There are two reasonable expectations to have before going into Hobbs and Shaw: it’s going to be loud and it’s going to be dumb. Those aren’t necessarily bad things either, given that the Fast & Furious franchise has built a billion-dollar fanbase on gaudy yet entertaining spectacle. That can be put down in large part to the likable character roster the series has assembled over several years, of which Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have been standouts for the previous two entries.
With Hobbs and Shaw, Universal Studios puts them to the ultimate test: trial by spin-off. It’s a move motivated partly by on-set bickering between Johnson and series stalwart Vin Diesel, as well as a desire to milk this cash cow for everything it’s worth and unfortunately that shows on-screen. There’s no narrative justification for jettisoning this odd couple dynamic to its own self-contained feature, but rather a cartoonish story about a super virus capable of wiping out large swathes of the human race. Think Mission: Impossible but with bigger muscles and a fraction of the brains.
Hobbs, Shaw and his sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) are all that stands between the villainous Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) and his macabre ambition: “genocide shmenocide.” For Elba, it’s the most embarrassing performance to date in a recent career history riddled with them. In this case, not only is it painful watching such an accomplished actor degrade himself for the umpteenth time, but his role here actually serves as a serious detriment to the film overall.
Donning cybernetic brain implants and state of the art bulletproof combat gear, the character proclaims himself to be “black superman,” yet at no point is there anything to support such an assertion. Instead, Brixton must be among the most incompetent villains to ever grace blockbuster cinema, gloriously failing in each and every attempt to thwart the film’s protagonists. Indeed, he functions less as a threatening presence and more as a foil for Hobbs and Shaw, which they can use to demonstrate their flawless fighting and driving ability.
As a result, the film lacks any sense of tension in spite of the world-ending stakes, leaving little thrill factor for the action sequences to capitalise on. Director David Leitch has a strong track record having helmed Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde and the first John Wick movie, but here his fight scenes leave a lot to be desired. While his previous three features have found ways to differentiate each tussle, here they all blend into the same mindless cacophony of kicks and punches that are devoid of any creative flair. It’s possible his hands were tied by the moronic contractual demand that neither Johnson or Statham can get too beaten up in this film, lest their rugged manliness be diminished in the eyes of the general public.
There is some fun to be had in the uber-macho quips they hurl at each other but they were noticeably sharper in 2017’s Fate of the Furious. Fortunately, franchise newcomer Vanessa Kirby is effective damage control during the film’s many slumps, providing strong chemistry with both leads and a welcome break from the unadulterated levels of testosterone on display.
Hobbs and Shaw had the potential to be the breakout blockbuster of the summer with its strong cast and very capable director, but squanders the opportunity to tell an idiotic story held up by an abundance of tedious action setpieces. The final nail in the coffin? An extended cameo from Ryan Reynolds which is excruciatingly unfunny and unbelievably irritating.
Idris Elba: fire your agent.