Movies

The Best Part of Hobbs & Shaw Is Neither Hobbs Nor Shaw

While the Rock and Jason Statham mug for the camera, Vanessa Kirby runs away with the movie.

Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, and Vanessa Kirby walk toward the camera away from some sort of military vehicle.
Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, and Vanessa Kirby in Hobbs & Shaw.
Universal Pictures

The Fast and the Furious franchise is built around the concept of family, so think of the protagonists of Hobbs & Shaw as the two black sheep. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are both antagonists who’ve been brought into the fold, the former a government agent who was once tasked with bringing in Dominic Toretto and his gang of vehicularly enabled crooks, the latter a mercenary who killed one of their own. Exactly how the man who murdered Han became one of Dom and co.’s allies is the subject of a series of plot contortions that amount to a stretched-out shrug emoji, but while diehard fans are still seeking #JusticeForHan, they know that the series respects screen chemistry above all else. That’s why the movies rerouted the timeline to bring Han, who was originally killed at the end of the third installment, back for three subsequent movies, and that’s why Johnson and Statham, who sparked together as both enemies and comrades, now have their own spinoff. (It’s also, reportedly, because of fierce on-set tension between Johnson and original star Vin Diesel.)

Although one’s a gargantuan Pacific Islander American and one’s an average-size Englishman, Johnson and Statham are both muscle-bound middle-age men with a flair for both physical action and tongue-in-cheek comedy, which is to say that as a buddy-cop paring, they’re less like oil and water than tap and bottled. The movie’s split-screen opening emphasizes their differences while also underlining their similarities: One may drive a beat-up truck and the other a sleek sports car; one may announce himself to a gang of bad guys as “an ice-cold can of whoop-ass” while the other calls himself a “Champagne problem”; but they both think the best approach to a problem is to throw their substantial bodies at it headfirst. When an encounter is done and it’s time for one last quip, they each take a stab at it, as if they’re still auditioning for a spot in the final cut.

All that quipping can be exhausting, and at times, it feels like the movie is tired of it, too. It’s modestly badass when the cybernetically enhanced villain, played by Idris Elba, refers to himself as “black Superman,” but then the movie repeats it twice more, as if you weren’t listening the first time, or maybe just couldn’t hear it over the sound of engines revving and the incessant blare of soundtrack music. (Director David Leitch, of John Wick and Atomic Blonde, has used soundtrack music more cannily in the past, but here it feels like a desperate attempt to goose things along and speed you through the film’s bloated running time.) Early references to Hobbs and Shaw’s estranged siblings (both of whom, it comes as no surprise, eventually figure in the plot) keep things on-brand, family-wise, but the movie’s studied coolness and self-parodic gender politics—do not, under any circumstances, do a shot every time one man makes a joke about the other’s small dick—feel more akin to the slick soullessness of the Kingsman franchise. The Fast and Furious series’ secret weapon is its unabashed corniness, but Hobbs & Shaw feels terrified of seeming uncool. There’s a joke about Statham wearing a leather jacket in 110-degree heat, but he still keeps the jacket on.

Alas, Hobbs & Shaw’s coolest figure is neither Hobbs nor Shaw—nor even Elba’s Brixton, with his glowing orange eyes and a remote-control motorcycle that appears to be half-Transformer. That honor goes to Vanessa Kirby’s Hattie, a rogue British intelligence agent who willingly makes her body the carrying case for a high-tech virus that could potentially wipe out every person on the planet. (Remember when they just, like, stole safes and stuff?) Last seen channeling Vanessa Redgrave in Mission: Impossible—Fallout, Kirby walks into the movie at a brisk clip and never breaks her stride. If you’ve only seen her on The Crown, imagine Princess Margaret choking the breath out of Dwayne Johnson with her thighs.

Kirby has got a lot of work to do in a movie where few women even have speaking parts and her early-30s character is repeatedly referred to as “the girl.” (She’s also supposed to be roughly the same age as Statham’s character, despite the actor being more than 20 years her senior.) But when she stands with the movie’s ostensible stars, she’s like a limber willow between two blocks of granite, her face and her eyes running through emotional subroutines while Johnson and Statham are deciding precisely which smirk to use. When the movie shunts her offstage during some of its big action sequences, it feels less like she’s being sidelined than like an act of mercy toward her outclassed co-stars.
Brixton may be the superman, but she’s the one who can leap across shipping containers like a stone skimming on a pond—and throw an elbow with enough force to pulverize brick.

Hobbs & Shaw is a ridiculous movie, and sometimes it’s in the best way. I laughed at the audacity of its stunts, while shaking my head a little bit at their silliness. But I also despaired a little bit when I checked the time at what felt like it might be the climax and discovered there was still an hour to go. The story takes us from the skyscrapers of London to an industrial complex in Ukraine to the cliffs of Samoa, and by the end, jet lag was starting to set in. (And that’s not even counting the lengthy midfilm cameo by a famous comedian, or the truly interminable string of post-credits gags.) It’s a movie that does what it needs to do but rarely does more than that, like a replacement part that fits just where it’s supposed to go. You can admire it, and even enjoy how well it works, but it’s difficult to really love.