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Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham star in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, directed by David Leitch.

Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures/Universal Pictures

  • Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
  • Directed by David Leitch
  • Written by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce
  • Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby and Idris Elba
  • Classification PG
  • 135 minutes

rating

It is obscene how much hope I had been placing on Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.

I realize this now, after having just survived the hulking, goofy beast of a blockbuster. Wait. “Survived” is too strong a word, as the action film is far from a traumatic incident. I’ll spend some time thinking of a term that more neatly encompasses the feeling of being shell-shocked by such self-aware stupidity. It’s a good sensation, over all. But, just, like, give me a few beats to articulate this tingling, giddy, confused feeling currently coursing through my blood and brain. It is strange how something of so little substance can take so long to process.

Okay, this is beginning to feel better. For one, I’m coming to terms with the outsized expectations I carried for this film, which I had hoped would save us from this dreadful summer movie season. Not that Hobbs & Shaw is so different from the sequels and reboots and franchise extensions clogging Hollywood’s pipeline. In concept, director David Leitch’s film is just an egregious offence as, say, The Lion King 2.0 or Men in Black: International or whatever iteration of X-Men we’re currently up to. It is hard to get excited about the first spinoff of an eight-movie-deep franchise, which is exactly what Hobbs & Shaw is. And yet.

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The Fast and Furious series is special. To me, at least – and the approximately US$5.1-billion worth of other moviegoers who’ve lined up to watch Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and other big bald men take down tinier, more hirsute villains (this isn’t a knock; more bald movie stars, please).

Unlike the Marvel movies and the Transformers sequels and the many trips we’ve all taken to Jurassic Park, the Furiousverse has become the one franchise that has earned its longevity. Over the past 18 (!) years, the series has become increasingly self-aware of its total and completely bonkers-bananas appeal and leaned into the mania appropriately – all while deftly (yes, deftly) maintaining a sentimental centre that works hard for your emotional investment.

Make no mistake, the entire Fast and Furious world, from Diesel’s what’s-he-saying-now enunciation to Johnson’s penchant for baby-oil-drenched pecs, is so very stupid. But it is the kind of joyful, eager-to-please stupid that we would all be smart to embrace. At least once or twice a year.

Hobbs & Shaw is the first spin-off in the eight-movie-deep Fast & Furious franchise.

Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures/Universal Pictures

Which is why I walked into Hobbs & Shaw feeling like it could be the four-star antidote to this summer’s rash of brand extensions that simply do not care – about character, about story, about coherent visuals, about anything other than asking you to shut up and choke back some familiar swill. The Fast and Furious films care, dang it. But with Hobbs & Shaw, there is the distinct sense that, this time, the filmmakers cared a little too much about having fun and too little about the Furiousverse’s other mission-critical F-word: family.

Part of the problem is that you can watch Hobbs & Shaw without having knocked back a single other F&F movie. Leitch briskly introduces U.S. government agent Hobbs (Johnson) and British mercenary Shaw (Jason Statham) as just another odd couple expert at attracting trouble, no Furiousverse continuity necessary. This blank-slate approach works well from a marketing perspective. But as Leitch and his screenwriters Drew Pearce and Chris Morgan (the latter being the architect of almost the entire F&F series) place the pair in the thick of a save-the-MacGuffin-save-the-world scenario, you cannot help but feel the pangs of a film fighting for two things and achieving only one. There is plenty of heat here – fiery action on every conceivable level in every possible variety – but too little heart.

Still, that heat can be incendiary. While Justin Lin remains the best director that the Furiousverse has ever had, former stunt-man Leitch knows his way around an explosion, too. Hobbs & Shaw’s opening set-piece alone – featuring Vanessa Kirby as a British spy casually popping the pins of grenades with her teeth – is delightful and sharp, rivalling the most ambitious climax of any other big-budget bonanza. Then, there’s the car chase set inside a decommissioned nuclear power plant just after a neutron bomb has been detonated, the scene where Statham drives a sports car underneath not one, but two big-rig trucks in the middle of London, and a Samoa-set finale that involves a daisy chain of muscle cars, a helicopter and the most powerful weapon of all: Johnson’s muscles.

Part of Leitch’s success here is in ripping off his own work. The director goes back to his experience on the first John Wick film to bring a distinct, bruising flair to Hobbs & Shaw’s hand-to-hand combat. His vehicular carnage from Deadpool 2 matches up nicely with what I can only assume are millions of dollars’ worth of Hobbs & Shaw auto-insurance claims. And he even lifts an entire passage from Atomic Blonde right in the middle of his new film, again having a mousy nerd played by Eddie Marsan be escorted through a small army of villains by an icy blonde butt-kicker (Kirby this time, instead of Charlize Theron).

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If you’re going to steal, steal from the best – especially if that person happens to be yourself.

Idris Elba is saddled with a cipher of a villain named Brixton Lore.

Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures/Universal Pictures

Still, the excellent pyrotechnics and oft-contagious fun that Leitch and his team are having – Johnson has never looked happier and the man looks pretty pleased with himself 100 per cent of the time – equal only one-half, or maybe two-thirds, of the Furiousverse’s winning formula. We’re meant to care deeply about the estranged relationship between Statham and Kirby’s characters, but I forgot they were brother and sister until the moment I started typing this sentence. The charming Idris Elba is saddled with a cipher of villain, even by F&F standards (whose last big baddie was actually named “Cipher”). And Johnson tries mightily to replicate Diesel’s family first mentality by lacing in a story about Hobbs’s – and the actor’s own – Samoan roots. Yet, the effort is more tacked on than organic, not helped by the fact that Leitch filmed in Hawaii rather than the 2,500-miles-away Samoa.

Maybe these are unfair and unnecessary quibbles for a film whose soundtrack features a song titled Hobbs & Shaw Rocks! The film is ridiculous and proud of it. There is even a line where Johnson says, “Of course I think you’re stupid,” almost directly into the camera. So for now, I’m going to go lay down, chuckle at the film’s inventive ridiculousness and try not to think too hard about anything at all. It’s what Hobbs and Shaw would want.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw opens Aug. 2

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