When The Fast and the Furious came out, the most outrageous thing that happened was a racer played his Playstation while waiting for a race to begin. Almost two decades and nine films later, it’s easy to imagine that this crew of former car thieves has nowhere to go but space. Fast and Furious was smart to swerve into its ridiculousness, as Fast Five upped the ante and made the series into a monstrous blockbuster franchise where physics and logic are completely irrelevant.
While the Fast & Furious franchise proper has gone more insane, its increasing insanity often occurs within a melodramatic narrative about family. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, however, highlights what made this series so hugely successful – crazy action, fun character dynamics, surprisingly solid humor – without the self-serious story. Hobbs & Shaw finally has the Fast & Furious films fully embracing their absurd path and creating one of the most fun movie experiences in an otherwise humdrum summer movie season.
With Dominic Toretto and his team nowhere to be seen, Hobbs & Shaw allows two of the secondary characters in the Fast & Furious franchise time to shine. Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and former assassin Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) hate each other, but they have to work together in order to stop an internal-organ-liquifying virus from getting into the wrong hands. Coming for the virus is Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), an ex-spy who now works for Etheon, an evil organization who wants to wipe the weak from the earth. Etheon has turned Lore into an actual superhero, enhanced with robotic tech and seemingly impenetrable to bullets. However, the virus has been stolen and injected into former MI6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Shaw), who, get this, just happens to be the sister of Shaw. Hobbs and the Shaw siblings have to get the virus out of Hattie, while also fighting off Lore and the overwhelmingly powerful Etheon.
Hobbs & Shaw introduces its two leads with a split screen, showing both protagonists’ daily routines, their similarities and differences. From this moment on, Hobbs & Shaw almost feels like two corresponding movies occurring at once. Director David Leitch (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde) and Chris Morgan – writer of the Fast & Furious series since The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift – craft a sort of parallel storytelling into each scene. It’s almost like watching two different video game characters work through similar quests in different ways. For example, when Lore kidnaps Hattie and then rappels down a skyscraper with her, Hobbs grabs Lore’s rope and slides down, barreling towards the ground. Meanwhile, Shaw simply takes an elevator, mocking Hobbs all the way to the bottom. Each scenario has two ways of handling the situation, and Leitch and Morgan have a lot of fun balancing these two throughout the film.
Coming from the director of Atomic Blonde, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Leitch brings quite a bit of style to the film that has been largely lacking in the F&F franchise. The opening cross-cutting between Hobbs and Shaw is particularly great, and by leaving any remaining believability behind, Hobbs & Shaw can get wild in its action sequences, without trying to stay grounded. But one of F&F’s greatest strengths that doesn’t carry on to Hobbs & Shaw is practical stunts and effects, and the film lags because of it. By letting chaos reign, very few of the stunts seem genuine, often leaving Hobbs & Shaw’s action set pieces with a sense of implausbility.
But for the most part, Hobbs & Shaw increases what works in Fast & Furious and works on improving what the series has done poorly in the past. Hobbs & Shaw boosts the comedy, turning Statham and Johnson into a pair of insulting idiots. The banter between these two is always charming, and with lines like Johnson saying “what the fresh turkey hell is going on here?,” it’s hard not to love the stupidly strange jokes and dialogue Morgan is giving these two actors. Maybe the most welcome addition to this world though is a legitimately great female character. Almost all of F&F’s heroines have been more or less just tools in the larger story, but instead, Shaw’s Hattie is introduced as a badass who can fight Johnson, and despite being injected with the killer virus, Hobbs & Shaw never turns Morgan into a MacGuffin for the larger story.
Hobbs & Shaw is what happens when this absurd franchise isn’t reigned in by foolish things like reason or story. Hobbs & Shaw has fun by being ludicrously unrestrained and giving the audience the over-the-top lunacy they crave.