Film Review – Hobbs & Shaw
Hobbs & Shaw
Of all the things the Fast and Furious franchise is concerned with, continuity falls way down at the bottom of the list. This series started out with a simple cops and robbers premise. It’s now changed to over the top action with spy agencies, counterespionage, skydiving cars, submarines, and helicopters getting lassoed by jeeps, all surrounded by a cacophony of explosions. Oh, and don’t forget, it’s all about family.
In terms of completely ignoring consistency, the biggest culprit is Jason Statham’s character, Deckard Shaw, one half of the spinoff, Hobbs & Shaw (2019). As some fans may remember, Shaw was introduced into the franchise as the brother of one of the main villains and was responsible for the death of a beloved character. He was meant to be a major antagonist, but because Statham shares good on-screen chemistry with Dwayne Johnson (who plays DSS agent Luke Hobbs, the other half of the duo) somehow Shaw has been flipped to be the grizzled, tough-guy-with-a-heart hero. It’s as if the production (David Leitch as director, Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce on screenplay) have entered an alternate reality where the same names and faces exist but are rearranged to fit whatever story is being told regardless of what has come before. In comic book terms, this is “multi-verse” structuring.
The comic-book/superhero description isn’t that far off. Here, we have a villain named Brixton (Idris Elba) who calls himself “Black Superman.” Brixton has been upgraded with bio-technology that allows him to have superhuman strength, a bullet proof body armor, and a visual display that makes him more robot than human. Adding on to his ludicrous arsenal is a motorcycle that looks like it came from a recycled Transformers concept design, shapeshifting to fulfill Brixton’s every need. Brixton’s mission is to obtain a deadly virus that can wipe out all of humanity. Oddly, his justification for unleashing this virus involves the environment. Every other villain nowadays wants to destroy humanity for destroying the planet’s ecosystem – it seems a bit counterproductive, if you ask me.
Things take a turn when Shaw’s estranged sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) steals the virus by injecting it into her bloodstream (because reasons). Hobbs and Shaw must then work together to extract the virus out of Hattie before it is released and becomes contagious, all while avoiding Brixton and his minions. And thus, we are subjected to nearly two and half hours of Hobbs and Shaw bickering and fighting, coming to blows in nearly every scene they share. Granted, Johnson and Statham work well together and their banter is funny at times, but the insults and macho posturing is so overwhelming that we start to wonder if these two really hate each other or if they’re in love. If we look at their dynamic under a different microscope, it could very well be the first half of a romantic comedy.
The theme of “family” has been long running in the Fast and Furious, and while it may be played as a bit of a joke at this point, it has been the underlining reason the series has sustained itself for this long. These are characters that we enjoy being around, watching them pray over a family BBQ is just as fun as seeing them perform outlandish stunts. We get a little of that this time, but the effect doesn’t work as well. Shaw briefly visits his mother in prison (an underused Helen Mirren), but her biggest character motivation to get out to commit more crime. There is, of course, the sibling interplay between Deckard and Vanessa, but the fact that Statham is 52 and Kirby is 31 undermines the idea of them growing up together. Things work a little better with Hobbs, as he deals with his relationship with his daughter (Eliana Sua) and rediscovering his Samoan heritage. But this aspect isn’t given enough time to flesh out, stepping aside in favor of the action.
Speaking of which – I’ve refrained from talking about the action because there isn’t really much to talk about. There’s plenty of it, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. None of the set pieces stand out, and the reliance on CGI effects dampens the believability. When Johnson does a freefall from atop a skyscraper, the artificiality is so prevalent that any suspense evaporates. Even the hand to hand combat has little excitement. How often do we need to see Statham elbow a guy from behind him without looking? At one point, both Johnson and Statham perform a HALO jump, where they both skydive from a high altitude and then release their parachutes just before reaching the ground. Compare this to what Tom Cruise did in Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) and you can see how one worked and the other didn’t.
There’s one key set piece that best exemplifies Hobbs & Shaw. It begins in the middle of the night. Just as the sequence gets underway, the setting immediately changes to a sunny, brightly lit day. The scene ends once again at night in the middle of a rain storm, no less. There is no transition between night and day, it changes literally from one cut to the next. This phenomenon in time and weather indicates that the action took place in the span of at least 24 hours. I’m all for the suspension of disbelief, but goodness gracious, the line has to be drawn somewhere, doesn’t it?