A simple glance at the title of new film “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” makes it clear that August’s first big blockbuster is being pulled in multiple directions. The film couldn’t just be “Hobbs & Shaw” — ignoring the franchise that spawned it — but nor is it allowed to be “Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw,” a more traditional sequel construction. The strange compromise, in which “Fast & Furious” presents “Hobbs & Shaw” is symbolic of the Frankenstein nature of this action film. And yet, the Jason Statham-Dwayne Johnson film is still the most entertaining the franchise has been in years.
A simple glance at the title of new film “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” makes it clear that August’s first big blockbuster is being pulled in multiple directions.
The “Fast & Furious” franchise has been chugging along somewhat improbably for two decades now. The original film, “The Fast and The Furious,” was a dumb little muscle car flick starring Paul Walker as a white cop trying to infiltrate a gang of L.A. thieves led by Vin Diesel. Diesel was not impressed by the film, and was replaced in the sequel (“2 Fast 2 Furious”) by Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. That film was so unimpressive even Walker declined to return for “Fast and Furious 3.” And that probably would have been the end of it, had Diesel’s career taken off after the middling “The Chronicles of Riddick” and “XXX.” But the films were mostly panned, and Walker’s career hadn’t gone anywhere either, so both agreed to come back for 2009’s “Fast & Furious.”
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With Chris Morgan now behind the wheel writing and producing, the franchise morphed into a Bond-like spy thriller series. The blended casts were effortlessly diverse. The ensemble nature also allowed the production to add and subtract characters as careers waxed and waned. Gal Gadot, for instance, did a few films before exiting for “Wonder Woman.” “Fast 5” added Dwayne Johnson just as he shed his WWE career for good, as Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs. “Furious 7” added the UK’s Jason Statham, by then a big name in his own right, as special forces assassin Deckard Shaw.
Diesel was reportedly none too fond of these additions, especially as their popularity eclipsed his. For all the talk of the “Fast Family,” by the time the eighth film, “Fate of The Furious” arrived in theaters, fans were tuning in as much due to the behind-the-scenes drama between Johnson and Diesel, which had openly spilled out onto social media.
Production houses have spent the last decade racing to make standalone franchises built with the idea of eventual crossovers. But seeing a series branch off into a standalone franchise is a reminder that this more traditional strategy works for a reason.
Both Statham and Johnson have production credits on the new film, and the settings and casting are clearly influenced by them. The first hour or so is spent in London, where Shaw’s family is expanded to include Helen Mirren as dear old mum (Statham’s co-star from “The Expendables”) and Vanessa Kirby as tough sister/MI-6 agent Hattie. But the film is unmistakably Johnson’s. He has the romance with Kirby, while Statham is just the brother. He is the one doing the biggest of stunts, while Statham is the driver.
Actors who are known to be “friends of Johnson” have surprise cameos, including Ryan Reynolds (who steals every scene he’s in) and Kevin Hart (who does not). The movie’s final hour even takes the action to the island of Samoa, so that Johnson can both openly embrace his heritage as part of the final battle’s denouement, and give on-screen speaking roles to nearly a dozen men of color, none of whom have to play stereotypical gangsters on the streets of L.A. How far the franchise has come.
And yet, “Hobbs & Shaw” is a “Fast & Furious” film by almost every measure. It continues its diverse casting traditions by giving the role of the main antagonist to Idris Elba, who has created the most nonsensical Bond-like villain since the 1970s-era Blofeld. Does he have to have a reason to be bad? Nope. He just revels in it.
The women are still scantily clad around the margins, but in keeping with the franchise’s pivot over the last few years, the main female characters are as badass as their male counterparts, with Kirby sometimes outshining both Statham and Johnson. As for the guns, there’s still plenty of them, but the final hour on Samoa emphasizes more old school (and creative) fight choreography.
“Hobbs & Shaw” even includes the car chases that magically slow down so the camera can linger on the make and logo. Every sort of model of vehicle seems to get involved at some point, from motor bikes to jeeps to trucks to helicopters. Just one thing was missing: Diesel.
Johnson has not being shy about his plans for what this all means. Both he and Statham are apparently passing on the still untitled “Fast 9” film, suggesting they plan to break away from the parent franchise completely. Meanwhile, Johnson is all over social media calling “Hobbs and Shaw” “a taste of the team ”he’s putting together” for future sequels. Turns out sometimes the best families need to go their separate ways. Here’s to them stepping on the gas.