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Star power in modern Hollywood isn’t what it once was. It used to be that casting a beloved and/or trendy lead actor was the ultimate key to box office success, but – as has been noted in many think pieces written in the last few years – that’s not really the case anymore. Save a handful of exceptions, mass audiences today are far more interested in recognizable brands and familiar characters than any single performer, and it’s a shift that has completely redefined the market.
David Leitch’s Hobbs & Shaw, however, is a film that aims to have its cake and eat it too. This is a blockbuster tied to one of the biggest franchises in the world (the full title includes the prefix Fast & Furious Presents), but simultaneously it’s an independent spin-off essentially inspired by the powerful popularity of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. In the current cinematic climate, that’s the equivalent of a loaded deck, and in that vein it delivers on its promise. It’s a showcase for bonkers action and charming charisma, and while the story occasionally veers a bit too far into the ridiculous and messy, it’s successful in the end just because of its excellent entertainment value.
Fans of the Fast & Furious franchise will recall from the two most recent chapters of the main series that Diplomatic Security Service Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and MI6-trained rogue spy/assassin Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) aren’t exactly in each other’s fan clubs. Being natural adversaries as cop and criminal, the bulk of their screen time together thus far has been spent either physically fighting, or trading insults. They can barely spend a second in a shared space together without throwing chairs or verbal barbs… which really makes them a perfect duo forced together for the adventure cooked up by screenwriters Drew Pearce and Chris Morgan.
Continuing the family theme that has become so huge in these movies, it turns out that Deckard’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), is also an intelligence agent, and has unfortunately gotten herself in a serious bit of trouble involving a weaponized deadly virus. In an attempt to keep the disease out of the hands of Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) – a technologically-enhanced agent of a sinister shadow organization called Eteon – Hattie injects herself with it, but she is then forced on the run when Eteon frames her as a traitor to MI6.
Given their individual skills and personal connections, both Hobbs and Shaw are called in to work the globe-spanning mission – neither informed about the other’s involvement, of course. The two men spar incessantly, both still emotional about their past encounters, but when fully confronted with the threat that Brixton represents, they try and work together just long enough to save the world.
To an unabashed degree, Hobbs & Shaw is a movie about wheelhouse capitalization – both in front of and behind the camera. Nobody here is exactly breaking new ground, but everyone is doing what they do best, and it’s really the film’s greatest strength. It’s always fun when you can feel a palpable confidence from a blockbuster, and this one has it flowing. Not every stylistic choice fully works (especially those that get significant set ups without big payoffs), and logic isn’t consistently the narrative’s greatest concern, but the majority of its big swings connect.
Previous movies have already shown us how naturally suited both Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are for their respective roles, and Hobbs & Shaw is essentially designed to give that act a more significant stage on which to perform – while at the same time capitalizing on the same kind of venomous chemistry that has fueled many of cinema’s great “buddy” team-ups. The two leads really are perfect opposites, and it naturally generates its own material, both in personality and physicality. Johnson is mountainous, impossibly strong, and effortlessly suave; while Statham excels in being stealthily quick, agile, and sharp. Their back-and-forth is great, as is the way in which the action benefits from a creative standpoint.
This brings us to David Leitch, who is as expert as expert gets in Hollywood when it comes to action. The filmmaker was clearly given a lot of resources here, and there certainly is a “go big or go home” attitude that emanates as massive set piece follows massive set piece. There is definitely a loose relationship with real world physics, but it never gets to such a crazy cartoony place that it kills the momentum. It lets you believe that a bulletproof Idris Elba can slide a motorcycle beneath two in-motion semis going opposite directions, and that Dwayne Johnson can win a tug of war with a helicopter, and that’s an exciting world to live in for two hours and 15 minutes.
Nine movies and 18 years into this franchise, audiences are entirely aware of what’s being delivered with a new Fast & Furious chapter, and while Hobbs & Shaw is testing out some new waters by being the first spin-off, it should also meet your expectations. It’s not a movie totally without greater ambitions, as some significant steps are made to set up possible sequels that will take the story in some fresh directions, but what it delivers best is really what you’re there to see.