Hobbs and & Shaw starts off strong. Idris Elba, always one to steal a scene, makes his presence known very early as the (mostly) compelling villain, and we get a good look at what this action romp is going for with a cute split-screen drill-down of what makes our titular heroes tick.
Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, is bright, cheery, and familial. Shaw (Jason Statham) is cold, broody, and isolated. It’s just silly enough to work, but like a good old fashioned car chase in a Fast & Furious entry, this premise is spinning its wheels by the time it hits the halfway mark.
Like an action film cooked up in a mad science lab, Hobbs & Shaw attempts to meld the “family is everything” mantra of Fast & Furious with the Jason Statham’s whole London crime heist vibe, and the cast and crew almost pull it off. Before we know it this odd couple is at each other’s throats, ready to throw down, with the fate of the world (a DNA-based virus that can eat away people’s insides is about to be unleashed, no big) hanging in the balance.
It often doesn’t feel like the world is in danger though, as much of the film is dedicated to banter and exposition. Don’t worry, you’ll get your big car calamity, even if there is a distinct lack of overall chase scenes for a project that prominently uses the Fast & Furious name. To go along with the futuristic tint you get Speed Racer-esque motorcycles that can leap or bend on command, as well as a very silly vehicular carnage-filled finale that’s arguably the best action scene of the film. There’s a smattering of ideas that help it all standout, but it doesn’t commit hard enough, instead of relying on non-descript genre tropes to help it coast.
If the powers that be had filled Hobbs & Shaw’s runtime (and $200 million budget) with more scenes like its finale, it would have rocked just as hard as a few recent entries in its parent series. Instead, so much time is spent bantering, complete with dialogue we’ve heard before many times to boot, that it feels like killing time until the next sparing brawl.
The main problem is that Hobbs & Shaw (the pair) always feel like they’re going somewhere. There are a few points where the team will literally go somewhere, engage in a brief interlude for the sake of exposition, then go somewhere again. All the while they’re constantly getting suited and geared up for the task at hand, with gear out their ears and gear inside their gear.
I watch a ton of action films and at some point (especially in this series) you really need to suspend disbelief, turn off your brain, and enjoy the ride. But in proper Fast & Furious joints, you really are watching a “ride,” with constant action filling the screen. Instead, there’s a large emphasis on the two leads carrying the load, on top of the “I don’t need a partner” conflict that goes on far too long. Sometimes that gimmick comes at a cost when cool action scenes are reduced to punch lines before they can truly flourish. The PG-13 rating and clear off-screen deaths, despite the sheer brutality of the antagonist and the stakes, also feel at odds with each other.
With all that in mind, when it works, it works. The Rock’s indomitable need to be liked plays a large part in the framework of the Hobbs character, and when the laughs come, they roll in. Statham is still a convincing enough action star, and although Vanessa Kirby isn’t given the chance to play anything more than third fiddle, she brings a much-needed gravitas to the duo when they overstay their welcome.
Hobbs & Shaw sports a promising premise and an entertaining villain to face down, but it could have used another few trips to the editing room. I’ve seen several near three hour films recently that absolutely fly by, this doesn’t make the list. Roughly halfway in, after what feels like a “final battle” had just ended, it was almost like the story was winding down: until it didn’t. Instead, we take another trip to another locale, with another surprise means of securing travel, with a few jokes baked in.
With a more pointed focus and more silly action, Hobbs & Shaw could have elevated itself above “spinoff” status. If they get another chance to ride together, I’d be more than willing to give a sequel a shot.