobbs pushing to reconcile with his long-estranged family in Samoa somehow packs even less punch.
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For a movie where everything happens at breakneck speed, Hobbs & Shaw is swollen and slow and drags on and on. Just as the film builds to a climax, it shifts the whole party to the other side of the world—with no regard for travel time—and detours into the minute details of Hobbs’ ongoing beef with his brother (Cliff Curtis) and extended family of similarly muscle-bound dudes. This entire act feels like an excuse to celebrate The Rock’s heritage, which I’m normally all for, unless it’s this tacked-on an emotionally manipulative—at least it tries to be, as it fails in miserable fashion to elicit any feeling. In an attempt display the natural beauty of the location, at one point, there are like four back-to-back swooping helicopter landscape shots, which, by the end of the sequence, seems like Leitch punking the audience.
Under normal circumstances, I could watch Idris Elba play the heavy all day, but while it’s entertaining for a time, he’s so one-note it doesn’t last. Though he does, I shit you not, say the words “genocide shmenocide” with a straight face when talking about the nonsense viral apocalypse. His entire stance is a watered down version of Thanos’ argument from Avengers, to kill people in order to save the planet, and his mysterious overseers only exist to set up more movies in the future. It’s a horrible waste of a wonderful resource.
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Hobbs & Shaw pushes of the Fast & Furious’s worst tendencies to the forefront and has none of what connects with audiences. It’s all bombast, all bluster, all sound and fury signifying nothing. The action lacks any edge or excitement, talk of family offers nothing but lip service; there’s no heart, no soul, and little to care about.
For a franchise where the last two movies made more than $1.5 and $1.2 billion respectively, I can’t help but be curious to see the box office results for Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. I’m sure it’ll do gangbusters business overseas, where both Furious 7 and Fate of the Furious topped the billion-dollar mark. But this summer hasn’t been kind to franchises delivering mediocre installments no one really asked for. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues or if this one breaks the cycle.