Hobbs & Shaw (United States, 2019)

August 02, 2019
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Hobbs & Shaw Poster

The full title of Hobbs & Shaw is “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” By referencing the “parent” franchise in the name, Universal Pictures reminds viewers that this is attached to the behemoth franchise that, over the course of eight previous installments, has made more than $1.5B domestic and $5B worldwide. This spin-off brings back two of the most popular F&F secondary characters – agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and master criminal/spy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) – who famously didn’t get along and forces them to work together in classic Lethal Weapon style. And, although Hobbs & Shaw don’t become best buddies like Riggs & Murtaugh, they find a way to co-exist as they seek to bring down super-villain Brixton (Idris Elba), the “black Superman.”

One could make a compelling argument that this should be called Hobbs & The Shaws since a third member expands the duo into a trio. That would be Deckard Shaw’s sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who kicks ass with the boys and functions not only as the rescuee but the rescuer. Chemistry is the name of the game in this group and they’ve got it in spades whether it’s Johnson and Statham, Johnson and Kirby, Statham and Kirby, or all three. They trade quips, one-liners, and the occasional neck lock. Their interplay drips snark, but, when the chips are down, they’ve got each other’s backs. It’s almost enough to allow one to forgive and forget that they’re trapped in a never-ending series of action scenes that do little more than chew up the budget and expand the running time.

There’s a problem with the kinds of bloated action sequences that form the skeleton, muscle, and flesh of something like Hobbs & Shaw – a lack of excitement. Action scenes work when they’re associated with consequences. In movies like this, they’re kaleidoscopic interludes, providing loud, spectacle-rich breaks from the (thin) story. The pulse doesn’t elevate. The temptation (and expectation?) is for the viewer to slip into a trance and just let the sound & fury (signifying nothing) wash over them. This sort of thing is enjoyable as an occasional escapist flare but, in Hobbs & Shaw, it represents most of the movie – one action scene following on another for more than two hours. To reference the cliché, that’s too much of a good thing.

The plot is standard-order James Bond with a little DC Extended Universe silliness thrown in for good measure. (There are also references to The Terminator, The Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones, where the series ending is spoiled.) It involves a species-killing virus that’s about three days from being activated. The capsules containing the contaminants are buried under Hattie’s skin. She’s on the run from everyone, including her brother and his best enemy, Hobbs, and uber-villain Brixton. She eventually joins the “family” team and the goal changes to finding a way to remove the “snowflake” virus from her body. In true 007 fashion, the movie trips around the globe, with scenes taking place in London, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Samoa.

It’s not hard to see where the film’s tone comes from. Stunt-man-turned-director David Leitch was one of the co-founders of the John Wick franchise. He also helmed both Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. All those were R-rated movies, so he has had to mute his natural inclinations for a wider PG-13 audience. If nothing else, Hobbs & Shaw can boast a lighter touch than any of the mainline Fast & Furious movies. The film ends with a clear indication of where things will go with the seemingly-inevitable Hobbs & Shaw 2.

Although the lion’s share of the screen time goes to the four stars, there are some interesting and surprising big names in small roles. Helen Mirren, who was given a cameo in The Fate of the Furious, is back as Shaw’s mum, Queenie. [Potential cast-related spoilers ahead…] Also appearing are two characters who seem like they’re being established for more important roles in future installments. Both are uncredited. Kevin Hart pops up as an eager-to-please air marshal (not as annoying as Joe Pesci in the Lethal Weapon sequels but filling a similar niche) and Ryan Reynolds essentially plays Deadpool without the costume and melted face.

In an alternate universe, a cut of Hobbs & Shaw might exist in which the running length is shorter and the action sequences are more cleanly choreographed, allowing viewers a greater opportunity to luxuriate in the work of the three leads (plus Elba, who is criminally underused). That’s right – a tent-pole summer movie in which acting does matter because Johnson, Statham, and Kirby are tremendous together. It’s a shame we don’t get more scenes of these three just hanging out. Of course, that’s not Leitch’s commission. The result, although fitfully entertaining, is bloated. I didn’t look at my watch at all during the first hour but, once the clock-hand passed the 100-minute mark, I was checking it regularly. Hobbs & Shaw is a “classic” summer movie in every sense. It uses Fast & Furious physics (as opposed to the Newtonian kind) to amp up the spectacle element while diminishing the excitement quotient. Things are sufficiently loud and flashy to attract a large audience and allow a non-Disney studio to capture the spotlight, if only for one weekend.

Hobbs & Shaw (United States, 2019)

Director: David Leitch
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, Eiza Gonzalez, Eddie Marsan, Helen Mirren
Home Release Date: 2019-11-05
Screenplay: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cinematography: Jonathan Sela
Music: Tyler Bates
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 2:15
U.S. Release Date: 2019-08-02
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Action/Comedy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1