I’ve had a weird relationship with the Fast and Furious franchise: I was a fan of the first three films, because at the time I was a ‘car nut’, but ever since the franchise took a more action-oriented approach and I started caring less about cars, angsty-teen me thought that the Fast and Furious movies were soul-less, effortless, “stupid” movies that would not please my “film lover” sensibilities. Thankfully, I grew out of that phase as well and what helped a ton was Fast and Furious 7, directed by James Wan; I wasn’t going to miss out on his next movie, even if it was the “stupidest” franchise, but I was surprised by how genuinely entertained I was by the movie and went back to watch the previous entries which I absolutely loved, and turned me into a fan ever since. Why did I give that context in relation to Hobbs and Shaw? I think it’s important to know what I went in expecting and demanding from a movie in the Fast and Furious franchise, but also because reviewing this movie “objectively” (meaning without context on what has come before it and where it matches up in comparison to that) is even more meaningless than normal—which is completely meaningless.
For those of you who have not seen a Fast and Furious movie and are interested in a big, dumb, ‘spectacle, fun, action first’, summer blockbuster – then look no further than Hobbs and Shaw! You don’t have many choices this summer anyway (if you remove superhero movies because they are a genre of their own); it’s basically John Wick Chapter Three (which I don’t consider in the same category, but can be enjoyed as a blockbuster) and Stuber, which I haven’t seen but looks kind of fun. Regardless, Hobbs and Shaw is a spectacle driven, action set-piece movie, with a lot of one-liners, laughs, and constantly energetic action, which makes it the best summer blockbuster for me. For everyone else who are fans of the Fast and Furious franchise and are looking for a more contextualized review, Hobbs and Shaw is a very interesting spin off that does some things better than any of the previous installments, but also does not reach the highs the series is known for.
Directed by David Leitch (of John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and Deadpool 2 fame), Hobbs and Shaw goes for the same overall ‘feel’ as previous Fast and Furious movies, but in a different way: Where previous movies in the franchise centered around this outcast ‘family’ of outlaws trying to do the right thing, Hobbs and Shaw is about two different characters forced to work “together” to achieve the same goal; where the Fast and Furious franchise was mostly centered on action set-pieces that featured cars, Hobbs and Shaw allows itself more leeway in that regard; where Fast and Furious creates levity from specific characters (mainly Roman), Hobbs and Shaw creates comedy from the banter of two characters who really don’t like each other. I could go on, but you get the point; on paper, Hobbs and Shaw is a different movie from previous Fast and Furious movies, but in practice they go for the same blockbuster sensibilities—shoot a bunch of great action scenes, fill in the blanks with easy to follow drama and a few good laughs. With this perspective, Hobbs and Shaw does an even better job in creating drama and genuinely good comedy from the chemistry between the leads and how they are characterized for this iteration, than any other Fast and Furious movie; it’s not great drama or comedy, but it’s much better than it was before. Add in Idris Elba as an overpowered and single-minded villain (who also has the natural charisma that Elba brings to every role he does), and you have an extremely entertaining execution of a generic set up (which is what Fast and Furious movies are). Beyond that though, Hobbs and Shaw has some great over-the-top action scenes including a ‘helicopter vs. cars’ scene that was an absolute blast to watch. Director David Leitch has got a bit of a reputation for excellent action scenes and he brought that expertise on set and it shows as for my tastes, this is the best action work in the Fast and Furious franchise thus far. The standout feature by far though, has to be how the movie leans into the dumber elements it has and makes them more entertaining (without falling into the trap of feeling like the makers are not taking their work seriously); my favorite example of this, is when the Rock is shirtless during a climactic battle and someone calls him over, and on his way there a guy fighting an epic battle against evil invaders, stops to hand the Rock a shirt. I laughed for 10 straight minutes talking about that scene with my buddy and I wish I see more of that in the next Fast and Furious movie.
So, where does Hobbs and Shaw as well as it could? Cohesion; Hobbs and Shaw has better comedy and better action, but because it still structured and presented as a Fast and Furious movie, it doesn’t blend as well and a lot of the action starts feeling pointless. The sci-fi elements help somewhat medicate that feeling, but especially towards the end, the movie felt jarring when it switched emphasis from comedy to action to drama and in-between; by the way, I’m not talking about being so over-the-top that it breaks suspension of disbelief, but I am talking about the movie falling into a safe zone and never leaving it, which made me less surprised and entertained by the end.
Regardless of that, Hobbs and Shaw is an excellent spin-off and a great summer blockbuster; it’s not perfect and the ways it isn’t as good as it could be make it more underwhelming in the short term, but on reflection I’ve had a great time experiencing the movie and remembering all the great scenes in it. I would not be surprised if, when it releases on Blu-ray and my buddies and I can watch it with beers and in the comfort of our own homes, this makes it on my favorite movies of the year list and seriously contents with Fast Five for my favorite Fast and Furious movie.