Supporting characters from previous Fast & Furious instalments, former DSS Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and rogue spy Shaw (Jason Statham) are given the keys to their own star vehicle in this quasi-sequel spin-off. Despite its lunkish, ludicrous – and frankly cynical – qualities, this entry retains much of the appeal of previous entries.
The meta-story of the Fast & Furious series is one of surprising heart and a giddy embrace of the endearingly stupid. The first two entries functioned as obnoxiously stylish crime flicks with a street racing gimmick, whereas the third film, with its twist ending that posited itself as a prequel, opened the series up as a sort of soapy, action-heavy melodrama. Brilliantly, its circular narrative allowed dead characters to return to life and family reunions to become more important than the physics-defying vehicular stunts they are sold on.
That same sense of sentimentality and silliness is what saves Hobbs & Shaw from what would otherwise be an off-the-shelf, straight to DVD actioner. The corporate mandate for the film’s existence is clear: taking the two bickering frenemies from the last few entries and sticking them in their own feature – effectively expanding a one-note gag into a full film smacks of a pitch born in a boardroom. But this series is nothing if not able to transcend its cynical origins: in this regard, Hobbs & Shaw is no different.
Nicking its ideas straight from every major action franchise from the last twenty years, the spoofy, Mission: Impossible-lite deadly virus plot is weapons-grade guff. The first two acts clank and clunk through their plot machinations, while Idris Elba and Hattie Shaw chew their way through their respective roles as generic cyborg baddie and femme fatale in distress.
However, one does not go to see the ninth Fast & Furious film for nuanced storytelling. Enlivened by several joyously nonsensical action sequences: the best involving Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson thumping a series of goons to break his fall as he throws himself off the side of a building. It’s impossible not to grin and just go with its imbecilic charm, told with all the confidence and brio of a hyperactive kid ad-libbing stories with their action figures. Luckily, the kid in question – director David Leitch, formerly of John Wick, Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde – has some serious action chops.
The editing isn’t quite up to the same standard – both in terms of scene-to-scene pacing and the rhythm of the action, with several shots feeling weirdly cut short by a few frames. The humour, too, grinds, hampered by one comic relief character too many, and Hobbs and Shaw’s “I hate (love) you” insult-schtick becomes grating long before it finally gives way to their true feelings. On the other hand, the third act showdown between the high-tech baddies and a clan of enraged, shirtless Samoans is a riot. The climax, naturally, is a helicopter fish-hooked by a daisy chain of trucks souped-up with ‘moonshine’, careering along the side of a cliff. Hobbs & Shaw has numerous, basic shortcomings, yet sequences like this are near transcendent as ultimate expressions of themselves: love it or hate it, this is a pure form of cinema. Taste shmaste: niceties like coherent editing or believable dialogue feel positively bourgeois in the face of such wonderful nonsense.
Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw is on general release in digitally remastered IMAX and other cinemas now.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell