REVIEW – ‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw’ is just big, dumb, ridiculous fun

If there’s one film in 2019 where you know exactly what you’re in for, it’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Standing as the first (but surely not the last) spin-off to the uber-popular revhead franchise which has earned over $5 billion (!) at the worldwide box office, this new entry follows the same well-worn formula of its predecessors. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Overloaded with spectacular stunts, epic chase sequences, and brutal fistfights, it’s just big, dumb, ridiculous fun that goes well with popcorn. Nothing more, nothing less.

This film knows exactly what it is, never once taking itself seriously. And thank the lord for that. There’s nothing wrong with a film staying in its lane, and that’s precisely the path this spinoff sticks to. Hobbs & Shaw (sorry, that title is just too long to keep using) ups the ridiculousness of its setpieces to absurd levels, feeding into the insatiable appetite of this franchise’s audience who clearly want more spectacle with each new film.

Is it all becoming a little tiresome after nine films? If you’ve seen one Fast & Furious film, have you essentially seen them all? Is this spinoff offering nothing more than what we’ve seen before? Sure, but we’ve got the tenth chapter coming next year, so if you think this franchise is slowing down anytime soon, you best just get out of its way.

Kicking off with a brisk and lively London prologue, MI:6 agent Hattie (a supreme Vanessa Kirby) and her team come under the assault of “bad guy” Brixton Lore (Idris Elba, chewing all the scenery he can), a Terminator-esque rogue agent with genetically-enhanced robotic superhuman powers, care of a mysterious agency known as Eteon. Or, as he so eloquently puts it, he’s the “black Superman.” Yeah, just go with it.

Brixton is desperate to get his hands on a deadly bioweapon known as “Snowflake,” an apocalyptic virus that could be used to cause mass genocide. Choosing to risk her own life over the lives of millions, Hattie injects herself with the capsules containing the virus (which conveniently won’t dissolve and kill her for a few days) and flees the scene. After being framed for the theft of the virus and the murder of her team, Hattie is now on the run from both MI:6 and Brixton and his goons.

When the CIA (who somehow know she’s innocent) decide to track Hattie down, they call on the services of the titular mismatched duo who seemingly can’t stand each other. In Los Angeles, gargantuan beefcake Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) dotes over his young daughter Sefina (Lori Pelenise Tuisano), who quizzes him about why he no longer speaks to his family in Samoa. In London, hot-headed assassin-turned-mercenary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) visits his equally criminally-minded mother Magdalene (Helen Mirren) in prison, where she quizzes him about why he no longer speaks to his sister Hattie. Oh, yeah. The one with the virus in her veins.

With no choice but to begrudgingly join forces, Hobbs and Shaw set about locating Hattie somewhere in London before Brixton can get his hands on her and hopefully save the world from impending doom. But when the trio are framed for a London terrorist attack committed by Brixton, they’ll escape to Moscow in the hopes of securing a device that will extract the virus safely out of Hattie’s body.

On the run and running out of time before the viral capsules dissolve, the action eventually leads to Hobbs’ homeland of Samoa, where an uncomfortable reunion with his family awaits. But it offers Hobbs the chance to reconnect with his tribal heritage and employ some old fashioned fighting techniques to hopefully defeat the technologically-advanced Brixton.

The plot is fairly superfluous to a film like Hobbs & Shaw, but it’s always groaningly disappointing to see another action movie offer up the generic “bad guy wants a deadly virus to destroy the world” storyline. There’s an almost Thanos-like quality to Brixton/Eteon’s plan to eradicate half the world’s population to provide more resources for the stronger souls who somehow survive Snowflake’s wrath.

It leaves Elba with little to do but spout corny dialogue and passages of exposition at every turn, yet somehow he makes it entirely work. It’s a thankless role but Elba is so wildly enigmatic and captivating to watch, you can’t help but enjoy another of his villainous turns; something he’s becoming unnervingly great at. Every actor playing it bad should just have some fun with it, and Elba seems to be having an absolute ball here.

Likewise with the ever-reliable Kirby, who relishes the opportunity to play the ballsy, badass MI:6 agent and, yet again, manages to steal focus in every scene she’s a part of. One of the most refreshing aspects of the Fast & Furious franchise has been its steadfast determination to offer strong female characters who avoid the archetypical damsel in distress trope. Kirby proves up for the task of continuing this tradition, offering a tough and determined heroine to genuinely liven up this film. But the idea that 31-year-old Kirby and 52-year-old Statham were both young children at the same time is rather laughable.

Besides the relentless action (we’ll get to that shortly), the success of this film ultimately lies with the palpable chemistry between Johnson and Statham, particularly in the earlier segments of the film where their genuine hatred of each other provides plenty of old-fashioned buddy cop comedy moments. The mismatched pair make a wonderful duo, as they constantly bicker and throw childish yet acerbic insults back and forth. It’s hard to ignore the blinding fact both Johnson and Statham are merely playing the same generic characters they offer in practically every film they’re a part of. But they both play these roles well, particularly Statham, who is typically understated and sarcastic.

Undoubtedly, the majority of the audience is here to see a whole swag of insane stunts and batshit crazy set pieces, and Hobbs & Shaw has plenty to offer up. While not quite on the same level of absurdity as other Fast & Furious films (there are really only three major car chase sequences), the action typically defies the natural laws of physics and gravity to wild effect, typified by a scene where Hobbs and his ginormous arms manage to hold an escaping helicopter at bay via nothing more than a chain. Sadly, this means a large portion of the stunts are clearly computer-generated, robbing the film of the wonderful physical effects work we’ve seen elsewhere.

Where the film goes even further in the believability stakes is Brixton, his souped-up body, and a motorbike with the bizarre ability to fold and bend into tight spaces when necessary. It takes this franchise into almost sci-fi territory, which is certainly an interesting choice, but seems out of place in a saga that’s remained relatively grounded until now. Sure, it makes Brixton a formidable foe against two “mere mortals” like Hobbs and Shaw, but a bulletproof villain with super strength is something more at home in a superhero franchise and it simply pushes the boundaries of silliness much too far.

With a running time of over two hours, Hobbs & Shaw is far longer than it needs to be, especially in the film’s climactic Samoan showdown, which lands disappointingly flat. There’s some breathtaking location photography to showcase the island (well, it’s actually Hawaii because that was cheaper), and there are some charming moments between Hobbs and his fractured family. But, for all its pomp and circumstance, the sequence just doesn’t have the energy needed to provide a spirited climax.

While it may not reach the heights of its predecessors, Hobbs & Shaw is a guilty summer blockbuster pleasure which will no doubt land big bucks at the box office. It’s a spinoff that doesn’t reinvent the wheel of this franchise but still offers up enough leave-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment to please fanboys of this series. Dotted with a few delightful cameos which will remain unspoiled and plenty of delicious humour and action, this film knows what you came for and offers it up on a platter.

Distributor: Universal
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Cliff Curtis, Helen Mirren, Elza Gonzalez, Eddie Marsan, Elians Sua
Director: David Leitch
Producers: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Chris Morgan, Hiram Garcia
Screenplay: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cinematography: Jonathan Sela
Music: Tyler Bates
Production Design: David Scheunemann
Editing: Christopher Rouse
Running Time: 137 minutes
Release Date: 1st August 2019 (Australia)