Part-car-chase-action, part-buddy-comedy, and arguably part-superhero film, ‘Hobbs and Shaw’ serviceably assembles the requisites for a popcorn blockbuster.
The plot of the Fast & Furious films truly came a long way from illegal street-racing and high speed heists. Its newest spin-off, Hobbs & Shaw, ratchets up the stakes by involving a deadly virus that can wipe out half of the population. Apparently, it boils down to averting a Thanos phenomenon. I’m not sure if screenwriters Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce originally intended their script as a pitch for a Marvel or a Mission: Impossible film, but do we really care? The latest chapter may feature less cars and more formulaic blockbuster elements, yet one thing has always been consistent – the franchise’s over-the-top ambition to wreck your suspension of disbelief. Hobbs & Shaw knows that its explosive stunt choreography is the main reason why we’re along for the ride. It’s outrageously fun and ridiculous.
There are at least two more reasons for this spin-off: 1. Vin Diesel and The Rock reportedly had some beef, so both are not exactly thrilled to work together anytime soon; and 2. This actually serves as a way to extend the franchise without the need of having all the A-listers. Hobbs & Shaw capitalizes on two previous anti-heroes and puts them in a buddy action-comedy: a federal law enforcement officer Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and a world class thief/mercenary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Both are epitome of toxic masculinity, but these bald, muscle-bound alpha males are different in many ways and they hate each other’s guts. Soon, they have to work together. For Hobbs it’s another job of saving the world, while for Shaw, it’s a personal quest to save his estranged sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby).
Director David Leitch (Deadpool 2 and John Wick) mostly assembles Hobbs & Shaw with spare parts from previous action films – you will be reminded of M:I – Fallout, Mad Max: Fury Road, Skyscraper and even Kingsman at some point. The resulting model feels less like a F&F film and more like the standard flicks that The Rock and Statham have starred in. The film also tries to occupy the comedic lane with its brand of lowbrow banter. And in case it’s not clear, Leitch drops a couple of big star cameos doing gags along the way (they will remain unnamed for your surprise). Or you can just wait for the part where Hobbs and Shaw funnily engage in slow-mo punches. Or the part where Hobbs and his brothers perform a Samoan chant before throwing themselves into battle. Yes, that really happened. Sure enough, the film gets away with its absurd setups with the help of the winning charisma of its leads.
Elsewhere, I saw the order of the epic stunts coming from a mile away – no thanks to the trailers that spilled too much of the set pieces. There’s supposed to be a grave sense of danger – moments where butts should be lifted from seats – but since almost everything here defies physics and common logic, you might as well get a good laugh at its audacity and willingness to lunacy. In one scene, Hobbs fearlessly jumps out of a skyscraper to catch a henchman who’s rappelling down below. Twenty seconds later, he jumps again in pursuit of a different henchman, effortlessly changing the trajectory of his freefall. And lest we forget the portion where Hobbs holds down a helicopter using his terrific biceps. Captain America would be proud.
And since we’re almost dealing with superheroic stuff now, it’s only fitting that Hobbs & Shaw introduces the franchise’s most formidable villain yet – the Winter Soldier, er, Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a bionic MI6 agent who calls himself as the “Black Superman.” Given his skillset and abilities, he can also be a terminator and a transformer for all we know. Elba knocks his role out of the park, however, the biggest revelation here is neither him or the two leads. Vanessa Kirby’s Hattie steals the show with her exquisite balance of classiness and feistiness. Her character does not succumb as a damsel in distress – she can beat up guys on her own, all while remaining to be the film’s source of emotional friction. Someone please give Kirby a solo action feature.
You can accuse Hobbs & Shaw as a mindless form of entertainment but it’s never soulless. No matter how bonkers the action sequences can get, the film abides by the franchise’s hallmark of putting the family first above anything else. Such a theme can be a contractual obligation by now – both leads here are in need of a family reconciliation. Their respective subplots could’ve been done better as they’re a bit overplayed and underdeveloped. But it’s the sentiment that counts, I guess.
Overall, this spin-off manages to have fun without having the burden of tying much of its ends to the F&F universe. Leitch keeps the action and comedy running at full speed, even if the pacing starts to drag at times. The outcome is something you’ve seen before – more or less, but it’s still highly enjoyable. And sometimes, that brand of ridiculous and fun is just enough to keep the action aficionados happy.
3.5 out of 5 stars