Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw Review
It’s become something of a cheap gag amongst certain critical fraternities to mock the Fast and Furious franchise for its constant refrain towards "family". Across nearly two decades and nine (soon to be ten) films, “We’re a family” has straddled the line between drinking game high-scorer and get-out-of-jail-free card for a franchise that seems primarily concerned with keeping the automobile and protein powder manufacturers of the world in permanent business.
And yet, beyond the guns, gadgets and gravel of this new entry - easily the most overblown of them all - the strength of family wins the day. Our titular double act are Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, speaking with whichever side of his mouth isn’t curled into a snarl) and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, speaking with the voice of an entire continent). Hobbs’ daughter senses her father’s reluctance to confront his Samoan upbringing, while Shaw grapples with the disparate elements of his own familial past.
Their nemesis: Idris Elba as cybernetically-enhanced supersoldier, Brixton. His cry of “I’m black Superman” conjures glorious images of Elba encased in the red-and-blue of America’s favourite Boy Scout. Certainly, you’ll believe a man can fly... backwards, through the top deck of a bus, leaving it in a worse state than him. Brixton is classed as a ‘Human 2.0’ kind of deal; in which case, I’m intrigued as to the genetic makeup of your average man-on-the-street in the F&F universe, given that the cast of previous films have survived the sort of injuries that the Avengers would struggle to walk away from.
Equipped with a limitless horde of armoured cronies and a motorcycle that the production designers of Tron: Legacy would dismiss for being “a bit implausible”, he’s on the hunt for Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). Her possession of a super-virus which threatens the future of humanity (remember when these films were about street racers stealing DVD players?) sets her on a collision course with her brother and his unwilling accomplice.
A mere sideshow in Fast 8, the bickering bromance between Johnson and Statham takes centre stage here; the film relying as much on their comedic muscles as their literal ones. There’s the gags about Shaw’s height, Hobbs’ inability to solve a problem without turning the room inside out, and every flavour of crude zinger under the sun - proof that there’s no greater joy than the sight and sound of The Rock calling someone a wanker. Johnson’s charisma has never been in question, and Statham proved back in Paul Feig’s Spy just how wonderfully aware he is of his own brand. The two spark off each other so easily they could fall into a passionate embrace and it wouldn’t seem out of character.
Of course, they’re far too busy falling out of everything else (planes, cars, buildings - you name it, they’ve broken it) for any of that, and having a lot of fun doing it. And with action set pieces like these, who can blame them, frankly? While choppy editing fails to match the formal brilliance of Mission Impossible (the other globetrotting franchise currently filling the Bond-shaped hole in action cinema), and there’s little of the physical heft director David Leitch brought to Atomic Blonde, Hobbs and Shaw goes big on pure smash factor. If you haven’t laughed like a naughty schoolkid or sighed like their disapproving parent by the time each rollercoaster ride is over, your cinema hasn’t turned the sound up loud enough.
Leitch employs a few of his favourite players for a smattering of fun cameos (Eddie Marsan steals the show in one unforgettable moment), and as for Kirby - it’s her world, we’re just living in it. How great to see a franchise that has always grappled with representations of women (either as props for the drag race scenes or one-note token 'bad-asses') gift an actor on the cusp of her superstardom a role with as much activity and depth (no, really!) as her male counterparts.
Kirby and Statham somehow create a believable brother-sister connection in the first of this franchise to genuinely place family and belonging at the centre, with Johnson’s arc owing a surprising amount to the cathartic finale of Skyfall. Real-life family reunions probably have fewer tug-of-war matches between truck, Rock and helicopter, but that’s besides the point.
Anything close to relatable human action belongs not to the main events of Hobbs and Shaw - that’s for mere mortals, those for whom the bold, bald titans would barely pay a passing glance. For us; those gawking bystanders who can do nought but sit and gape before a fender-bender smears us across the pavement, this is how the world ends - not with a bang, but several bangs of increasing volume, incredulity and hilarity. They should have sent a poet.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw opens in UK cinemas on August 1