You know what’s wrong with the Fast & Furious movies? All those speeches about family and friendship — ugh, get to the car chases! So it’s a huge relief when Hobbs & Shaw — the series’ first spinoff, in theaters now — plays to its strengths by flinging its charismatic leads straight into the action. And when your leads are the Rock and Jason Statham, you can guess what’s coming.
Former enemies Luke Hobbs (the Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) are reintroduced as they beat bad guys senseless in spectacularly juxtaposed sequences. Slick use of split-screen reminds us of their contrasting personalities — Hobbs is a likable bull in a china shop, while Shaw is smooth and acerbic. One’s fast and the other’s furious, but what they have in common, of course, is extreme violence.
The pair are reluctantly drawn together when they learn of a deadly virus infecting Shaw’s spy sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). Also on the hunt for the virus is cyber-enhanced supervillain Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), whose shadowy organization wants to wipe out most of the world’s population. It’s basically Mission: Impossible 2 with a villain called Brixton Lore.
But come on, we know this is just window dressing. You’re here for the banter and action — which Hobbs & Shaw delivers in spades. It’s fast! It’s furious! Stuff blows up! The film builds on Johnson’s and Statham’s screen personas with a rivalry that juuuust about stays on the right side of ridiculous, full of verbal jabs fans are clearly meant to quote.
Yes, Johnson and Statham are deserved headliners. But Kirby turns out to be the movie’s secret weapon. She outshines her co-stars by giving her character real depth, and yet she still manages to fit into this outrageous world exceptionally well. It’s no coincidence that the weakest parts of the movie are when Kirby has the least to do.
Elba manages to give his one-dimensional villain a dash of swagger, but he’s all too obviously designed to give our muscular heroes a seemingly insurmountable physical threat. There’s clearly some message about humanity versus machines as Elba’s cybernetic bad guy and his human adversaries batter each other, but it doesn’t stick.
The action moves from London to Russia to Samoa, and each location has a distinct visual identity. Director David Leitch (of Deadpool 2 and John Wick fame) throws in plenty of sweeping camera movements to keep the momentum going. The action sequence in London moves smoothly from the side of a building into an intense car chase — a Fast & Furious staple, so it’s no surprise this is the movie’s best moment by far.
Unfortunately, the scenes in Russia suffer from some plasticky CGI as they try to up the ante. It’s still fun, but so overblown you’ll find yourself wondering if the movie is over when the dust settles and our characters are saddled with a silly new plot device.
This sets us up poorly for the finale in Samoa, where the movie leans too hard on the shallow emotional bonds between the characters, killing the pace before the ludicrous climactic action sequence kicks in. It doesn’t help that a character makes the kind of illogical decision that feels like an artificial attempt to pump up the danger and momentum. By this point, the 135-minute movie is just outstaying its welcome.
Hobbs & Shaw is a whole lot of fun when it leans on Johnson’s, Statham’s and Kirby’s charisma rather than trying to make us care with cloying heart-to-heart dialogue. It’s frequently furious, but it could be a lot faster.