Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, 2019.
Directed by David Leitch.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Ryan Reynolds, Rob Delaney, Eiza González, Helen Mirren, Eddie Marsan, Eliana Sua, Cliff Curtis, Stephanie Vogt, David Mumeni, Axel Nu, Lampros Kalfuntzos, Lori Pelenise Tuisano, John Tui, Joshua Mauga, and Roman Reigns.
Lawman Luke Hobbs and outcast Deckard Shaw form an unlikely alliance when a cyber-genetically enhanced villain threatens the future of humanity.
As a spinoff should, the core elements of the shape-shifting Fast & Furious franchise remains intact with Hobbs & Shaw; its over-the-top action sequences occur at the result of bringing family together, globetrotting and vehicle chases provide ample opportunity to take in the varied beautiful landscapes, there’s a doomsday narrative so dumb you have no choice but to ignore what’s actually going on and roll with the punches, and there are far too many ultra-serious discussions about family. For anyone thinking that aspect would be less prevalent in this mismatched operative buddy action flick between fan-favorite characters, it’s actually the opposite, containing one dramatic one-on-one dialogue exchange after the other until you’re ready to tap out.
This is especially egregious before the climax, which cements the entire project as a vanity project for Dwayne Johnson. By now, anyone invested in these movies knows that he and Vin Diesel had a falling out, a clashing of egos so to speak, and in some ways, I do get it. Vin doesn’t exactly seem like the easiest guy to work with either. They both want the spotlight and to be the center of attention. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw makes it a point to set its grand finale on the Isle of Samoa not only for the effortlessly charismatic wrestler turned actor’s own prided heritage, but to give audiences a taste of his own perspective on family while nabbing a fairly pointless role for his cousin (WWE superstar Roman Reigns) that amounts to nothing more than battle cries and wrestling maneuvers. There’s even a point where The Rock launches a disposable generic baddie into the direction of Roman so he can perform his finishing move, the spear (a powerful football reminiscent tackle).
Film and wrestling merging together is not necessarily a bad thing, but here it’s a product of Dwayne Johnson in an egomaniacal competition with Vin Diesel; anything your movies can do mine can do better. Except they can’t. It’s difficult to get lost in the fun of Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his forced partner Shaw (Jason Statham) more concerned with one-upmanship than actually saving the world when it is consistently being shoved in our faces that this is The Rock’s movie. There’s an admittedly amusing cameo from Kevin Hart as an air marshal who wishes to make them a team of three and see some action, only his brief inclusion feels as forced the titular heroes teaming up to prevent an airborne virus from causing genocide on the physically weak (something along those lines, all you need to know is that Idris Elba hams it up as a cocky psychopathic augmented super-soldier with bland motivations). Even much of the banter that is nothing more than glorified trash talk wrestling promos wears thin over the course of two hours versus a few select hilarious moments inside of a larger entity boasting a bigger team.
For those of you that think I’m looking for high art from the Fast & Furious franchise, think again (I’ve given all of the entries I have reviewed glowing grades), and for those of you that think I have it out for Dwayne Johnson, also think again (I tend to enjoy his movies, even the ones many consider to be stinkers). Instead, what makes Hobbs & Shaw such a hard pill to swallow is that it was one of my most anticipated blockbusters of the summer. I didn’t care about any stupid childish beef between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel, as my favorite dynamic pairing of the whole franchise was getting their own movie, also with the likelihood of getting away from souped-up exotic cars and related dialect that I will never care for. The best thing that ever happened to the Fast & Furious saga was interjecting these racing delinquents into situations where the stakes were raised or they had to save the world; it’s preposterous but enjoyable, and probably the only reason it has lasted for nearly 10 movies. Evolve or perish. One of the worst things that ever happened to the series might be this movie.
David Leitch is a competent filmmaker; he was integral in the success of the John Wick franchise, delivered a worthy Deadpool sequel, but most importantly, announced himself as a proven action filmmaker with the nearly 7-minute one-take battle sequence from Charlize Theron and countless goons during Atomic Blonde. Throughout the majority of Hobbs & Shaw, I was wondering if I misread the director wrong online; that’s how much intrusive quick-cut editing exists during every fight sequence here. It also doesn’t help that we are usually watching two different battles simultaneously. The closest the movie comes to evoking the thrilling absurdity of past installments is when the duo storm a Ukrainian stronghold; it has everything from exciting melee combat, our heroes placed into perilous predicaments, a ridiculous chase sequence that has monster trucks driving all over buildings and up staircases, and continues to build off of itself as if it’s the climax. If the movie ended here, it might have been satisfying enough to give a slight recommendation; sure, it’s not great, but it would have ended on a high note.
Then comes the Samoa section, which would work better as an epilogue rather than yet another battle sequence that for whatever reason requires so much preamble dialogue that it feels like you are getting ready for the Battle of Winterfell (the film actually directly references Game of Thrones multiple times, so that comparison actually fits).
The two components of Hobbs & Shaw that work the most aren’t even the operatives themselves, but rather Idris Elba (chalk it up to his own likability coupled with advanced battlesuits and sleek if derivative technology used to his advantage) and Vanessa Kirby playing a character important to Shaw’s arc. The writing surrounding her as a bipolar mess that can’t decide if she’s a badass or a regressive damsel in distress stereotype, but she somehow makes whatever the movie throws at her work. There is a moment where Hobbs rambles on about how if she wants him, she can have him; it’s such an overblown speech that for a second it’s not crazy to think that the movie might do something subversive and have her turn him down considering we know she is a capable fighter and can depend on herself. That’s just wishful thinking, though, because this entire movie is Dwayne Johnson’s “what if I was actually the star of the Fast & Furious franchise”, and if this is how it’s going to be with him having so much apparent creative control, moviegoers are in for one never-ending dick-swinging contest between the egotistical celebrities that will hurt the quality of the franchise.
Dwayne, Vin; please just settle your issues with one another in a shoot-match (a non-predetermined wrestling match for those unfamiliar with the term) at WrestleMania. It would be one hell of a publicity stunt for the next movie and probably be more entertaining than anything in Hobbs & Shaw.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com