I’m not sure there’s a word for the kind of self-awareness found in the Fast and the Furious movies. It’s not self-deprecating, exactly; they are movies that know they’re ridiculous, but that nevertheless take all of their ridiculous excesses very seriously. They’re just as ego-driven as the ’80s action movies that set the tone for them, but this ego seems somehow more generous than before. Eighties action heroes needed to convince the audience that they were awesome, whereas the protagonists in the Fast and the Furious movies know this is a foregone conclusion. They are films that shatter the very idea of the guilty pleasure, because guilt is for the weak. They’re macho, of course, and they’re all about making their stars appear like extremely cool dudes — but they at least want it to appear seamless.
Part of the appeal, I think, is that it ratcheted up that idea slowly over the course of many films. There’s no way the franchise would be as beloved today if it hadn’t taken most of us by surprise that it ended up where it did. Alas, Hobbs & Shaw more or less does away with the insecurities of the improbable; the series’ first spin-off is shockingly down the middle and unbothered by its excesses, less self-aware than it is self-indulgent. It’s a movie that seeks to drop out of the rat race and find itself when, in fact, it has never worked a day in its life.
American special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and British… spy… guy… of some kind Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) hate each other, having spent a few movies pummelling each other on opposite sides of the law. Unfortunately, they’re each the best man for the job of finding Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 agent who has gone rogue during a mission in which she was to protect a highly volatile and deadly virus. What we know (and soon everyone else will also know) is that Hattie didn’t actually go rogue; she implanted herself with the virus in order to keep Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) — an actual MI6 agent gone rogue — from getting his hands on the virus. A robotically augmented super-soldier, Lore (like seemingly every villain these days) thinks that mass genocide is the only way to right the wrongs of the world.
And thus our heroes trade insults and sometimes punches, jet across the world, throw dudes through walls, ride every kind of motorized vehicle imaginable and so on and so forth until satisfactory carnage is attained. Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t stray too far from the formula of the previous films, but it does rework it into a buddy-action framework that doesn’t entirely work, in large part because it’s a comedic partnership in which both sides are the straight man. That means they mainly lob insults at each other — Statham is small (as is his penis), Johnson is big (as is his penis) — and butt heads over who is the manlier of the two.
As if perhaps all-too-aware that this is a limited dynamic to wrap a 136-minute movie around, the film also adds some egregious comic relief in the form of Ryan Reynolds (as a sarcastic, Deadpool-ish FBI agent with an unhealthy idea of boundaries when it comes to Hobbs) and Kevin Hart (as an excitable air marshall who offers his help as a bit of deus ex machina hobnobbing), who drop in once in a while to do their shtick. (Reynolds’ shtick mostly revolves around Game of Thrones spoilers, in case you’re not up on those yet.) It feels pretty crowbarred-in, and the fact that the film’s most superfluous comedic relief comes in the form of no less than the two biggest comedy stars in the world comes off as more than a little desperate.
What the film fumbles in comedy it tries to make up with wall-to-wall action. Considering that the franchise was left in the more-than-capable hands of David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde), Hobbs & Shaw fares better from a pure filmmaking standpoint than the majority of superhero movies. On the other hand, it pretty much is a superhero movie, its action scenes spilling out in the world of the airborne and augmented. Even the film’s best sequence, which sees Hobbs return to his native Samoa and enlist his family for convoluted hand-to-hand combat, is basically working off of the bases established by Black Panther in the past. It remains that for a movie promising action, it delivers good, well-directed action — which in 2019 is not necessarily a given.
Still, there’s something that feels particularly disheartening and manufactured about Hobbs & Shaw. I know it’s patently ridiculous to claim that a movie that’s nothing but shit someone made up feels manufactured, but the purely mercenary aspect of Hobbs & Shaw grates. Every decision seems to have been made based on stats culled from the Facebook accounts of 14-year-old boys. It’s a movie that feels less created than simply assembled, right down to its casting. I’m not the first to say this, but Hobbs & Shaw seems like the first movie where an algorithm did most of the dirty work. ■
Hobbs & Shaw opens in theatres Friday, August 2. Watch the trailer here: