The easy winner of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw isn’t the audience, but Vin Diesel’s ego as yet another would-be spin-off crashes and burns without him.
We’ve seen this before with Paul Walker’s 2 Fast 2 Furious and the underwhelming The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. This franchise just works best when it’s centered around Diesel’s Dominic Toretto. The big difference here is Diesel’s off-camera rival Dwayne Johnson was poised to launch the first real threat to Diesel’s ironclad control over the franchise with this spin-off teaming him with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw.
Johnson’s Hobbs has been one of the highlights of the series since his 2011 debut in Fast Five and he’s been positioned as a big breakout character from the start. Diesel seemed to be in his feelings resulting in tension so bad the two didn’t actually shoot their scenes together in The Fate of the Furious. While Johnson worked on his presumably first of several spin-offs, Diesel brought aboard Johnson’s old WWE rival John Cena to take his spot for Fast & Furious 9. It’s been a messy and petty divorce and one more engaging than most of the mayhem in Hobbs & Shaw.
How does a seemingly can’t-miss spin-off lead to one of the summer’s most disappointing efforts? It’s got the recipe for success with acclaimed director David Leitch (John Wick, Deadpool, Atomic Blonde) handling the action and Fast and Furious screenwriter architect Chris Morgan tackling the script. And of course the mega-watt charisma of Johnson and Statham teaming up?
It’s that old notion of everyone loves ice cream, but nobody wants to have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In this case replace ice cream with ridiculous even for this franchise action sequences — mind you, this is a series that featured characters leaping off tanks and driving through skyscrapers. And in place of fudge, caramel and nuts toss in an endless barrage of increasingly cornier jokes trying to reach the organic dynamic Hobbs and Shaw had in Fate of the Furious. Think Deadpool only with lame jokes that feel like the writers needed to take a break and try again.
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The Hobbs and Shaw dynamic works to a point, but it shows why not so secret ingredient that’s made the Fast & Furious series so successful. Hobbs and Shaw are great in small doses, but over the course of two hours it’s tiring. That’d be the case if we had a FF spin-off featuring Tyrese’s Roman and Ludacris’ Tej. The comedic bickering can only sustain for so long.
Balancing Roman & Tej’s antics with Dom’s fatherly devotion to his crew, Lettie’s fierce loyalty to the family and Hobbs as the closest thing the series had to a superhero worked. Along with the late Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner providing that devil may care attitude, the crew was one of the few that didn’t wilt under the Marvel Studios juggernaut.
Dom always speaks on the importance of family and Hobbs & Shaw suffers from that established family bond with the rest of Dom’s crew. To fill in the gap, Morgan and co-writer Drew Pearce rush to flesh out some more backstory for the main characters with an emphasis on reuniting family bonds.
For Shaw that means reconnecting with his MI-6 sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, Mission: Impossible – Fallout). The Shaw clan is starting to become a running joke in the series as each new Fast and Furious installment introduces yet another member of the family. Given the emphasis on family, it seemed very weird that Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw didn’t make an appearance since he was the one who introduced the Shaw clan in this series.
Maybe it doesn’t annoy most fans of the franchise who love watching Shaw expertly trade barbs with Hobbs as easily as quick as his side kicks, but this retcon of the dude who killed Han into this funny spy is still weird. The comedy is so odd here as neither character comes off as cool as they did in previous installments.
Hobbs’ backstory has never really mattered as he’s a soldier who brings down fugitives. His family subplot feels equally unearned as he returns home to Samoa after decades away expecting everyone to welcome him with open arms despite not cluing anyone in to the fact he’s got a daughter.
Hattie has injected a deadly virus and has days to live before it kills her and unleashes a new age plague. Chasing her down is souped-up bad guy Brixton (Idris Elba, Thor: Ragnarok) whose technical enhancements have basically turned him into as he describes “Black Superman.” Elba makes a heck of a villain, but his swagger and motorcycle that’s basically a Transformer without an alt mode, are wasted here.
Brixton is part of the problem though as he’s too formidable a foe for Hobbs & Shaw to conceivably defeat and Leitch can’t convincingly find ways for Brixton to stop his pursuit to lick his wounds. There’s no reason he shouldn’t just go after them non-stop since he’s basically a T-1000 anyway. Brixton isn’t the main man behind the bad guys as an ominous voice gives out the orders. It’s a little frustrating that despite three post credit scenes there’s no payoff on that front presumably so that mystery person can be revealed in the sequel.
Eiza Gonzalez (Baby Driver) has a cameo as an arms dealer who runs around in her bra for dramatic measure and there’s a pair of unexpected cameos that provide some genuine laughs.
Eventually, Leitch abandons any pretense of logic as he barrels through one destructive set piece after another. Too often the action is too over the top to take serious, but it’s done in a way that’s not much fun either. Hobbs crashed out of a building in Furious 7 that laid him up for half the movie. Brixton might be Black Superman, but Hobbs is The Rock on full-on no-sell mode. It kills a lot of the suspense when Hobbs just shrugs off everything including opening a parachute 10 feet from the ground, having a bridge dropped on his car port and fighting a dude with cyborg parts.
The final battle is just silly in execution. It starts out at night and then five minutes later it’s bright 9 a.m. looking daylight. That also seems avoidably sloppy as Hattie is operating on a time sensitive deadline that wouldn’t account for night to day. Leitch throws in so many unbelievable action sequences that the final act can’t top them and instead has to just go longer to seem just as exciting. Oh and to give Johnson’s WWE cousin Roman Reigns a chance to lay in some of his finishing moves.
Hobbs & Shaw reeks of the discount scent of desperately trying too hard. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but when the only answers are more jokes and more explosions it gets old quick. As an unapologetic fan of the series, I’m not thrilled to say this is vying for the worst in the franchise honors.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures