Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw (2019) - Review

With the sudden surge in popularity for the 'Fast and Furious' films in recent years, it's no surprise to see the franchise spin-off two of its most popular leads into a film. 'Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw' (alternatively titled 'Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw') stars Dwayne Johnson and Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw, with Vanessa Kirby playing Shaw's sister and Idris Elba playing a one-off villain.

The plot is rather confused and never fully established, starting off with Vanessa Kirby stealing a mysterious virus from a van, and somehow linking this all into Idris Elba as a cyborg mercenary working for a shadowy organisation (named sequel set-up). The CIA and MI6 have to work together to send in Hobbs and Shaw to find Shaw's sister and stop whatever Idris Elba is up to...which is never entirely clear. Elba's motivations are a bit odd at best, and there's something about the virus murdering everyone on the planet. Quite why someone invented this and then spectacularly failed to look after it is never addressed, neither is the scope of the mysterious organisation. I understand that few people are here for the plots of the 'Fast and Furious' films, but 'Hobbs and Shaw' could at least be a little clearer. I usually find that simpler plots or premises create the best action films, and sadly 'Hobbs and Shaw' is a bit too confused in that department.

It doesn't help that the film often stops dead in its tracks to throw in a random celebrity cameo, whose clearly improvised interactions go on for far too long. 'Hobbs and Shaw' clocks in it at two and a quarter hours long, and there is no need for the film to go on for so long. There's an entire sequence dedicated to a weapons expert (played by Eiza Gonzalez) who ends up contributing nothing to the story. In fact, I think the film could've cut her out entirely and it still would have made as much sense as it was always going to.

It's also difficult not to see the film as overbearingly "macho", and with recent reports about how large the egos of the 'Fast and Furious' cast are (bigger than their biceps, it would seem), one can't help but see the entirety of 'Hobbs and Shaw' as an ego-boost for Johnson and Statham. Neither gets hurt particularly badly, and their fight scenes seem to have been engineered in such a way so that neither has to do too much. Director David Leitch previously directed 'Atomic Blonde' and co-directed 'John Wick' - both of which put their big-name stars through some incredible, if spectacularly intense fight sequences. Neither film holds back on its violence, or on the intensity of the stuntwork for their respective casts, but 'Hobbs and Shaw' seems to be too busy trying to please its two leads instead of pushing them physically. Vanessa Kirby and Idris Elba fare better - Leitch shoots their sequences with wider angles and fewer cuts - but they lack the attention that Johnson and Statham receive. The action is either close-up and quickly-edited, or poorly green-screened. Elba's character has a magic bike that helps him to do impossible stunts through the magic of CGI, whilst a car chase with Statham looks about as realistic as the plot.

'Hobbs and Shaw' has come out a time when action movies are pushing themselves further and further into intense, realistic sequences that push not only the actors but the directors into giving the audience a more visceral experience. See what Christopher McQuarrie offers in his two 'Mission: Impossible' films, or Chad Stahelski with his 'John Wick' trilogy, or even Leitch's own 'Atomic Blonde'. Audiences should rightfully expect more from two renowned action stars and such a prolific director as Leitch, but the film isn't interested in giving the audience the best action it can manage. If the film was attempting to be so over-the-top that the sequences couldn't be done without visual effects, fair enough. Dwayne Johnson isn't known for realism with his filmography, but for a franchise about intense car chases, I expected quite a bit more from the film. It all seems a little bit pathetic compared to its competition. It's neither big and silly enough to warrant its excessive CGI, nor is it small and visceral enough to get the blood pumping.

What really doesn't help the film is that whilst Statham and Johnson can pull off the constant banter, their characters never really grow much beyond that. They're constantly in a measuring contest. Who can defeat the most bad guys? Who can punch the hardest? Who has the biggest...er, biceps? Statham can barely maintain his more emotional moments with Vanessa Kirby, whilst Johnson manages to just about pull-off some of his "less macho" scenes. For a film about the importance of family, Statham and Johnson seem to want to come across less as family men and more as super-macho men who manage to get their family to go along and support them. Dwayne Johnson can be great with a softer, more nuanced performance. See 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle', in which he contrasts a "soft" and "nerdy" performance with his humongous physique. It's a great watch, and it's nice to see The Rock  take the mickey out of himself. Quite why he won't here is beyond me.

And yet when one finally comes to the end of this bloated, overlong action flick, the plot isn't even resolved in a satisfying way. An ominous baddie remains ominous and unnamed, set-up firmly for a sequel that will probably happen, but will no doubt be just as generic. Idris Elba's villain here is constantly overshadowed, inexplicably defeated by the "inferior" Hobbs and Shaw, and then disposed of quite casually at the end as if he didn't mean anything. There's a backstory to his character, but its very vague and clich├ęd. So too is Vanessa Kirby, who feels more like a plot device than a character.

Now, all of these criticisms are not to say that 'Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw' isn't a fun time at the movies, but it's not really as good as it could have been. The trailers sold a hilarious, action-packed buddy movie, but the finished film isn't quite as entertaining as those trailers made out. The story is unnecessarily convoluted, the action rather generic, and if you're looking for character development, you're looking in the wrong place. If you're on board with this franchise, I imagine you'll enjoy 'Hobbs and Shaw', but I was hoping for a bit more from any aspect of the film. 5/10

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