“I don’t have friends, I got family!”
– Dominic Toretto
They’re the most iconic words in the english language, Vin Diesel’s declaration of love for his familia. Unfortunately, in real life, it seems like some of his family hates him, which brings us to Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw. The first, but probably not last, spinoff in the multibillion franchise, Hobbs and Shaw exists partially as an expansion of an established brand, but also potentially as a way for The Rock to keep making surefire box office hits in this universe without having to work with Vin Diesel.
The premise centers on the strange bedfellows relationship between federal agent Luke Hobbs (The Rock) and kind-of-a-criminal-but-sort-of-a-good-guy-now-but-didn’t-he-kill-one-of-the-friends-of-the-main-characters? Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). They’ve been forced to work together to retrieve Shaw’s MI6-working sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). In the most 90s action movie plot ever, they’re after her because shes in posession of… wait for it… a virus that could destroy the world. Then there’s Idris Elba as Brixton Lore (yep.. that’s his real name), a genetically engineered superhuman baddie who wants the virus for his own sinister purposes.
The plot itself is irrelevant. It’s typical action movie tropes that we’ve seen dozens of times over. What people will be coming to see are the action and the chemistry among the leads, notably Dwayne Johnson and Statham. The two have already had their share of run-ins in the previous Fast films, so here we get an extension of their comic disdain for each other. There are also a few cameos that go further to showcase Johnson’s chemistry with just about any living organism.
If there’s one missed opportunity here, it’s surprisingly Elba’s portrayal of the villain. While he has a silly backstory, his performance is surprisingly restrained for such a cartoon movie. He’s not bad, but perhaps a more over the top turn a’la Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man (1993) would have been more appropriate. Instead, the humor in his scenes fall flat and the scenery goes dissapointedly unchewed.
Even as Lore is a bit of a letdown as the villain, the sheer amount of action (mostly) makes up for it. At this point, viewers have decided whether they’re on board with the franchise’s liberal use of physics. At one point, Statham tries a car into The Rock can use a hook to lasso a helicopter. This is Saturday morning cartoon action, but if you’ve suspended your disbelief in previous Fast films, there’s no reason to start now.
It’s clear to see the wheels put in motion for this spinoff to lead to it’s own series of films. Whether it’s the inclusion of a couple of unexpected cameos, or Kirby’s turn as the sultry Hattie, the producers are putting a brand new team behind the title characters. Perhaps that’s why the film takes an excursion so Hobbs can visit his estranged family in Samoa, including a sibling rivalry based on the fact that Hobbs abandoned his home. This leads to Hobbs, whether intentional or not, establishing his own family to rival the Dominic Toretto family tree.
Overall, Hobbs and Shaw is the crazy, Monster energy drink with a splash of Four Loko adrenaline rush that the trailers promised. Does this frenetic energy make it a great action movie? No, while the film is bursting with energy and humor, nothing ever crescendos to anything particularly memorable. There’s better action films in this franchise alone, but taken as a backdoor pilot, Hobbs and Shaw is sufficient enough. But I suspect that the best movies featuring this specific cast of characters has yet to be filmed. In the meantime, we can place our bets on if the Fast and Furious characters or the Avengers will discover a multiverse first.