It’s hard to believe that a franchise that started out as little more than a soft remake of Point Break, pinning Vin Diesel and his disposable crew against low-rent law enforcement with the street racing scene as its background, has transformed itself into a billion dollar commodity where secret agents take on international terrorists. And now, within that franchise, a spin-off (hopefully the first of many) fronted by series saviour Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.
Whilst Hobbs & Shaw (or, as it’s being advertised, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw, so you don’t forget how ludicrous the film will be) is tailored more for the Fast & Furious fans who are up date on the relationship timeline between its titular titans – Johnson’s Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs and Statham’s UK Special Forces assassin Deckard Shaw – the film seems to enjoy referencing but never directly addressing the past encounters between the two that has driven them to hate each other so much, essentially creating a serviceable standalone product for anyone unversed in the Fast & Furious universe.
But harping on about story depth and character development is a pointless exercise when it comes to a film such as this, one that openly defies the laws of physics, gravity, and common sense, all in the name of good ol’ fashioned entertainment. For starters, our mismatched duo, who spend most of the film bickering with surprisingly humorous wit, are up against a villainous prototype usually saved for the Marvel canon, a cyber-genetic super human in the form of Idris Elba‘s Brixton; “Bad guy” is his simplistic response when asked who he is during the film’s opening sequence where he ambushes an MI6 agent (Vanessa Kirby) on her mission to secure a bio-weapon known as C-17, a programmable virus that the overly-corrupt ETEON corporation want in their bid to wipe out humanity.
This situational set-up hardly differentiates Hobbs & Shaw from the majority of other action features we’ve experienced over the last several decades, but when Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce‘s script put Johnson and Statham in a room together, the film crackles with energy. Watching them verbally insult each other as if they were petty school children, all the while projecting their dominant masculinity onto one another, makes it easy to forgive any of the film’s overt indulgences (its running time is 136 minutes FYI) – including, but not limited to, an extended Samoan-set action piece where Hobbs’ impossibly sculpted arms prove strong enough to keep a trailing helicopter at bay when the chain-link connecting it grounded to three(!) vehicles momentarily breaks.
Having cut his teeth in the action genre already with a co-direction stint on John Wick, before moving on his own with Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, director David Leitch is perfectly matched to Hobbs & Shaw‘s action excess, capturing the vibe of the previous Fast films whilst also giving it its own identity. Though a graphically less violent film than his previous efforts, Hobbs & Shaw is no less brutal, and as easy as it is to criticise the film for its countless action sequences that only increase in their implausibility, for an action film of this ilk to deliver its visuals so clearly should be commended. The action is clear, and regardless of where it takes place or in what lighting, every brutal blow is visible.
As grand as the action is though, not to mention the film’s penchant for clever sight gags and alarming cameos, it’s the cast’s combined charisma and willingness to surrender to the lunacy that ultimately prevails. Elba is very aware of what type of film he’s making, and in doing so has an absolute ball of a time, injecting his usual aura into a role that somehow never crosses into hammy/camp territory. Then there’s Vanessa Kirby. Having her MI6 agent be Shaw’s just-as-capable-if-not-more-so sister Hattie proves a stroke of genius, setting her up as both a figure of protection for Statham and a love interest for Johnson, all the while maintaining her own sense of self, constantly proving her identity isn’t defined by her interactions with her co-stars; she’s included in the violence, and more than not holding her own, quite often acting as the centrepiece that brings the bickering Hobbs and Shaw together.
Born from another franchise, but potentially the start of its own fruitful series, Hobbs & Shaw takes the guiltiest pleasures from the Fast & Furious set, sprinkles it with a genuine humour that’s oft-been missing from the Diesel-led films, provides us with a female character that’s capable and fleshed out (another ingredient rarely seen in the series), and ties it up with a renewed sense of energy that I can only hope will resonate with the fans so that Hobbs, Shaw and Shaw can return; and maybe they can bring Helen Mirren’s resourceful mother Shaw along for the ride.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is screening in Australian theatres now