The Fast and Furious franchise is a tedious film series that found life in its later years. In 2001, it sold itself as nothing more than a hot, schlocky piece of garbage high on speed and glitzy, early aughts conceptions of cool. It’s morphed over the years into an explosive, medium-sized cinemaction universe complete with heists, cyber-genetics, intelligence agencies, and unseen mastermind villains. Now, 18 years later, the franchise has checked a new box by releasing its first spinoff — minus any significant characters featured in the first four films (sorry, Dom) — focused on rogue good cop, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), and nemesis Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a cruel villain turned bad boy protagonist.
For those that don’t know, Hobbs has a habit of putting Shaw in prison whle Shaw’s habit is to find reasons for Hobbs to put him there. They also fit perfectly into the Fast and Furious franchise because they care about family more than anything (Hobbs delivers a “family” speech here within the first 12 minutes). They’ve had to work together in the past, but it was always a twisty and begrudging effort. In that regard, not much has changed. Shaw is still slicing sports cars through narrow openings beneath moving eighteen-wheelers. Hobbs is still doing insane things like corralling a helicopter connected to a chain he’s holding with one hand. And both still hate each other.
The film opens with an MI6 mission gone wrong. Hattie’s (Vanessa Kirby) team is swiftly eliminated after genetically engineered super-villain Brixton (Idris Elba) and his squad unexpectedly arrive on the scene to steal a virus the team is trying to secure. If unleashed on the public, the virus will wipe out a large portion of humanity. It isn’t designed to dismantle society; rather, to make the human population stronger by eliminating the weak. In other words, it’s a self-enacting viral genocide. Unwilling to risk it falling into Brixton’s hands, Hattie injects herself with the virus and escapes only to discover that she’s been framed for murdering the whole team. Cut to the boys.
The first sequence with the titular characters is a split screen showcase of their morning routines, Hobbs in L.A. and Shaw in London. Hobbs is surrounded by sunshine and palm trees, Shaw showered in rain and fog. The two screens illuminate some lighthearted similarities and differences. For example, the bit eventually develops into parallel showdowns in which each one handily kicks small-time-crime-lord ass without breaking a sweat or sacrificing a one-liner. They both deliver critical hits straight to the balls of their victims, but before they do, one self-identifies as a “can of whoop ass” and the other a (significantly less intimidating) “champagne problem.”
Hobbs is then met by an old CIA buddy (whose identity I’ll let you find out for yourself) and Shaw’s met by a prototypical black-cloaked agent of sorts. We learn that Hattie is Shaw’s little sister, and we know how he (and everyone else in the franchise) feels about family. With Hobbs under the impression that Hattie is a bloodthirsty loose cannon in possession of the virus and Shaw determined to save his sister from death by virus, they individually commit to do whatever they can to find her — whatever they can that doesn’t involve each other, of course.
As soon as they realize they’ve been intentionally teamed up, they’re furious, refusing to work with one another. The initial confrontation shapes the tone of the following two hours — violent, high-octane slapstick built on ungiven fucks and brawny brawls worthy of They Live’s iconic alley scene. They troll each other every chance they get, brandishing their childishness by giving each other fake identities like “Mike Oxmaul” and “Hugh Janus.” The duo bickers and flings testosterone around as freely as chimpanzees fling feces. Director David Leitch shows self-awareness by utilizing the alpha male embattlements to comedic effect, but it’s so overt it develops a redundancy complex at times.
The abrasive, insulting mono-e-monos are genuinely funny every once in a while — often when they’re in troll mode — but it’s hit and miss. When a few in a row don’t land, it feels like someone put a subpar Drake diss track on repeat. And the number of times someone in the film references Hobbs and Shaw’s clipping masculinity or inability to look past differences for the common good is nauseating. It’s a joke that only garners a faint laugh the first time, so recycling it in ten-minute intervals is just sluggish screenwriting, which, ultimately, is the name of the game for Hobbs & Shaw.
In the first few minutes, Brixton, a.k.a. “Black Superman,” literally says “I’m the bad guy” when asked who he is. That’s not clever. That’s lazy, shameless, curdled material from screenwriters Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce. Other stuffed-crust lines like, “In life, things happen. You may not want them to, but they do,” and “I’ve been running my whole life” warrant eye rolls long enough to miss the rest of the film, but they’re delivered with the apparent intention of stirring up real, human emotion. Frankly, it’s insulting. But, who am I kidding? No one is going to see Hobbs & Shaw to glean wisdom. Still, a better version would’ve strayed away from the abhorrent philosophizing.
Back to the plot, Hobbs and Shaw quickly find Hattie, and the three—Hattie as kickass as the other two—fly all over the world to find the antidote to the virus coursing through her veins and stop Brixton. In the meantime, we learn more about Brixton and Eteon, the supreme evil that guides him: a progress-driven think tank mercenary tech conglomerate that owns the media, experiments with biotech weaponry, and supports eugenics. Yes, it’s a bit on the nose. Brixton is one of these experiments, his body technologically resurrected and advanced by Eteon after Shaw put a bullet in his brain years ago. We never meet the mastermind behind Eteon because he’s merely a distorted voice that surrounds his underlings. But the series suggests we might meet him in the future.
The choice to characterize Eteon as a militant, media-controlling tech giant is relevant and fine, but Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t have the wherewithal to deal with the implications of such a conglomerate. It never reaches past the face value comparison of industry versus humanity, despite feigning dialogue that thinks it does. As mentioned earlier, a movie like this exists for the explosions, body count, general excessive action, belittling buddy cop routine, and sexy sweat. Audiences know that as well as the filmmakers do. That’s why it’s frustrating when the movie tries to address nuanced issues it doesn’t have the language or creative agency to do justice.
Hobbs & Shaw is simply what it is, and that is an action blockbuster. It feels like a modern version of 48 Hrs., infused with Transporter franchise ventures and Untitled Big Budget Dwayne Johnson Adventure Movie playfulness (think: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Walking Tall, San Andreas, etc.). Anyone jonesing for girthy biceps, hardheaded conflict, satirical masculinity, lovable cameos, occasional laughs, guns losing to fists, and a taste of the Fast and Furious universe, is going to love it. Everyone else will just be happy to revel in the catharsis of celebrities mocking Game of Thrones season 8 on the big screen for the first time.