Over the course of eight films the Fast & Furious franchise has delivered moments of such jaw-dropping ridiculousness, the makers had to know they needed more than just crazy stunts to justify a spin-off. Don’t get me wrong; Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is crammed with crazy, ridiculous stunts (a motorbike practically flies into the top of a double decker bus, in another instance a mid-air chopper is tethered to a string of cars while navigating the edge of a cliff), but the film leans just as heavily on the sheer charisma and the winning chemistry of its leading men.
Reprising their roles from the original franchise, Dwayne Johnson plays Luke Hobbs, a former federal agent, and Jason Statham is Deckard Shaw, a British soldier turned mercenary. You might remember they fought on opposite sides in the last film, and, while they still don’t particularly like each other, they reluctantly join forces this time to save the world.
The film’s villain is Brixton, a cyber-genetically enhanced soldier, played by Idris Elba, who calls himself Black Superman, although as the film progresses he becomes more machine than man. Brixton has been ordered to recover a deadly virus that could wipe out half of humanity, but it’s just his luck that rogue MI6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) has injected it into her body.
The plot, expectedly, is preposterous, but it’s good to see the actors having fun with it. Johnson and Statham alternate the blows and punches with name-calling and banter. While there’s no question they can pull off even elaborate action scenes with ease, their sharp comic timing is a surprise reward. I especially enjoyed a scene in which Statham single-handedly vanquishes a corridor full of bad guys even as Johnson looks on pretending to be unimpressed.
Hobbs & Shaw signals a departure from the early Fast & Furious instalments. It’s true; we’ve come a long way from the scrappy street racing origins of the 2001 film starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. What hasn’t changed is the emphasis on family. A plot turn designed to shoehorn this running theme takes us to the island of Samoa for the film’s big finale, where amidst teary reunions and emotional unburdening there are more chases and explosions.
To be clear, the film doesn’t skimp on action. There are some impressive set pieces like one staged at a London skyscraper that is intense and thrilling. It must be said here that director David Leitch has no problem holding a shot so we can appreciate and enjoy the action, unlike in other blockbuster films where breakneck editing frequently makes it hard to follow who is doing what to whom.
While the film is focused on its titular heroes, there’s enough for the other characters to do. Kirby, best known for playing the feisty Princess Margaret in The Crown, proved she can kick ass just as good as the next guy in last year’s Mission Impossible: Fallout. She brings more of that here, holding her own with the boys. Elba too appears to be having a blast as the tortured bad guy, even if the part itself feels woefully underdeveloped. There’s also clutch of unexpected cameos that provides a clue into what’s to come in further sequels.
Hobbs & Shaw is pure popcorn entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s a tad long at 2 hours and 16 minutes, but its winning cocktail of action and comedy, and the screen-burning appeal of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham seldom leaves you bored. I can’t think of two other actors who could’ve made such flimsy material work.
I’m going with three out of five for Hobbs & Shaw. It’s what the word ‘time-pass’ was invented to describe.
Rating: 3 / 5