Hobbs & Shaw (David Leitch) 1 out of 4 stars.
I mainly remember the way it felt. I remember looking up as the camera glanced down at a little set of red buttons that so simply read “NOS 1” and “NOS 2.” I remember instinctively knowing what the push of one of them might lead to. But most of all, I remember that lime green car cascading down an endless expanse of road, the world rushing past a young Paul Walker until everything blended into mere colors and sounds. And, if only for a moment, all that existed was the driver and the car.
While the latest entry in the Fast franchise primarily substitutes cars for fists, this new vehicle has a limitless number of NOS buttons and is convinced that its boundlessness will make you feel the same way as that very first push of a button. You see, the magic of NOS wasn’t magic though. It wasn’t even science. It was the rapid and shaky camerawork, the energetic editing, and the manipulation of the image through some of the franchise’s standard visual effects. It was that it created a rushing moment of hyper-reality that emerged as an immediate standout from the rest of the film. The magic within this installment, however, isn’t rooted in cinematic techniques. And despite its premise, it isn’t even rooted in science. Instead, this one waves its wand and tells you that whatever you’re watching could only be described by the word “magic.” My word for it is “unchallenging,” as is my descriptor for the rest of it.
Perhaps these movies shouldn’t be compared. Hobbs & Shaw is a spin-off, after all. The most similar thing between the two films is the precursory title, which was obviously pasted onto it to increase ticket sales. Featuring Dwayne Johnson essentially playing himself as federal agent, Luke Hobbs, and Jason Statham as British mercenary, Deckard Shaw, Hobbs & Shaw dives senselessly into their unlikely mission to track down a dangerous spy who has injected herself with a virus that can wipe out the world’s population as we know it. It just so happens that this spy in question is Shaw’s sister, portrayed gracefully by Vanessa Kirby. Time is not on their side as they rush to safely get the virus out of her system, not only saving humanity, but also the dear life of sister Shaw. It’s definitely a new direction.
For differentiating itself from the Fast films, Hobbs and Shaw is ironically the fastest movie of the bunch. The pacing is set at full throttle, and the cringe-worthy comedy is the only thing that drags it to a screeching halt. The editing and action sequences are overwhelming in number and scope. Both have little sense of time, geography, or continuity. By the end of its lengthy runtime, it’ll have you feeling like you’ve been watching the climax for hours. It’s a movie that doesn’t know when it’s best to stop and take a breath. It’s a movie that doesn’t know when to stop at all, its multiple endings and needless post-credits scenes milking every last bit of oil it has left.
And if the first half of the title is slightly embarrassing, the second half is slightly misleading. Although Hobbs and Shaw is indeed about Hobbs and Shaw, they are often overpowered by whoever else is onscreen. Vanessa Kirby, most plainly, has a wider range, a more memorable arc, and a more likable presence. Without her, all this movie would boil down to is boyish humor and mindless punches. Is it too late to call it Hobbs and Shaw and Shaw?
Above all, however, Hobbs and Shaw proves that sometimes stakes should be lowered. Remember the alpha male contracts detailing how many of the men of the Fast franchise can’t appear to lose a fight? This movie takes that to a new extreme. And it makes me realize what I ultimately believe works so well about that Paul Walker scene. He presses that second button and spirals out of control. Hobbs and Shaw keeps those buttons locked down but never allows any of its characters the same fate. While Walker’s character is portrayed as fallible, it’s this that makes him human. For a movie that drones on about the power of humanity over technology, it never allows its heroes to be more human than its bionic villain. Idris Elba’s turn from an ex-agent into a technologically enhanced criminal mastermind is undeniably the most frustrating element of the film. Much like the rest of it, Elba’s bad guy defies any internal rule of the universe set up in previous films. It’s his indestructibility that makes him most intellectually uninteresting.
It’s a superhero film churned out from a street racing franchise. A superhero film is a buddy-cop film is a comedy film is a Fast and Furious film. Everything is the same, and none of it matters. Whether or not those first films were good, they were rooted deeply in a stylish, gritty, neon vision of the early-2000’s and a vague inclination to the look and feel of Asian cinema at the time. This new series is based on the baseless fixtures of the last ten or twenty American box office scores. I have no nostalgia for a different time, but is it too difficult to ask for a little style and a little integrity?
Perhaps these movies should be compared. As the first of its new series, Hobbs and Shaw is meant to pave a road for itself just as that first one did almost twenty years ago. Back then, for a moment, it was just a driver and a car. We can only hope that this series will find the right driver to step up and steer this vehicle out of its directionless mess.