2 Hrs., 16 Mins.
Hobbs & Shaw August 9, 2019
he nice thing about the Fast & Furious movies is that, when they offer us new action set pieces to chew on, they get us to care about the “how.” We know the mostly muscle-bound ensemble will defeat whichever supervillain is trying to thwart its plans this time. But the franchise, since 2011’s surprisingly electric Fast Five, has consistently put forward such physics-defying, edge-of-your-seat action that part of the reason we
pay to go see subsequent entries has to do with finding out how everyone involved is going to reinvent the art of the car chase, the fist fight. The trend, duplicated by the similarly newly excellent Mission: Impossible series, has increasingly felt like a much-needed change of pace. Superhero movies, now so culturally ingrained, regularly feature action sequences so listless that you can almost sense its makers betting money between themselves on how quickly they can get a particular sequence shot.
Hobbs & Shaw, the latest Fast & Furious movie and the first to be considered a spin-off in a while, maintains the “how” factor. It sustains another franchise trend, too: recruiting great action filmmakers to man the ship without robbing them of what makes their directorial voice worth hearing. Hobbs & Shaw is no exception. Made by John Wick (2014) and Atomic Blonde (2017) stuntman turned director David Leitch, we might even consider it his most reliably inspired feature thus far. Though the second and third acts of the movie mosey a bit more than we’d like, for the first hour or so does Hobbs & Shaw convince us that we’re seeing some of the decade's premier action filmmaking. The dialogue and action sequences move along with an impressive rat-a-tat rhythm; the development and execution of it all move with an almost balletic kind of agility. Everything is confidently gussied up by Leitch’s invigorating visual inventiveness, which is recognizable for its more-than-welcome reliance on neon and noirish moodiness and feisty editing tricks. (Here, Leitch is most partial toward De Palmian split screens.)
Leitch also has three appealing leads to his disposal. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is Luke Hobbs, a laughably Herculean DSS agent who can either be gratingly earnest or funny in a one-liner-slinging sort of way. He’s an eats-coffee-grounds kind of person. Jason Statham is Deckard Shaw, a British mercenary who has a reptilian quality about him and who gets a redemption arc in the movie. And Vanessa Kirby is Shaw’s sister Hattie, a remarkably effective MI6 agent.
Hobbs, for a few films now, has been one of the predominant franchise heroes. Shaw, who used to work for the British Special Forces but now leans toward the criminal side of things, has been a chief villain, or sometimes someone connected to a chief villain. In Hobbs & Shaw, though, the men, who detest each other, are forced to work together because of a hasty but necessary decision made by Hattie. With world-saving on the brain, Hattie recently injected herself with the prototype of a virus created by terrorist organization after an MI6 mission to recover it falls through.
The virus, called Snowflake, usually takes about three days to really embed itself in someone’s system. Once the 72 hours are up, the person exposed becomes something of a living-and-breathing space heater, infecting almost everyone around them. Death is the only side effect. This is by design. The corporation that made it, Eteon, has crafted it to enact a worldwide genocide. It’s convinced that mankind is currently a faulty version of itself, and that to reach its full potential it must be reborn, essentially.
Hobbs & Shaw is built on two ambitions: to first extract the virus sitting and waiting for action in Hattie’s bloodstream, then defeat Eteon, who is represented in action sequences most of the time by a burly android (?) played by Idris Elba. “Great — we’re being chased by the Terminator,” Hobbs moans after an early ambush. The A and B plots are simple enough. But the movie, which runs for a way-too-long 136 minutes, needlessly draws the narrative out like a child stretching a piece of chewed gum until it becomes a delicate string.
Part of me doesn’t want to bleat about its plot-based faults: Hobbs & Shaw is such a feast of acrobatic how-did-they-do-that-style action sequences that we’re thankful to have experienced them. The first act of the movie is near-faultless — a marriage of breathtaking choreographed warfare with style and engaging acting to boot.
But there's a moment around the 90-minute mark when I was convinced the film was probably over and checked my watch. I discovered I had about an hour left, and groaned to myself. I hoped that the hour would prove itself necessary — then after a while I settled on the idea that, somewhere, there’s a great condensed cut of Hobbs & Shaw. That isn't a conclusion we typically like to come to while indulging in escapism. Spectacle has always been more important than plot in the Fast & Furious movies, but too much of a skew is never a good thing. Hobbs & Shaw pushes toward the “too much" side of the chart.
And though not action-based, moments of the running time dedicated to cameos — there are ones made by Kevin Hart (an air marshal), Ryan Reynolds (a CIA agent), and Helen Mirren (Shaw’s jailed mother) — are wholly unnecessary. The Mirren appearance is at least winsome, but I didn’t want to spend time with Hart and Reynolds: I can’t stand the former anymore following the Oscar farce, and the latter pushes the limits of his already on-thin-ice caustic humor. The film has a weird dichotomy. Its first 90 minutes are so trim, quick, and economic, and then the rest of it feels like a filmic brainstorm. The question driving the brainstorm is, how can we make sure that the movie is longer than two hours?
There’s enough greatness in Hobbs & Shaw to warrant a viewing. Personifying it are Statham and Kirby. Statham is one of our best current action-movie stars mostly because he feels, in a way, like a send-off of an action-movie star — a jester who loves being in on the joke almost as much as he likes to pretend he's punching a henchman in the teeth. Kirby, among my favorite things about the most recent Mission: Impossible movie, reminded me of those rare instances in the James Bond movies where the woman “sidekick” proved herself far more interesting than the man, or men, she was working with. She’s a bewitching presence — a confident cat of a performer. She also embodies characteristics I wish the movie would embody itself: no-nonsense, straight to the point, and knows how to get the job done without accidentally overdoing it. B