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.”
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.