Hardly a third into the runtime of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, it’s tempting to wish for the action spy comedy to drop all remaining pretenses, mainly its affiliating nod to the Fast & Furious franchise in its title. Oh, it’s fast. It’s even quite furious. But like the spin-off TV shows of yesteryear that would go on to overshadow their predecessors (at least in terms of quality), Hobbs & Shaw deserves a cleaner title, worthy of its fresh start formula.
Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham reprise their roles as Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, a pair of mismatched frenemies who would rather fight each other than save the world, for reasons better established in previous Fast & Furious films. Once again, drama abounds with the Shaw family, which draws Deckard into a new mission to save his sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who is being blackmailed for stealing a virus that could wipe out mankind, now under the hot pursuit of bad guy Brixton (Idris Elba), a “6 million dollar” terrorist with enhanced strength, speed, and reflexes, plus a Sherlock Holmes computer embedded in his retinas.
Shaw is joined this time around by Luke Hobbs, an expert tracker recruited by the CIA to butt America’s head into all this world-saving business, but Hobbs’ story is also rooted in blood family ties, as the film consistently nods to his Samoan roots, complete with a dramatic backstory explaining why he’s been on his own for so many years. These films have always been about the family you choose, so it’s interesting to see one that delves more deeply into the biological family left behind.
The main appeal of Hobbs & Shaw is its equal dedication to both action and comedy, with just a pinch of emotional resonance in the margins. It’s unnecessary to be all caught up with the minute details of the franchise so far because the tension between Hobbs and Shaw is elemental, and the mumbo jumbo surrounding the plot is all a means to glorious stunt-work and set pieces, not the result of set up in previous movies featuring ever-changing characters. In fact, Hobbs & Shaw does far more work to introduce new faces and mythology than we’ve seen in a while from these movies.
Yes, Hobbs & Shaw is all too silly, but it’s never too stupid. At every unrealistic moment, whenever something truly and bizarrely impossible happens, it’s easy to shrug off the non-physics with a welcome laugh or two, despite the film never devolving too far into full-on camp. Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce’s screenplay has all the right pieces for a story that makes just enough sense within the context of this cartoon world of fast cars, invincible spies, and schoolyard punchlines.
The director, David Leitch, has impressively managed to combine everything we love from his previous films into one, crowd-pleasing package: the exciting fighting of John Wick, the plotting of Atomic Blonde, the world-building of both those films, and finally the effortless charm of Deadpool 2. Leitch also understands the differences and tensions between its two action leads and what they represent. Dwayne Johnson is a force of overwhelming nature (both physically and affectionately), and Jason Statham is a bullet with legs. Together, they infuse a single film with most of what we love about action films of the ’80s rubbing against spy films of the 2000s.
Like the newer Mission: Impossible movies (which share a screenwriter with this film), Hobbs & Shaw delivers a rare breed of spectacular action that is removed from the dominating forces of comic-book pastiche. But in a way, it arguably owes a great deal of its structure and energy to the modern superhero film. Hobbs and Shaw themselves are essentially superhuman entities — hence, the need for an antagonist who calls himself “Black Superman” — operating in a world we already know from other material, which means the film can cut right to the car chase and make good on its high-octane promises.
It’s perhaps disingenuous, then, to call Hobbs & Shaw a true alternative to Marvel and DC films at the box office, but this ends up working in the film’s favor. By effectively separating itself from the weaker storytelling of the Fast & Furious movies — which, to be honest, have been twisting themselves to fit new genres for years — there’s a sense of breezy confidence and self-awareness behind the entire adventure, which permits itself to evolve the series while still maintaining what’s been working for these films since Fast Five.
In fact, you may need to adjust your rankings, because this is probably the best Fast & Furious movie of them all. It’s easily the most humorous and consistently entertaining, and it functions as more of a standalone film than anything since Tokyo Drift. It’s been an exhausting summer full of false starts and broken franchises, so it’s nice to see that the Fast & Furious movies still have some fuel left in the tank. If these films are to continue, they no longer need an unwieldy preface as a title. From now on, this might as well be the franchise of Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw.