It’s kind of amazing to think that the Fast & Furious franchise started out with a mid-budget crime drama about street racing. By the time it’s gotten to spin-off film Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, absolutely nothing recognizable remains from the series’ origin. At least the main F&F films still focus on car-based stunts, but Hobbs & Shaw (the ninth F&F movie overall) mostly leaves the automobile fetishism behind, bringing the franchise even closer to the James Bond or Mission: Impossible movies.
The title characters here are Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), both former enemies (and then allies) of the main F&F crew. Upstanding government agent Hobbs and devious criminal Shaw had a memorable antagonistic subplot in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, and that was enough to get them their own team-up adventure, in which they are still constantly sniping at each other, but must set aside their differences in order to save the world. A secretive, seemingly all-powerful organization known as Eteon is after a virus that could wipe out most of humanity, and only Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), yet another rogue government operative, has access to it.
It’s a silly sci-fi plot straight out of dozens of forgettable action movies, and screenwriters Chris Morgan (a franchise veteran) and Drew Pearce don’t take it anywhere interesting. Instead, they drag it out over more than two hours, with what feels like it should be the climax around the 90-minute mark, only for the movie to stage a second final confrontation at Hobbs’ family compound in Samoa. The visit home gives Johnson the chance to celebrate his Samoan heritage and the movie the chance to bring in the now-standard F&F family themes, but it’s beyond hokey and serves no plot function other than to delay the inevitable.
The main villain, former government agent Brixton (Idris Elba), is essentially superhuman, with scientific enhancements that give him super-strength, heightened senses and near invulnerability. Brixton refers to himself as “black Superman,” and Hobbs calls him “the Terminator,” but Brixton is really more like an evil version of Iron Man, complete with POV shots that resemble the way Tony Stark’s perspective is shown in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Elsewhere, the movie stages its own version of the HALO jump from Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and Brixton rides a shape-shifting motorcycle that makes very Transformers-like sounds when it changes configurations.
Director David Leitch started out as a refreshing new voice in action movies with his work on the original John Wick (co-directing with Chad Stahelski) and Atomic Blonde, possibly the best action movie of the decade. But with last year’s underwhelming Deadpool 2, he shifted gears to large-scale blockbusters, and Hobbs & Shaw has very little of the style and grace of Leitch’s early work. There are a few more scenes of hand-to-hand combat than in previous F&F films, and an early fight scene between Shaw and some of Brixton’s henchmen is bathed in the neon colors that suffused Atomic Blonde. But otherwise Hobbs & Shaw is a CGI-filled behemoth, with little weight or impact to its monotonous action sequences.
And while the banter between Hobbs and Shaw might have been a fun bit of comic relief in The Fate of the Furious, it quickly goes stale here, with repetitive insults between the main characters as they try to prove their alpha-male status. The screenwriters have Hattie call them out on their macho bluster early in the movie, but that doesn’t stop it from continuing for the rest of the running time. A couple of surprise cameos only add to the irritation, taking the movie right into self-parody. At this point, though, that’s probably the only place this franchise has left to go.