Right now, I’m reading Film History: An Introduction (Third Edition) by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell for the first time and it’s a fantastic read, it’s been so much fun to discover new terminology related to the oldest eras of cinema and learn factoids related to the earliest days of the major movie studios. Plus, the writing style of Thompson and Bordwell is extremely adept at explaining new concepts or ideas (like dadaism, for example) to readers who might be unfamiliar with them. My only real grievance with the book is that it doesn’t contain any chapters dedicated to “Hobbs & Shaw,” a Fast & Furious spin-off movie that might just represent the peak of cinema as an artform. The Lumiere Brothers would have wept succulent tears of joy if they could have lived to see this David Leitch directorial effort.
What is the plot of this feature? Well, American lawman Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and British terrorist turned superspy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) can’t stand each other’s guts but are forced to reunite when Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), has come into possession of a virus that could wipe out half the world’s population. Super-powered soldier Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), working for the evil corporation Etheon, is sent to get that virus and will kill anyone who gets in his way. The fate of the world is at stake. Looks like former rivals Hobbs & Shaw are gonna have to work together on a globe-trotting adventure that sees them both coming to terms with their respective families.
Ah, families, a word the previous eight Fast & Furious movies love. “Hobbs & Shaw” shares an affinity for families as well as a devotion large-scale spectacle just like its predecessor. Despite sharing those interests, Chris Morgan’s screenplay decides to make “Hobbs & Shaw” a standalone entry in the Fast & Furious saga. References to the other movies is kept to a minimum (I don’t think the character Dominic Toretto gets hinted at even once) while the tone here is more of a comedy with digressions into stylized action that would have been right at home in a particularly ambitious Saturday Morning Cartoon. Unlike “The Mummy” or “Batman v. Superman,” “Hobbs & Shaw” is an attempt to create a cinematic universe that realizes individual movies working as their own thing has to come before larger world-building.
And “Hobbs & Shaw” does indeed work in spite of a number of issues with its engine, er, script. Much of the comedy stems from extended insult exchanges between Statham and Johnson that have a tendency to go on too long like bits of improv comedy in a Judd Apatow movie nobody behind-the-scenes could bear to part with. Also a foible is that taking both the comedy and the action to such heightened extremes tends to create occasional tonal dissonance. There’s one point in the story where we go from Hobbs and Shaw trading wisecracks on an airplane to an intimidating horror movie sequence of Brixton Lore stalking a friendly scientist and its a tonal switch that just doesn’t work at all.
“Hobbs & Shaw” being an extremely breezy and enjoyable adventure is an aesthetic choice that taketh away, yes, but it also giveth in many respects. Specifically, it giveth a lot in terms of delivering scenes that just left me grinning wildly at the mayhem occuring. Much of the action scenes in “Hobbs & Shaw” have a sense of escalating absurdity that echoes less other action movies than it does the last minute of the music video for “Like A Boss.” This is a compliment. Jason Statham drives a dune buggy out a window. Idris Elba has a loyal motorcycle sidekick. At one point, Eddie Marsan shows up with a flamethrower and starts going all Rick Dalton on people. Director David Leitch honestly eschews realism here even moreso than when he directed a Deadpool movie last year and the results are a steady stream of outlandish spectacle that delivers on the delightful preposterousness one would want out of this movie.
Going for broke when the opportunity arises for ludicrous chaos turns out to be the perfect area for Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham to excel as actors. The basic tenants of Johnson and Statham’s rapport consisting of them being enemies who have no choice but to work together is nothing new, no question about that. But both actors are so enjoyable in their respective parts and they share such fun chemistry in their banter that they make sure that this old dog can still do a few new tricks. It’s also helpful that both of them are already such larger-than-life personalities in their previous action movies that a film like “Hobbs & Shaw” feels like the perfect star vehicle for them.
Fast & Furious newbies Vanessa Kirby and Eiza Gonzales don’t have a whole lot to do (hopefully that female-led Fast & Furious spin-off finally gives the ladies of this series something to do). On the other hand, fellow franchise newcomer Idris Elba makes for the perfect villain for this kind of film. My only real complaint with his baddie performance is that his character doesn’t have a handlebar mustache he could frequently twirl. Elba’s clearly all-in for this goofy pandemonium and I’ll freely admit, so was I, especially once a climax bringing the character of Luke Hobbs back to his home arrived. I was joking when I said The Lumiere Brothers would be crying tears of joy at watching “Hobbs & Shaw,” but I’m not joking when I say they, as well as general moviegoers, would likely have a blast watching Hobbs and Shaw.
Douglas Laman is a film critic, who, when not watching movies, attends Collin College, hangs out with friends… watches movies. For more of his work and ramblings, visit his website at www.landofthenerds.blogspot.com.