Review: FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW

“Fast & Furious” spinoff is tighter and more fun than the franchise that inspired it.

At one point in “Hobbs & Shaw” Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a worldwide, wanted fugitive on the run, magically manages to avoid a lengthy detention by airport security without incident. He tells the surprised Shaw (Jason Statham) something to the effect of, “what can I say, people just like me.” And it’s that self-aware, confident vibe that permeates the entire film, saturating it with likability in a way that few movies of recent vintage could ever hope to muster.

Having grown out of the “Fast & Furious” universe, “Hobbs & Shaw” is the inevitable result of the Marvel Cinematic Universe success. It’s a completely superhero inspired, ridiculous, righteously over-the-top fantasy that on paper has no reason to be as entertaining as it is. The personalities of its two leads, who share physicality but really little else, carry the movie from start to finish. And while the action sequences are extensive and, at times, eye-popping, they would be hollow but for the charisma of the cast.

Jawing and punching, both are hilarious!

The brooding, emotional, Statham, whose balletic fighting style has endured for going on two decades, is well-matched with the flashy, humorous Johnson, who’s the bull in any china shop. As Agents Hobbs and Shaw, they are thrown together to capture an earth-crippling super-virus, while battling the technologically enhanced Brixton (Idris Elba). Their third wheel is Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an Mi6 agent, who just happens to be Shaw’s estranged sister.

When Brixton attempts to steal the mysterious super-virus, Hattie escapes with it, only to be framed by Brixton and his shadowy organization. Hattie is a crafty one and stays ahead of her pursuers until Hobbs is brought in. Naturally, this is where Shaw gets involved and the two tough guys square off throwing more verbal jibes than punches both of which land with entertaining wallops. While the numerous fight sequences are perfectly staged and executed with great skill, the constant banter between Johnson and Shaw is the film’s real highlight.

Vanessa Kirby plays a high-flying MI6 agent.

The stream of insults is continuous and good natured as the boys (used loosely, elder statesman Statham’s 52) battle the forces of evil with their fists and their foul, quick-witted mouths. The dizzying globe trotting is so ridiculous, that even the players make jokes about it. And Brixton’s incredible strength and agility, which is the product of technological enhancements, is like something right out of a Marvel film. This baddie can punch through steel and stop bullets with the palm of his hand, but when he fights the dynamic duo, his punches barely leave a permanent mark. It’s outlandish, but somehow, it works.

At the head of this production is “Deadpool 2” director David Leitch. And the connection to that profanely scatological superhero property is obvious while watching “Hobbs & Shaw.” This is a film that might be an original property (written exclusively for the screen), but it owes so much to the deluge of costumed heroes that have taken over the box office. Leitch more than capably delivers another action extravaganza likely to spawn one of more sequels.

Statham drives a lot in this one.

The question is where does “Hobbs & Shaw” leave the “Fast & Furious” franchise? Like the “Avengers” films, will these characters return to take on an even bigger world-ending menace, but one that requires the whole varied team? As the success of these properties grows, so too will the demands of the actors when reprising their roles. Why, for example, should Johnson and Statham agree to share billing with the likes of Vin Diesel when they can carry the film all by themselves?

Idris Elba is a fierce villain, who’s been enhanced.

Like the power that Robert Downey, Jr., wielded in the first three Marvel phases through his character’s demise in “Infinity War,” will Universal Pictures bow to the star-power in the next outing? I suspect that this is one spin-off that is a harbinger of things to come—less team-up and more spinoffs. Such diversification will extend the life of the “Furious” franchise, while advancing the studio’s financial goals. And, as shown here, limiting the number of heroes actually tightens the narrative and enhances the fun.

This Statham and Johnson show is a ludicrous, comedic actioner, and I want more.

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