As a celebration of both their 20th anniversary, and the upcoming release of F9, Past of the Furious is a series of retrospectives going through the Fast and/or Furious film franchise, one by one, movie by movie. Together we will discover how a series that began about stealing DVD players became a modern-day GI Joe riff and Universal Pictures’ third biggest franchise ever (only behind Jurassic Park and Despicable Me/Minions).
In the wake of Fate of the Furious, the racing-adjacent series had reached a point of grossing billions of dollars and assuring itself as a global phenomenon. Behind the scene however, it was becoming increasingly clear that things were not quite as idyllic as the “family vibes” tone of the series would suggest. While both men never commented directly on it, there were more and more rumors that star Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson simply didn’t get along, and Johnson saw himself as the primary draw of the series. As a means to support the franchise as a whole and serve the creative desires of both stars, Diesel put on his producer hat and thought up a potential solution: spin off films.
Mere months after the Fate’s debut, it was confirmed that a film starring Johnson and Jason Statham was in development, featuring their characters Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw. It was titled, creatively, Hobbs and Shaw. Beyond the big news of being a full-fledged spin-off series, Hobbs and Shaw was also announced as the next Fast film to be released, as the ninth film in the central franchise was delayed a year into 2020. This made some waves amongst fans, and at least one core cast member when Tyrese Gibson allowed behind the scene frustration to bubble to the surface. Chris Morgan would assist with the script, and direction would be handled by David Leitch, hot off the success of the superhero comedy Deadpool 2.
The central plot of Hobbs and Shaw is fairly boiler plate: Adesigner virus is being sought after by international terrorist Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), which is complicated when the existing vile of it is injected in Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), Mi6 agent and sister to Deckard Shaw. Due to the circumstances, Hobbs and Shaw find themselves having to reluctantly work together to stop Lore from doing big bad stuff, with both of their families being drawn into the situation.
Hobbs and Shaw continued the hit rate for the series, though it did fall well short of a billion dollar global gross. Development of a sequel to the spin-off has been on-going, though it was obviously impacted by COVID as well as the long-delayed release of F9, which finally comes state-side next week. While the future of this series is unknown, Diesel has recently publicly said the central saga “only” has three more films in the gas tank, meaning spin-offs like Hobbs and Shaw may be the future of the franchise ongoing.
But what do we think about?
On paper, Fast & Furious Present: Hobbs and Shaw should be the best ridiculous movie ever made. Putting the quality dip from the nigh-unwatchable The Fate of the Furious and the Justice For Han movement aside, the scenes with Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw were among the most exhilarating sequences of F8. My excitement for this movie was elevated with the trailers promising a buddy comedy/high-concept sci-fi action film that feels like something of a 90’s action blockbuster throwback completely anchored on the wonderful chemistry between The Rock and Statham.
What we actually end up getting is a fun but soulless summer action blockbuster that works for the most part but as an entry in cinema’s most unlikely franchise is a bit worrying. Hobbs and Shaw is easily the most ridiculous, most self-aware & least sincere entry of the franchise so far. It’s also the most blatantly comedic entry with multiple long sequences of Apatow-esque locker room talk that gets so tiresome so quickly.
I used to believe that if I had to choose between The Rock or Vin Diesel that I would pick The Rock in a heartbeat. Now consider me completely on Team Vin. Now don’t mistake that as me saying that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson isn’t undeniably one of the most watchable and entertaining actors working today because he certainly is. Unfortunately for all that charisma, The Rock is one of the least interesting movie stars working today.
The Rock’s career is often compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger but feels so driven by focus group data that his image becomes bigger than the movies he occupies. The Rock’s image is so influential on his projects that I can never see him committing to a character or a director’s vision the way Schwarzenegger occasionally would. Frankly, The Rock has been so polished at this point that he might as well have been run through a tumbler. In Hobbs and Shaw, it only works to the detriment of the character of Luke Hobbs. The Southern goateed, Old Testament, blood, bullets, Wrath of God, aggressive character who hunted Torretto’s family 10 years ago is gone. Hobbs instead is replaced by The Rock’s take on the character: a smiling, clean shaven, charisma machine who women want to fuck and has no weaknesses whose main struggle is balancing being a secret agent and a perfect father who needs to reconnect with his family in Samoa.
This problem can also be applied to Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who inherits a lot of his same problems from F8. Statham’s natural charisma manages to carry the character through a rather poorly handled redemption arc as he goes from a sociopath one man killing machine with a twisted sense of family to a misunderstood war hero who was framed by his government. The arc is a bridge too far for a character that served as this franchise’s equivalent of Thanos but Statham does the best he can with this character.
In fact the most interesting Shaw in this film is Deckard’s sister Vanessa Kirby’s Hattie, who is the closest thing this movie has to a real human being in it. Sadly even her character just serves as a plot device to put Hobbs & Shaw in a room together and later be a part of a completely forced romance with Hobbs. She becomes a tired Bond Girl trope that oddly is something the franchise has managed to mostly avoid despite it’s constant male gaze. It’s amplified by The Rock’s & Kirby’s utter lack of sexual chemistry which oddly enough Statham has in spades with Kirby. The Rock and Kirby feel so uncomfortable for some reason that is hard to grasp.
It’s not all bad though. The cyborg villain Brixton played by Idris Elba is a fun addition to the cast. He utters lines like “genocide, schmenocide” in a way only an actor of his caliber can. Ryan Reynolds is the secret MVP of this movie. In his cameo, he delivers expository dialogue in a funny, sardonic and self-deprecating style that is his entire brand. Even Kevin Hart shows up for a few scenes and is rather funny. Their appearances serve as a breath of fresh air finally seeing comedy done by an actual comedian in this film.
The fight choreography is fun to watch, which is expected with Leitch’s John Wick pedigree. There is a sequence in Samoa that involves removing guns from the equation and another sequence of the dynamic bald duo having to get hit in order to defeat the big bad that feels inventive in such a generic action film.
The move towards full-on science fiction actually works. Establishing the more comic-booky elements within a spinoff of this franchise that is constantly jumping the shark is a brilliant lateral move. This movie has cyborg technology and a straight-up superintelligent motorcycle that can be summoned like a dog when you whistle to it. It all serves to establish just how flexible this insane fucking franchise is and allows the subsequent films to jump the shark in a way that never feels out of nowhere.
Despite all my praises of the move towards science fiction, Hobbs and Shaw (despite its best efforts) doesn’t present anything intriguing as far as setting up the world for a sequel. Will Hobbs’ daughter meeting his family mend whatever rift is between them? Did Ryan Reynolds stop that mysterious virus from getting out in the open? Will Hattie & Hobbs become an item? Who is the mysterious voice behind Eteon? Who cares? The tension between Roman, Tej & Ramsey is a more interesting hook for a sequel than any of these threads.
To make a long story short (too late!), HOBBS & SHAW is far from the worst entry of the franchise but it’s the only one that feels like a product and a cynical one at that. All of that being said, none of my criticisms of this film or F8 have got me any less excited to watch F9 this coming week. This weird wonderful franchise can take even the worst of sequels and use them as a foundation to come back stronger. And I’ll be with them till the last ride.
When Hobbs and Shaw came out, I got an invite to review the 4DX experience of the film. The experience was a mixed bag, as was the film. But overall, I liked both a decent bit. Then again, I wasn’t a part of “the family” at the time.
Fast fans were furious about the film and I didn’t get why. Now, I’m starting to get it. While it’s a perfectly okay actioner, it’s not a Fast film. It has a few things that feel akin to the series, but far more that don’t.
Grading the film outside of the series, it is a decent popcorn flick with some sequences that shine. However, we aren’t looking at these films outside of the series, are we? So, sadly… this is not one of the better installments. Then again, it’s not part of the standard cannon, but rather a spin-off. And, with that in mind, it’s a film worth watching — even enjoying — but not necessarily one worth owning. The rewatchability factor isn’t all that high.
Some fun banter, a few great action scenes, and Roman Reigns… yeah, so at least there’s that. But, Hobbs and Shaw doesn’t exactly excite anyone for future spin-offs in this series.
I really hate dwelling on behind the scenes drama and want films to stand on their own merit. So while all the drama surrounding Hobbs and Shaw is damned near impossible to avoid, I really want to consider it outside the issues with Johnson’s desire to take a more central role in the films. The problem being that the film really doesn’t let me, because Hobbs and Shaw is hardly a Fast movie. In fact, it kind of wildly misses the central conceit of the Fast franchise: the whole concept of Family.
Anyone who has heard anything about the movies can tell you the whole arc of the Fast Saga is about Family. But it is very decidedly about chosen family. Yes Dom and Mia are biological siblings (and as we know now, they have a brother as well), but the central family are bounded by passion, for thrill- seeking, fast cars and big scores. They have each other’s backs not because they have to, but because they choose to. When Dom says in Fast Five that the people in this room will be forever bonded, it is through their journey, their unity, not out of a sense of unfounded or biological duty.
Thus it’s kind of crazy that Hobbs and Shaw is literally about…the exact opposite. It is about the bond that comes with being part of a legacy, either Deckard’s unity with his sister, his mother and his mostly absent brother Owen (best Shaw, not sorry) or Hobb’s tortured relationship with his deeply rooted Samoan clan. This is all…fine, but it paints a weird contrast to what the central Fast Saga is about. I have argued before that the Fast films are ultimately about a group of outsider weirdos who find their people and in that bond become superheroes. By contrast, Hobbs and Shaw is about bad-asses being pulled into family conflict and duty. They are polar opposite tones.
Speaking of tone, Hobbs and Shaw is almost aggressively silly. And that isn’t likely accidental. You hire the Deadpool 2 guy, who can blend well-designed action with irreverent comedy. But once again, the thing that makes the Fast films special is that they take themselves seriously, not in any sort of sour sense, but the stakes are fully realized. By contrast, Hobbs and Shaw lurches between 90s camp and Looney Tunes wackiness. And it can be kind of grating, Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart cameos (likely as favors to Leitch and Johnson respectively) are amusing, but also glaringly knowing. This is a franchise that when it brings in big stars as a rule plays against their star power more often than not, or elevate lesser known actors. It is about the ensemble, not individual pops of knowing winks and nods.
I think all of this is why Hobbs and Shaw is so notorious amongst Fast fans. It isn’t a Fast movie, it is a Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham vehicle that pulls their specific characters out of the main series and gives them a tonally distinct playground to play within. I cringe at the rumors of a Jurassic Park/Fast crossover that keeps getting floated; but I can totally see a Hobbs and Shaw crossover, because it’s formless and generic. Those dudes punching dinosaurs in the face, cracking jokes and then palling around with Jack Black feels like precisely the energy this movie is pointing towards. Which in vacuum would be…fine, if not exactly inspiring. But when you’re talking about something as distinctive as the Fast movies…it feels borderline insulting.
Our Next Pit Stop: We have finally reached the latest quarter mile. Next week, catch our official review of F9.