A few years ago I decided to do something very stupid. Which, certainly doesn’t narrow down the various idiotic things I do, often in support of this site. But, in 2017 while facing a weekend with no movie in theaters that I really wanted to see, I decided to go check out the latest entry in the Fast and the Furious saga, Fate of the Furious. I had never seen a film from that series before, and just kind of wanted to experience what it would be like to dive into a long-running narrative at the end, just to see if I could make heads or tails of it. And, while certain aspects of the film, like the franchise’s general appeal, were impenetrable to me, it was generally just a crappy action movie. And, it kind of seems like that was the general feeling toward it anyway, even diehard fans of the series seem to think that it was a serious lowpoint, which made me that more morbidly confused by this series that just seems to have nothing for me. Still not curious enough to go back and watch one of the more universally beloved films, but apparently curious enough to dip back into the world of gasoline and testosterone with the newest entry into the series, their first spinoff, Hobbs & Shaw. Featuring the two characters I actually enjoyed the most in the previous film and direction from action auteur David Leitch seemed to at least promise an interesting film. And, well, I guess it’s better than Fate of the Furious.
The film begins with a mission gone wrong being undertaken by British MI6 who are attempting to apprehend a deadly experimental virus from some terrorists. They successfully get their hands on the virus, but in the process are attacked by a man known as Brixton Lore who represents a terrorist organization called Eteon, and who has been enhanced through robotics to an almost superhuman extent. He attacks the MI6 agents, causing one of them to inject herself with the virus and flee, leaving Hattie Shaw the sole surviving member of this mission. And, because she contains the deadly virus, several governmental organizations become very interested in her. This results in a mission being put together featuring one of the world’s greatest manhunters, Luke Hobbs, and Hattie’s older brother renowned criminal Deckard Shaw, who have previously been enemies, to work together. They do their best to pass that opportunity up though, and go their own separate ways, both finding Hattie at almost the same time, and bringing her back to their headquarters to interrogate. However, after explaining that she has the virus inside her, which will go viral and begin killing the human population in mere hours, their base is attacked by Brixton and his men, leading Hobbs and Shaw to take Hattie and flee for their lives.
They decide the best course of action is to find the scientist who designed the virus and have him fix it. But, that proves to be easier said than done, because the only device that can neutralize the virus is inside the Eteon base. So, the trio infiltrate the Eteon base, and through a series of ridiculous set-pieces and accidental successes, they manage to get a hold of the device and escape Brixton’s clutches, only to find that the device has been damaged in the process. And, since Brixton has since killed the scientist who created it, Hobbs decides they only have one choice. They need to go so his home island of Samoa and meet with Hobbs’ estranged brother, who is a car mechanic, who he believes can put it back together. So, the three head to Samoa, and after a tense reunion with his family, the Hobbs clan begin preparing for war, putting the device back together and putting together a low-tech plan to destroy Eteon and their sci-fi level weapons. Which, of course works. When Brixton and an Eteon army arrive they find the Samoans ready for war, and a huge fight begins, eventually resulting in Hobbs, Shaw, Brixton, and Hattie getting in a massive brawl while the machine finally extracts the virus from her body. And, utilizing some flaws in Brixton’s programming, our heroes are able to beat him so badly that Eteon remotely kills him, leaving them alive, with the virus, and with a new supervillain organization out for their blood.
Going into this film I had high hopes that I would be able to connect with it better than Fate of the Furious, since it would be a spin-off and maybe not require the amount of prerequisite character knowledge that the eighth film in a franchise would. And, I think I did enjoy it more. Hobbs and Shaw at least seem like fun characters, at least when they’re actually being characters instead of thinly veiled versions of the actors playing them. Or, at least thinly veiled versions of the actor’s personas. It’s full of dumb jokes, decent action, way too much CGI, and a fairly boilerplate spy plot. So, it’s a fairly good time. Nothing too special, which also seems to be the general consensus for this film, which I guess means I’m not finding any particular insight from this weird way I’ve chosen to ingest this franchise. Jason Statham and the Rock are at least very charismatic actors, so when they’re given something to do other than deliver seemingly ad-libbed insults that border on ‘Yo Mamma’ jokes, it’s fun to watch them. I’ve also really enjoyed Vanessa Kirby’s sudden appearance in a few spy flicks, and this film really seems to confirm that she’d make a really engaging and fun action lead of her own. Likewise, Idris Elba seems to be having a hell of a time as Brixton, this insane supervillain who just gets to swagger around, as he says, like black Superman.
Which kind of gets to my main problem with the film. Not Idris, I really enjoyed him. What I couldn’t help but get stuck up on this film was the fact that everyone in this movie, and the larger franchise as a whole, represents exactly that same old complaint people have about Superman. I used to feel this way, but have had a change of heart the more I’ve read from him, but people like to say that they can’t get invested in Superman because he’s too powerful, and there’s just no tension. It’s a story about the greatest person in the world being amazing, and just counting down the clock until they win. And, that’s kind of what these movies have become. Largely thanks to the massive egos of their stars. It recently came out that a majority of the stars of these Fast and the Furious movies have it in their contracts that they need to look as cool as possible. They don’t lose fights, they’re always clever, and everything always works out perfectly. The Rock famously has a rule that no movie he’s in is allowed to have a bummer ending, he always wants people to leave the theater happy. Which is great if you’re in the theme park business, less so for a creative narrative. It results a movie where Jason Statham and the Rock are essentially playing themselves, gliding through a spy movie with the full knowledge that they’re the protagonists ,and everything will work out perfectly. It’s like their characters have broken the fourth wall and told the audience that it’s alright, they read the script and know everything is going to be fine. And it’s really hard to give a shit about an action movie like that. When I go into an action flick, I generally can guess that the protagonist is going to come out on top. But, tension comes from suspending that disbelief and actually worrying about our characters. And it’s pretty damn hard to do so when the characters themselves just seem to treat everything around them like a joke, fully aware that they are wearing plot armor and will be invulnerable to anything remotely approaching a negative outcome, just skating towards that happy ending. It just doesn’t seem like a tenable structure, and after two movies that seem to have been received this poorly, I wonder if it’s finally starting to topple.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw was written by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce, directed by David Leitch, and released by Universal Pictures, 2019.
Categories: Reel Talk