Sometimes with a big popcorn action movie, the most you can hope for is that it’s not boring.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw sadly struggled with that criteria for the most part.
I’m not sure really what I was expecting, but after having seen the first trailer 6 months ago, I must admit I was optimistic. Having never been a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, I was pleasantly surprised at just how fun the promotional material was making this film out to be, and I was well and truly up for a loud, brash, but possibly self-aware action blockbuster with two leads that haven’t shied away from a little bit of ribbing at their own expense in the past.
The final film deftly avoids anything that would make it charming, or likeable, and instead doubles down on Dwayne Johnson’s and Jason Statham’s self-perceived machismo. As a result, the dynamic between the film’s protagonists Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw ends up feeling less like a musclebound odd-couple comedy, and more like some contract-mandated balancing act, where both characters have to get their equal share of physical and verbal blows in throughout the film’s running time. Given a recent Wall Street Journal article on these films, that’s probably not all too far from the truth.
On paper though, this seemed like a difficult film to get wrong. The plot is as basic as it gets: Hobbs and Shaw are in a race against time to stop a deadly virus from being unleashed by the bad guy, played by Idris Elba. Given that one of the writers here is Drew Pearce, a man who has put in some smart scripts for some quite high profile studio movies in the recent past, there was definitely potential for something a bit more substantial tacked on, or at the very least some wit and invention in the script.
Instead, Hobbs & Shaw ends up having to rely on surprise cameos and mid-conflict developments which arrive with no setup. Except for one character moment involving a flamethrower, which was about as close to a satisfying payoff as ever came in this film, every fight and chase scene’s progression felt so contrived and imagined on the spot, that they could have been taken from the nearest school playground.
It’s frustrating to watch; if the film had put the bare minimum of thought into how its biggest moments were to work, it would have been at least a bit more interesting. When films like John Wick 3 and last year’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout are taking so much care about how their action works and choreographing fights and chases to the smallest detail, it’s pretty unforgivable for Hobbs & Shaw, arguably the biggest tentpole action film this year outside of Disney’s slate, to feel so lacklustre.
For how old-fashioned the film feels, it’s not surprising that they did the bare minimum with the female lead. That said, when she’s not being captured and rescued in every other scene after the first act, Vanessa Kirby’s character Hattie holds her own here. While she’s essentially a trophy for the one main character to whom she’s not related by blood, Kirby is a likeable enough screen presence that her character never feels like the afterthought that she so clearly was at the writing stage.
Helen Mirren is also in this film, and I hope she had a nice day on set.
If not for them though, the film would have been an unwatchable, adolescent fever dream complete with lingering female chest and butt shots, vehicles that defy physics and masculinity so fragile that it wouldn’t be surprising if Johnson and Statham needed to be transported around in bubble wrap. Hobbs & Shaw feels like the kind of film the makers of Zoo Magazine would have made in their heyday, and if this was meant to work as a stepping-on point for newcomers to the Fast & Furious series, I’ll be all too glad to step right off again.