EXPECTATIONS: The best superhero film of the year.
REVIEW: If you had traveled back in time 18 years ago and told the people who are about to watch The Fast and the Furious (2001), which was famous for its premise of drag racing, for the first time and told them that it would become a franchise that spans across seven sequels and more to come, the most likely reaction you would get would be elongated bouts of laughter.
And yet here we are with the ninth entry in the franchise. Only this time, it will be a stand-alone entry that focuses on its side-characters (much like The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift ); the imposing and authoritative Luke Hobbs and the menacing Deckard Shaw. With the filmmakers branching further away from the heist tropes and moving on to invigorating the once-foreign concepts of the franchise like the sci-fi elements, the buddy comedy, the worldwide stakes and the importance of family, Fast & Furious: Hobbs and Shaw looks like it’s going to be a blast.
For those who claim importance to the storytelling and continuity of the franchise, the film starts off two years after the events of The Fate of the Furious (2017). A big-ass threat, in the form of Brixton aka Black Superman (Idris Elba), manages to gain control of a powerful source of biological weaponry.
And the only people who are capable enough to stop the threatiest [sic] threat in the history of threatiness [sic] from happening are the most mismatched pair of loose cannons since oil and water; the immovable object Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the unstoppable force Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).
Through their action-crammed, insult-laced, logic-free journey, the two discover that there is more to each other than the importance of family — like Hobbs’ Samoan family; Shaw’s sister Hattie and mother Magdalene, played by Vanessa Kirby and Helen Mirren — like the importance of friendsh–Oh come on, a lot of shit blows up and a lot of vehicular stunts and fight scenes happen. What more do you want?
Doing away with the soggy drag racing premise and the overcooked heist formula and striving for more of an action buddy comedy beef patty with some juicy sci-fi trimmings on the side, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is the jam-packed burger action blockbuster that is willfully silly and yet insanely fun in a sesame seed bun.
It’s funny to see the progression of director David Leitch over the years. To go from being a stuntman and a punching bag to Statham in The Mechanic (2011) to directing Statham in Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is an amazing feat and he excels in bring the stunts and pyrotechnics and destruction to life. With great support from his collaborators like editor Christopher Rouse (who has primarily worked on films by director Paul Greengrass) and cinematographer Jonathan Sela (who has worked on Leitch’s solo directorial debut, Atomic Blonde ), the action scenes are clear, vibrant and pack a true punch, even with some minor CGI deficits.
The action scenes also manage to meld both the cartoonish views of machismo/male brawn and its implementations of the family theme in a compelling fashion — particularly in the third act involving a truck/chopper chase and a smoulderingly climactic fight scene between the lead pair and Brixton — showing the strong link (literally) with action and character that comes across as both funny, satisfying and completely in line with the film’s internal logic.
But what Leitch doesn’t excel (much like in his first film, Atomic Blonde ) in is the storytelling. Even though the story itself (by franchise regular Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce) is a fusing amalgam of plot elements from various spy films (eg. Tomorrow Never Dies , Spectre , Mission: Impossible 2  etc.), the pacing does not keep up with the energy of the cast and the action scenes and it leaves the film plodding at times; a problem that is also accentuated by the long running time of 135 minutes. The film also features some surprising cameos and while they are overall amusing, Leitch tends to milk their performances for far too long, making their presences gradually ineffective as the film goes on.
Thankfully, the cast provide all the machismo, sex appeal and charisma that makes the film enjoyable. Dwayne Johnson relishes in making fun of his machismo image in the role of Luke Hobbs that was basically oiled (baby oiled?) and sprayed on for him. While the alpha male attitude that he displays may irk some, the script does provide welcome background to Hobbs that bring some clarity and reasoning for his demeanour; complimenting the major theme of family; which was quite refreshing.
It also helps that there is a counterbalance (or compliment) to that, and that is thanks to Jason Statham‘s winning performance as Deckard Shaw, a role that was basically tailor made for him. He brings all the grit and toughness that all would expect and nails all the intricate action scenes efficiently. But ever since his work in writer/director Paul Feig‘s spy comedy Spy (2015), he has developed a keen, sharp self-awareness of his persona and it shines through, as he delivers barbed remarks with aplomb and non-verbal reactions and facial expressions that are priceless. Despite showing only a minute reference to Shaw’s despicable actions in the prior installments (#JusticeForHan?), the script does provide some background to his character that may build up to a point of atonement in the future.
Vanessa Kirby, as M16 agent/Deckard’s sister Hattie, manages to bring the same allure she contributed in Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018), while managing to be convincing in her action scenes — it also helps that the script doesn’t misuse her character to be a damsel in distress and actually provides a level of agency through her backstory that compliments the theme of family togetherness, the softer side of Shaw and the machismo of Johnson. But it is a shame that the other female characters aren’t given the same treatment and are given very little to do other than be comic relief or eye candy i.e. Helen Mirren and Eiza Gonzalez.
Idris Elba, who is no stranger to blockbuster villains, is a blast as Brixton, the bad guy (his words, not mine) who happens to be a bioengineered terrorist, fighting to save humanity from their actions. Gleefully maniacal, seemingly unstoppable and not afraid to throw a hissy fit when failure dawns upon him, Elba dons the cape of Black Superman (an improvised moniker Elba came up with himself) very well.
And much like the caped crusader, the film itself fortunately sticks the landing. It feels great to see a film that is exactly what the trailers promise and Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw delivers by diving head-first into the sheer lunacy of the action, doing away with the self-serious drama and just having an absolute blast while doing so.
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Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Eiza Gonzalez, Helen Mirren
Director: David Leitch
Screenwriters: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce