Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is exactly what you think it is – a film with a ridiculously convoluted title. It’s also big, dumb, loud and frequently great fun. It’s the kind of movie Michael Bay thinks he’s making, but isn’t. It’s also frequently not the film it thinks it is. Mainly because it’s never entirely sure what sort of film it is. And it’s deeply insulting.
Insulting to its leads most of all, or maybe that should be ‘of its leads.’ That would be the titular Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham), a federal agent and disgraced spy respectively, who seem to like nothing better than deriding each other like an old married couple. The only thing which comes close is saving the world, this time by teaming up with Shaw’s younger sister (Vanessa Kirby) to keep a super virus out of the hands of demented futurists with tons of money. Besides an army of thugs (who helpfully always wear masks or helmets) and an unlimited amount of modernist architecture, all that money has also bought something even Hobbs & Shaw can’t blow up — a genetically and cybernetically enhanced superman (Idris Elba).
They may not be able to stop him, but Hobbs and Shaw can at least put him in his place, when they’re not doing so to each other. Enough mockery flies around someone occasionally poking his head in might think how strange it is to see Statham in a buddy comedy. Those would have to be well-timed incursions as the action sequences are both long and frequent, none of which stops Hobbs & Shaw from stopping dead in its tracks and giving its stars new chances to dish out punch lines. Or even of bringing in ringers in the forms of comedy cameos from the likes of Kevin Hart and Ryan Reynolds to pop in and do an extended bit over and over and over again. It’s almost as if the filmmakers lacked confidence in their stars or concept to keep up interest all the way through to the end, but mostly it just adds to an already very bloated film. For a movie with Fast & Furious in the title, Hobbs & Shaw never seems in a hurry to get anywhere.
Faced with a choice of ‘more comedy’ or ‘more action’, director David Leitch (Deadpool 2) and writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce have picked ‘both’ in a film without enough infrastructure to handle it or single element to make it all worthwhile. Leitch, who has produced some of the most interesting action set pieces of in recent memory with focuses on long takes and brutal hand to hand (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, the action sequences in Captain America: Civil War) seems like a different man. Aside from a tower attack and car chase in downtown London, most of the set pieces are basically fine but lacking real inspiration.
Nor are Hobbs and Shaw dynamic enough to make up for that. They exist to punch things and insult each other. Like the series they stemmed from, they’re an adolescent’s view of manliness taken to even greater extremes (if that were possible). With a smaller ensemble to share time with they get a little bit of time to hint at buried pain to work through — all of it relating to family they are no longer connected to — but for a two and a half hour movie you know about as little about them at the end as at the beginning. Kirby is left mostly to try and prove she fits in the boy’s club while occasionally being allowed to roll her eyes at it.
She’s probably not the only one doing that, either. By design or accident Hobbs & Shaw insults its own audience. Not in the sense that it’s terrible, it’s frequently quite entertaining. But it seems to think its audience are morons who are only interested in insult humor and only capable of understanding a plot point if it is pounded into them with 20-lb. sledgehammers. The dialogue, even by the standards of the series, relies a lot on the charisma of its two leads to sell it. To be fair that’s the stated MO of the entire film, but the script by Morgan and Pearce pushes that as far as it can go. The rule of three is turned to its ridiculous maximum as Hobbs and the Shaw’s frequently repeat a major piece of exposition to each other three times in a row just to make sure we’ve got it. Subtext is baldly stated as text, and then repeated and repeated.
The end result would be easy to write off as pointless, even as it prepares itself to launch a new series of films with the creation of its own supervillain, mythology and new supporting cast. And a lot of it is – nothing surprises in it, no one changes beyond the parameters it is obvious they will, nor is there any obvious desire to do so. It’s also frequently great fun with well-done (if unimaginative) set pieces and enough pure testosterone to grow a beard on a baby. Sure it’s lighter than air, and will evaporate quickly, but if that’s not the definition of the Hollywood action movie, what is?
FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW REVIEW RATING: 7/10
Universal Pictures will release Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw in theaters on August 2, 2019. The film is rated PG-13 for “prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language.” You can check out all of the previous updates about the movie by clicking here.