In this day and age, it’s not often that we get a big budget action film that doesn’t include a superhero. Thankfully, films like John Wick and The Equalizer have gained a healthy enough of an audience to warrant sequels. And while these gritty and smaller films scratch a certain itch in the most satisfying way possible, there’s another itch that they leave tingling. Whatever happened to the epic blockbusters of yore, like True Lies and The Rock? The big, dumb genre fare that didn’t have any business setting up a super team or TV adaptions, films that just wanted to kill 2 hours of time in the most brainless and enjoyable way possible. My friends, if you’ve been aching for something like this, Hobbs & Shaw is the movie for you. It’s mind numbing, over the top, and schlocky, and I loved every second of it.
A spin-off of the Fast & Furious series, the film focuses on The Rock’s (I REFUSE to call him by his lesser, actual name) swole DSS Agent Luke Hobbs, and the formerly villainous Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw. Now reformed, Shaw spends the opening minutes of the film doing various Jason Statham things like going to a pub for a Guinness and beating up Russian mobsters for various reasons. This is presented to us in a split screen with Hobbs doing various The Rock things like lifting weights and beating up some other mobsters. The previous films saw the two on opposing sides of the law and pit them against each other on numerous occasions. Here, the two frenemies are brought together when Shaw’s sister Hatty, an SAS agent, is framed for stealing a super virus by Brixton Lore. Who I will refer to as Cyborg Idris Elba for the duration of the review. Hell with it, I’m doing that for everyone. Hobbs is The Rock and Shaw is Statham.
On the note of Cyborg Idris Elba, he’s a character with all the ingredients to make for a decent antagonist. Which makes it all the more disappointing that he’s utterly unmemorable. Along with a couple of Terminatoresque modifications, he’s got ties to Statham’s past and… that’s really it. He’s a glorified henchman working for a mysterious and evil organization in the same vein as Spectre from the Bond films. It’s easily the weakest part of the film, an obvious set up for a sequel that takes up far too much screen time. It’s just a shame that an actor with as much charisma and raw physicality as Elba is so wasted. Fortunately, not every new addition to the cast is so forgettable. A more accurate title for the film would be Hobbs & Shaw & Hatty. The youngest of the Shaw siblings is a key member of the films cast and just as much of a badass as her two co-stars. There’s some rather needless romance with The Rock thrown at her, as well as some believability issues at her being passed off as being two years younger than her brother given that she’s clearly a good 25 or so years younger than Statham. But ultimately, Hattie is strong enough of a character to not be hindered by any of this. Vanessa Kirby is a scene stealer in her role, playing her part with a sense of ease and confidence. As opposed to the hilariously overcompensation coming from both The Rock and Statham. Speaking of those two.
They bicker. They scream. And, yes, there is a running joke throughout the film where our heroic title characters argue about dick size. The constant arguing is an amusing as it can be tiresome. With the aforementioned dick jokes coming off as particularly cringe-y. Despite the uneven back and forth, the pair have chemistry in both fight scenes and the gags that actually work. The righteous and hulking Rock bounces incredibly well off Statham, whose built a career off of playing skeezy British dudes who are super good at karate. The two play essentially the same characters they’ve been playing the last 20 years, that this is embraced works far more in everyone’s favor than you would think.
It’s a film that knows exactly what it is and has no shame in it. Director David Leitch has proven himself to have some of the best credentials in the genre given some of his previous work like Atomic Blonde and the previously mentioned and hallowed John Wick. He can stage a helluva fight scene and that’’s certainly on display here. Fistfights, shootouts, car chases, running down the side of a skyscraper, etc. It’s all there. The action sequences are almost comical. So much so that a few shouldn’t work at all, but I gotta admit, watching The Rock pull down a helicopter with a chain was one of the best theater experiences I’ve had this year. Granted, I may not be the best judge for that. I could watch The Rock punch out the moon and be utterly enthralled.
I’ve been critical of the Fast & Furious franchise on this site before. I remain steadfast in my commitment to Fast Five being the only legitimately good film in the series. (Having since seen Furious 7, I’ll throw it a bone for having some eye-popping action sequences and a genuinely heartfelt send off for the late Paul Walker. So I guess that kicks the total up to 2 F&F movies that I like.) Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t feel like a F&F movie at all. There’s not really any car porn or scantily clad women grinding to the beat of SoundCloud rap. Nor do we have to contend with Vin Diesel’s godawful Dom Toretto character and his constant growling about family and something, something “one last ride”. The film feels a lot more like a Mission Impossible film than anything else, and is all the better for it.
Hobbs & Shaw was never trying to be anything special. And that’s exactly why I loved it. It’s far from the best movie of the year or even the best action movie of the year. But it’s competently made, and the kind of big budget popcorn film that we don’t really see anymore. The kind that was brutally murdered by Robert Downey Jr. and Christian Bale a little over 10 years ago. Sitting somewhere between “good” and “so bad it’s good”, Hobbs & Shaw is a relic, a blockbuster of a by gone age. An age that I miss, and wouldn’t mind revisiting a time or two more.