The Fast and Furious franchise dropping its least charismatic asset for the first time since Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto was largely absent from threequel Tokyo Drift feels, feels on paper, like a natural move for the nitrous-fuelled series. After ditching its roots in outlaw street racing in Fast Five, the high-octane saga was given a desperately needed shot of adrenaline in the mountainous form of Dwayne Johnson, formerly the Rock, revving its box office earnings to a figure more appropriate for its blockbuster calibre. From that point, it became essentially another vehicle for Johnson to throw some punches, exude some stubbly charm, and physically increase in mass before our eyes with each new instalment.
I speak with a bias, though, as I’ve always found the gravelly stylings of Vin Diesel a peculiar choice to have carried what is now an eight-film franchise, with two more instalments on the way. Compared to Diesel, the Rock is no Robert Redford but still feels like a smarmy remnant of the bygone days of movie stardom. With his and co-star Jason Statham’s contracts both insisting they get the “toughest guy in the room” badge in each scene, there’s some great potential to stretch the unlikely duo’s fragile masculine egos to the limit, eagerly waiting to recommend Hobbs & Shaw as a ‘roided, rambunctious take on the buddy action-comedy.
Sadly, the shtick wears thin before the two stars get a chance to flex their impossibly thick legs. Rather than opting for cutting dismantling of transparently insecure, outwardly male and impossibly heterosexual personas, the unlikely pair simply trade jabs and innuendos until their peacocking is interrupted by a plot contrivance; usually an explosion. Whether actors’ riders prohibited any outcome in which either Johnson or Statham are undermined, or simply because screenwriters Chris Morgan and Drew Pierce just didn’t want to go there, but any anticipation for cutting banter beyond physical competition and repeated assertions of their endowment felt woefully unfulfilled.
Mission: Impossible break-out Vanessa Kirby offers a lithe countermeasure to the bawdy bravado at play, but ends up distracting the film more often than she enhances it as the audience is invited to believe that the 31-year-old Kirby could have conceivably been a child at the same as Jason Statham (52). Hattie and Deckard Shaw’s brother-sister dynamic, a pair of grifters and opportunists under the tutelage of barely seen mother Helen Mirren is a far more interesting, yet fleeting dynamic. This is handled haphazardly, though, and her character is further undermined with a forced romance with equally age-inappropriate Dwayne Johnson (47).
Kirby could make for an exceptional action heroine, and there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing her in superhero and spy projects going forward, but for now her presence feels deflated next to her male co-stars. You’ll be finding yourself wishing you were watching Tom Cruise dangle from a cliff face or catching up with the latest series of The Crown.
Now that long-standing Fast and Furious visionary Justin Lin has been roped back to tackle the upcoming ninth and tenth entries in the series, going the Mission: Impossible route and hiring a different, prevalent action director for each title in its potential wave of upcoming spin-offs was a smart move. There’s definitely a slightly more refined polish to what makes an action set piece kinetic and coherent than, say, Marvel’s usual route of hiring indie filmmakers and letting the second unit handle the heavy-lifting in the action scenes. However, while John Wick co-director David Leitch has proven to be at home with fistfights and martial arts in his solo project Atomic Blonde, his work with vehicular destruction and superpowered chases through traffic, much like Deadpool 2, leaves a clunky, weightless impression.
As the increasingly ridiculous and self-referential series motors forward, Hobbs & Shaw takes an unprecedented leap towards its inevitable science fiction conclusion (it’s a common prediction at this point that the team are eventually destined for space) with the introduction of Idris Elba as Brixton Lore. Brixton refers to himself as “black Superman” and he’s not entirely wrong, thanks to a series of augmentations that enhances his strength and assists his combat with a Terminator-style heads-up display. While Fast and Furious action has been transcending conceivable levels of believability for some time, a superpowered baddie takes things one step further, and sadly all but abandons the somewhat grounded sensibility of previous entries that allowed for practical set pieces and stunt work.
Proceedings get a little more tactile as we move towards the two-hour mark. An all-out brawl between Johnson’s surrogate Samoan family and Brixton’s disarmed army makes for some cathartic moments of pure stunt work and shirtless combat, and a sequence in which a team of rusty pickups ground Brixton’s helicopter is the only scene reminiscent of the best vehicular film of the last decade, Mad Max: Fury Road. Plus, it’s always lovely to see two reluctant partners discard their rivalries, learn the value of family and friendship and beat the living snot out of a diabolical villain.
These moments of unearned relief come too little too late, though, and you’ll be wishing the hour and a half that came before had sustained this level of jovial earnestness. Hobbs & Shaw commits several cardinal movie sins, but most egregiously squanders any potential chemistry between the two leads with trite bickering and exhausting action.
With Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel’s rivalry growing allegedly tenser with each new film in the Fast and Furious series, it feels only natural that its biggest star would warrant his own spin-off. Partnered with the infamous Cockney snarl of Jason Statham and Hobbs & Shaw should be a winner, but their clashing personas feel lost in the shuffle of unwieldy digital action and a disastrously silly villain plot. Attempts at comedy, including some unexpected, yet painfully extended cameos are welcome, but the script is just as weightless as its action and barely leaves an impression. Hobbs & Shaw should be dead on arrival, but the tease of a recurring villain could mean diminishing returns in the next few years. Count me out.
Words by Lucas Hill-Paul