“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” Movie Review


     You really can’t blame Universal for trying.  Particularly when they stare each day at their tinseltown rivals, Disney, and the massive stable of lucrative franchises booked well into the future with titles from Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, and an endless string of remade animated classics ready for mass consumption with nothing but scraps left for competing studios.  The one non Disney franchisee to have a film (actually two) earn over $1 billion in the last several years happens to be under the Universal umbrella, and their latest offering is an indication they don’t plan on having the now 18 year old “Fast and Furious” franchise leave us anytime soon.  In viewing “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw”, that much is certain.

     I’m thinking the “Fast & Furious Presents” portion of the title was deemed necessary given the fact neither Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), nor Shaw (Jason Statham) are central characters in the long running series and the studio needed consumers to make the connection.  Luke Hobbs, a sort of government agent who specializes in tracking criminals around the world, first appeared in 2011’s “Fast Five” as an adversary for Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto.  They would later join forces in 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6”, and again in 2015’s “Furious 7”, where we were introduced to Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw as the primary villain.  Chemistry between those two in 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” obviously had executives at Universal wondering if a spin off with these two side characters could work.  “Hobbs & Shaw” would be a good indication of the viability of this franchise outside of the regular installments.

     Considering these films started in 2001 with “The Fast and the Furious”, a sort of remake of “Point Break” replacing the surfers with street racers, the series has come a long way.  At this point, Ethan Hunt and his crew would fit right into this world of international espionage that launched with the sixth film and hasn’t looked back since.  And I’ve thought highly of most of these films in the series mainly because the hours of screen time has allowed the characters to develop properly.  But that can only be said for the core group that includes Diesel’s Dom, Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty, Tyrese Gibson’s Roman, Ludacris’ Tej, and the late Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor.  Hobbs has spent every film since the fifth one being utilized as a glorified cameo, and Shaw, though an effective villain in the seventh installment, had a small role with big moments in the eighth film, leaving the larger impact to be had by the main players.

     “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2” director David Leitch, working from a script by franchise vet Chris Morgan, has created what plays like a 137 minute non stop action sequence that has “Hobbs & Shaw” reluctantly team up to as they often put it “save the world” from an enhanced being called Brixton (Idris Elba).  Brixton is in possession of an engineered virus that can threaten large swaths of the population and intends on using it.  But an MI6 squad, led by Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), raids the location where the virus is being kept and is nearly wiped out, as Hattie is able to escape by injecting the capsules that contain the virus into her body.  The CIA, apparently short on resources summons Hobbs and Shaw, convincing them to work together and track down Hattie before Broxton finds her and re-obtains the virus.

     That’s really all there is.  Leitch stages car chases, fight scenes, gun battles, and physics defying stunts that fill in the time where our two leads aren’t verbally assaulting each other.  It was a stretch they would work together briefly in “The Fate of the Furious” after the events of “Furious 7”, but when a franchise has made nearly $5 billion to date, it seems the consensus is to churn these things out if for no other reason than to stay relevant within a competitive marketplace.

     What results here is the kind of mind numbing noise normally akin to one of the “Transformers” films, where the action is so fast paced and often times unintelligible that the audience leaves with only a headache to show for their time spent in the theater.  What “Hobbs & Shaw” fails to do is add to the lore of the franchise in a meaningful way.  The story and everything within it quickly devolves into a nonstop series of one liners and cartoonish action set pieces that lack the inventiveness of the best of the series.  

     Though the genetically enhanced Brixton and the science fiction aspect of the group he works for certainly lends credibility to the rumor we may see the regular crew end up in space in either the ninth installment, scheduled for April, 2020, or the tenth installment which Diesel has said will be the final film, the uptick in tech doesn’t create the kind of excitement that made this series so appealing in the first place.  The one attempt at a connection with the franchise installments sees the filmmakers attempt to ape the family first mantra from Toretto by creating a lame scenario that has Hobbs returning to his home in Samoa after 25 years away.  Soliciting the help of his long lost brother and the rest of his family in order to make a last stand against Brixton and his crew, the entire sequence seems manufactured where similar circumstances in the franchise films have a more authentic feel.  This results in an experience that plays like a “Fast & Furious” film in name only.  Thus the reminder in the title.  GRADE: C-