Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is the first official spinoff from the main Fast and Furious series, starring Dwayne Johnson as Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham as former British Special Forces assassin Deckard Shaw. The two characters, both latecomers to the franchise–Hobbs first showed up in Fast Five while Shaw launched his run with a cameo in Fast and Furious 6–have proven enormously popular, especially when they were forced to reluctantly team up in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. They generated so much chemistry that even Vin Diesel was unnerved.
But while Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (a mouthful of a title that we’ll just shorten to Hobbs & Shaw from this point on) does contain a couple of car chases–one through the streets of London and one involving a chain of vehicles and a helicopter that stretches whatever suspension of disbelief you may have left–it is very clear that the Fast and Furious series has continued to wander so far astray from its street racing origins that its next destination may very well be space. Not that that would be a bad thing.
Indeed, after The Fate of the Furious showcased a plot involving cyber-terrorists, EMP weapons, nuclear footballs, and a submarine, it should come as no surprise at all that the main villain in Hobbs & Shaw, Brixton Lorr (Idris Elba), is all but a full-blown cyborg. He’s a genetically and technologically altered warrior whose abilities are so enhanced that he even calls himself “Black Superman” at one point and is referred to by Statham as “the Terminator.” The scheme that Lorr is spearheading while backed by the shadowy Etheon corporation is straight out of James Bond… or rather, Avengers: Infinity War.
As the movie opens, Lorr and his minions are out to steal a virus called “Unicorn,” which if released could wipe out half the population. Thanos, I mean Lorr, and Etheon want to get this little number out into the world because they believe the place is overcrowded and could use some pruning. But they’re prevented from doing so by Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), a very capable MI6 agent who injects the time-delayed pathogen into her own system before Lorr can get hold of it… and her.
Turns out that Hattie is rather conveniently Shaw’s sister, which is how Shaw and Hobbs get involved in the case, courtesy of their respective agencies (and the first of two pretty hilarious surprise cameos). From that point on, it’s a two-hour hunt that stretches from London to the abandoned nuclear power plant in Chernobyl to the island nation of Samoa, where Hobbs must reconnect with his long-estranged clan for help as Lorr and his army close in.
With a script by Fast and Furious overmind Chris Morgan, as well Iron Man 3‘s Drew Pearce, the plot machinations are familiar, many of the beats are right out of Action Blockbuster 101, as are the cloying nods to family and friendship that are the emotional linchpin of the series as a whole. But the most surprising thing about Hobbs & Shaw, which is directed efficiently by David Leitch, is that this is also the franchise’s first all-out comedy. That chemistry and camaraderie between the title heroes, as well as the actors who play them, does a lot of the heavy-lifting while keeping the mood light.
This may rattle some fans of the rest of the series, but the humor helps make the otherwise ridiculous and highly derivative story go down easier. So does the work done by Johnson and Statham; both are naturally gifted and funny, but Statham has the edge when it comes to deadpan delivery and a bit more nuance. Elba doesn’t go that over the top as Lorr, but seems to be enjoying himself nonetheless and, even if his character wasn’t a super soldier, he makes for a formidable physical threat against the massive Johnson and the more slippery Statham. Kirby’s smart, fearless Hattie continues the series’ commendable efforts to give its main female characters agency and skills that match those of the men.
Make no mistake, however: Hobbs & Shaw is a bromance from the start, with Johnson and Statham calling each other “brother” even as they trade barbs and dodge everything from collapsing buildings to that helicopter we mentioned earlier (there’s even a moment where Johnson is basically channeling Chris Evans in Captain America: Civil War). There is some genuine heart to their interactions (and with others as well, especially in the Samoan scenes) that stops the picture from becoming another brain-numbing string of action set-pieces, and thankfully everyone seems in on the joke.
Nevertheless, we do end up with things like a chain of cars careening along a cliff as they drag that pesky chopper behind them, or people chasing each other vertically down skyscrapers, or a motorcyclist zigzagging his way under a truck and somehow emerging unscathed. It’s those big-ticket items that continue to give diehard Fast and Furious fans value for their money. The rest of us, meanwhile, shouldn’t be ashamed to admit that we would be perfectly fine with watching this team again in a future installment. The Hobbs & Shaw Universe–in every sense of the word–may not be that far away.
Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is out in theaters this Friday, Aug. 2.
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Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye