Within the first five minutes of Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Idris Elba jumps onscreen off of a CGI motorbike and announces to the audience that he is the bad guy. Even if one had somehow avoided all the marketing material for this film, from this point onward there cannot be any pretense about the film you are about to witness. Hobbs & Shaw is a balls-to-the-wall action spectacle of epic proportion. Whilst its comedy may sometimes be hit-and-miss, its dramatic moments a bit flat, and its character arcs as simple as baby’s first guide to making friends, you can’t help but enjoy every moment – even if the rest of the theatre is staring at you strangely for laughing along.
Modern audiences are no longer impressed by special effects. We have long since proven that any visual spectacle is possible to create in a computer, and so filmmakers must strive further with new methods to impress audiences. It is hard to isolate any particular element of Hobbs & Shaw that succeeds in this regard, but as an overall package this film is unmatched this summer in terms of impressive action and spectacle. Perhaps it is the film’s overindulgence in slow motion, or sweeping, over-the-top camera movements. It could simply be the clever choice of mostly tangible, recognizable locations that work overtime to desperately try to convince the audience the events unfolding before them are supposed to take place in the real word. Either way, the film is wonderfully creative in its effects and action, mostly taking care not to repeat itself and keep the audience unaware of what lies around the next bend.
I have seen other reviewers liken this film to an 80s buddy-cop movie more than a modern blockbuster – and though I would disagree that this film feels for a second anything other than the product of 2019; the central buddy-cop story is surprisingly successful in tying the whole movie into a mostly cohesive arc. The dynamic between Jason Statham and The Rock, whilst incredibly simplistic and predictable in its ultimate conclusion, does prove amply entertaining, and infrequently funny.
This goodwill is threatened however, whenever the film attempts to make the audience take its drama seriously. With dialogue that draws parallels with a bad soap opera, combined with a poorly executed romantic arc, the dramatic heart of this film often fails to be appropriately serious despite its best efforts. To an extent, however, this can be forgiven. With scenes jam-packed with the ridiculous and absurd situated amongst supposedly ‘deeper’ dialogue-based interactions, it can be impossible to bring an audience back to the right frame of mind. But none of this helped by sweeping Michael Bay-esque helicopter shots at all the wrong moments.
As much as I would like to praise the spectacle of this film as its honestly advertised main draw, the writing clearly lets down the visuals somewhat in keeping an audience tense. As has been true of the Fast & Furious franchise since Fast Five, the main characters can survive anything except the real death of the actor- even then, their character gets to drive off into the sunset. There is a complete absence of palpable danger. Sure, the movie may be unafraid to kill off tertiary characters, but when the universe we witness appears to have no rules at all, where everything is possible in pursuit of a cool slow-mo-360 shot, we disengage, no longer concerned for the characters we have invested in. This is particularly the case, if we know they are powerful enough to take out rooms full of armed guards with their fists, rip through chains given enough effort, fall off a building with only another body as cushioning, and even hold onto a goddamn helicopter with one hand. In fact, it’s just like watching anime, except with far more orange, teal and ex-WWE stars.
This last week I was finally convinced to watch Casablanca for the first time. Needless to say, the contrast with Hobbs & Shaw was significant, and I mean that in the best way possible for both. Where Casablanca was like going to see well-acted play, Hobbs & Shaw was a world-famous circus. The weather, time of day, and rules of physics may have changed and flipped on a whim to create the next set piece, the humour may not all be perfect, the romance may not have been convincing and the running time may have deserved to lose 15 minutes, but none of it matters. Hobbes & Shaw was, and is, advertised as a mindless action spectacle that you can have great fun with. If you want Oscar-baiting pretentious think-pieces, go watch something else. For everything else, watch Hobbs & Shaw.