Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham strut their stuff in this ludicrously fun Diesel-free spinoff.
Nothing could plausibly kill these guys. Hobbs & Shaw. Source: UPI.
Attitude is a tricky thing in action movies. At a time when most of the big franchises are based on the appeal of seeing the heroes sweat – think Tom Cruise pushing himself in the Mission: Impossible films, or Keanu Reeves’ bone-weariness as John Wick – the Fast & Furious franchise has steered hard the other way. Unfortunately, Vin Diesel, the backbone of the series since Paul Walker’s unexpected death, lacks the charm and swagger of an action star like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in his prime could make effortless violence seem like a good time. Enter Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, side players in the series, now given their own Diesel-free spin-off to strut their stuff. And while the stuff may be the same, their strut’s enough to pull it off.
When a deadly programmable virus that could turn billions of people into puddles goes missing, it’s time for a lot of hacking into mainframes and listening to chatter on the dark web. It’s also time for the weight-lifting Hobbs (Johnson) and the sharp-dressing Shaw (Statham) to get involved. Supercop Hobbs is the best tracker in the world, which we know because he just magically appears in the right place to catch his prey; unfortunately, his prey is Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 agent who just happens to be ex-spy Shaw’s sister. She injected herself with the virus to prevent it being stolen by Brixton (Idris Elba), a cyborg with a very cool motorbike that pretty much comes when he calls it, and now she’s on the run. Things explode, thugs are smacked about, the good guys are framed, the bad guys are some weird cult that wants to kill off the weak so the strong can evolve, and family is, as always in the Fast & Furious world, paramount.
It’s hard to convincingly argue that this is a more grounded entry in the Fast & Furious
franchise when the bad guy is part robot, Samoa is somehow the centre of a global market in hotting up cars, and Hobbs (briefly) prevents a helicopter from flying away by using a chain as a giant leash, but the many ludicrous action sequences here are still slightly more plausible than you might expect from a series that once featured a bunch of cars being chased by a submarine. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde
, Deadpool 2
) harks back to the height of the Fast & Furious
films (that’d be 5 & 6) by keeping the crazy sequences based in just enough reality that we have a decent idea of what could kill our heroes; thanks to the bad guys’ fondness for electric guns, it’s usually not bullets. Fans of Samoan war clubs will find a lot to enjoy in the climactic battle, which is not something you usually get to say in a movie review.
Of course, nothing could plausibly kill Statham and Johnson, especially as this film seems to be based on a kind of brand management where both actors are playing characters designed solely to be the refined embodiment of their movie personas to date. Statham here comes out slightly ahead, largely because he can act and his performance involves a humanising smidgen of comedic self-deprecation. Johnson is still fun to watch, but what should be an entertaining tension between being a caring dad and family man who is also a man-bull hybrid who pummels bad guys with glee, barely registers. He has no edge, whereas Statham, even in a silly cartoon like this, feels like a grown-up.
The big advantage this has over the Fast & Furious films is the smaller (and better) cast. Kirby gets close to equal screen time with Statham and Johnson and more than holds her own, while a string of cameos (including Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Hart, Helen Mirren, and Rob Delaney) are fun and (usually) don’t outstay their welcome. Even Elba, who’s barely given a character to play, manages to do a decent amount with what little there is; while it’s basically impossible for anyone to come off as a real threat in this universe (especially as the bad guys are constantly turning good; remember when now good guy Shaw seemingly murdered an entire hospital at the start of Fast & Furious 7?), he convincingly plays the unstoppable force to Hobbs & Shaw’s immovable object.
Statham and Johnson don’t really have much chemistry together, but the story works around it. Their early, mildly amusing scenes mostly involve them insulting each other and it’s not until they have to start committing serious violence that their characters start to click. For two actors so reliant on – and so good at – banter, it’s slightly surprising their characters only really connect when they stop talking; clearly fist-bumps and punching people through walls is the universal language here.
4 stars ★★★★
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw
Director: David Leitch
USA, 2019, 136 minutes
Release date: 1 August 2019