Cinema Dispatch: Hobbs & Shaw

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Hobbs & Shaw and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by David Leitch

You know what movie I’ve recently watched again?  Face/Off!  Seriously, isn’t that like THE BEST MOVIE EVER MADE!?  Great performances, over the top action, doves, it’s got it all!  I’ve always had a soft spot for action movies like that where two awesome actors are either working together or fighting one another while ludicrous action is going on around them.  It’s my excuse for still liking Central Intelligence, and it’s also why I found myself really excited to see this movie.  That trailer with the goofy song choice, the laughable premise, and Idris Elba being the most awesome Terminator imaginable hit all the right buttons for me, and throwing in John “THE DWAYNE” Rockson together with America’s favorite British dude Jason Statham was just the icing on the cake!  Can this spin-off of the most absurd action franchise of all time manage to excel past what came before it, or was moving the focus away from the main cast as bad an idea now as it was when they did it in Tokyo Drift?  Let’s find out!!

After the events of Fate of the Furious, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are no longer in jail because… I guess saving the world gives you a free pass, and are going about their daily lives as the most interesting men in the universe; living in nice houses, driving nice cars, and kicking random bad guy butts whenever the need arises.  The best part is that neither one of them has to see the other one since they live in entirely different countries working for entirely different bosses, and can just leave each other in peace, because I guess they don’t like each other anymore for some reason.  Well too bad for them!  Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) gets swept up in some global crisis involving a deadly robo-virus and is being hunted down by deadly robo-MAN Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), so Hobbs and Shaw have to put aside their differences and work together to keep the virus Hattie selflessly injected into herself from falling into the wrong hands, and to find some way to cure her before her insides turn to mush.  Can these three action heroes with coolness to spare but baggage for days outsmart the perfect cyborg human and whatever EVIL organization he works for?  Will they find the cure for this virus inside of a fast moving car or at the end of a gun barrel!?  I wonder if the next one will be Hobbs & Shaw vs. The Fast and the Furious…

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“Looks like I’ve got to take you in again, Dom.”     “And I’m the bad guy still.”     “And I’m here as well!”

If you could say nothing else about this movie, it’s at least as good as should reasonably be expected from a latter day Fast and Furious film.  See, I’m one of those people who enjoys them the longer they go on as they get further and further into utter absurdity which this film is no doubt a very clear continuation of.  You don’t need me to tell you that the movie with The Rock skydiving without a parachute, Jason Statham driving a sports car underneath a truck, and a guest appearance from Roman Reigns, is not particularly subtle or challenging as a cinematic experience.  You also don’t need me to tell you that a movie that costs this much with this many big name stars manages to look good, sound good, and have enjoyable performances from everyone’s favorite A-List action stars.  The only thing I can really tell you is that the film has JUST enough going on beyond what you’d expect from these films by this point that I think it’s a notable entry in the genre instead of just keeping the seat warm while everyone else gets to work on The F-9-al Furious.

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“IS MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ COMING BACK?”     “PROBABLY, BUT I’M SURE THEY’LL PAIR YOU UP WITH NATHALIE EMMANUEL.”     *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*     “WHO!?”

There are a few new things in here worth discussing, but as far as everything you’d want and reasonably expect from a Fast and Furious movie, it’s all present, accounted for, and polished to a mirror shine.  I guess there isn’t an ACTUAL street race in the movie, but really those had become a tertiary feature the series by this point anyway so it’s not much of a loss here; especially with everything else they’ve got on display.  Statham and Johnson’s chemistry carries over from the last few movies and these actors are perfectly suited for the bombastic nature of the drama on display.  I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them COULD do Shakespeare, but their niche has been firmly established and this is just another solid entry in their respective filmographies which is good because these two being themselves is what’s gonna sell tickets; even more so than the action, which by the way is VERY good.  You see the trailer with that beautiful clip of Dwayneson “The Rockson” Johnson just jumping off the building like that one scene in The Other Guys, and it does not disappoint when it plays out in full.  THe rest of the action is similarly at that level of silliness, albeit not quite as… memorably non-sensical as Johnson playing chicken with gravity.  However, what helps the action here stand out at least a little bit from other similarly over the top spectacle films is the interesting angle that it frames it all with.  We’ll get to Idris Elba’s character soon enough, but in the film he’s not a FINAL BOSS with a bunch of lackey’s along the way as is typical with a lot of movies like this.  Okay, it’s KIND of like that since he IS a boss character and there ARE a bajillion henchmen waiting to get their bones broken, but more than anything else this dude is The Nemesis from Resident Evil 3.  Instead of our heroes chasing Idris Elba, he’s the one doing the chasing as Statham, Johnson, and Kirby, are all scrambling to get away from him or at most keep him at bay long enough for an escape route to pen up.  It creates a form of tension that I’m pretty sure is unique to this franchise as I try to rack my brain for another Fast and Furious film that does this.  MAYBE Fast Five since they were hiding from Hobbs, but even then it wasn’t like the unstoppable wrecking machine with fists of fury that Elba is in this!  It keeps the villain looking strong which isn’t easy to do with such overly competent main characters, but it also doesn’t make Shaw and Hobbs out to be incompetent jokes either; finding a balance between genuine threat and unflappable swagger that Fate of the Furious, a movie I still really like by the way, couldn’t quite manage.

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I guess he CAN get blood from a stone!  BA-DUM-TISH!!

As far as what’s genuinely new here which pretty much begins and ends with the new cast, most of it works pretty well.  Vanessa Kirby fits perfectly here for the kind of movie that’s being made which is sort of damning with faint praise, but I also don’t want to undercut how genuinely fun it is to watch her fight alongside the other two characters.  The movie DEFINITELY doesn’t pass the Bechdel test and it relies on WAY too many clichés of the genre for female characters, but she is just as capable as everyone else in the cast and has some strong dramatic moments when the need arises.  In a movie that’s full of broadly drawn characters, she is no more one dimensional then everyone else; I just wish they made a few different decisions here and there with the script as what we have on screen feels somewhat outdated.  Everyone is after her because she’s the vessel of some unspeakable evil she can’t control (take a shot), she gets kidnapped for like ten minutes in the third act (take TWO shots), and her male travel companions are alternatively an overprotective family member and a potential love interest (just finish the bottle already).  Still, at least she isn’t Eiza González whose entire role here is to give Statham a sexy kiss, hand over a few gadgets, and then never be heard from again.  Yeah, not the most SPECTACULAR movie out there for female representation, but I think Kirby at least comes off well enough that I want to see her in future installments as long as she has a much meatier and less obvious role.  The other big new role here goes to Idris Elba who is no doubt constrained by the very arch character that he has to play here, but he equips himself well for the over the top machismo that Brixton represents; a man so determined to be the best and seek out his revenge that he allows himself to a puppet for higher powers and adopts a Darwinian worldview to justify it all.  In a different movie he could have been truly terrifying and a haunting antagonist, but that would have been completely inappropriate here; and as an imposing tough guy with charisma, Elba pulls it off effortlessly.  There are a few other people in here with little more than cameos, but it’s actually a bit fun to see just who they managed to rope into this phenomenally ludicrous franchise and they pull one out every half hour or so which at least gives you something to kind of look forward to on top of seeing whatever nonsense the writers could come up with next.  There is one more thing that has kind of changed here though which is the tone as this is the first Fast and Furious film that’s a straight up comedy.  Okay, you can argue 2 Fast 2 Furious is an absolute farce, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who likes that movie in the first place.  The rest of the films certainly have comedic elements to them, but when you strip away all the bombast and Tyrese one-liners it’s ultimately a melodrama which is why the one thing people always remember about these movies is FAMILY.  It all comes down to their inter-personal relationships which might be why it succeeds where other similarly over the top franchise films like that new Men in Black have struggled.  Now that’s not to say that family is ABSENT in this movie (Both Statham and Johnson have family issues to work out), but by refocusing the film on these two relative newcomers to the franchise they also changed the perspective a bit which I do appreciate.  If you’re gonna be a spin-off, at least TRY to have a different feel from the other films!

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Seriously, why did they even bother animating Moana when they had The Rock RIGHT THERE!?

There are only two consistent problems that I had with this movie.  The first is simple enough which is the somewhat poor editing on display.  The actual cuts in the action are fine as far as I can remember from the sheer velocity of it all, but there are definitely points where there’s an awkward end to a scene or a poorly timed transition.  Nothing major, but it’s worth bringing up since so much of this movie’s strength is in just how well it moves things along and keep up the momentum and these brief moments can undercut that momentum somewhat.  The other issue is something that was always going to plague this franchise when they decided that Shaw was going to be part of the team, and that’s the fact that HE KILLED HAN!!  That son of a biscuit made Han’s car explode just to send Dom a message and was the primary antagonist of the sixth movie!  I wouldn’t harp on it AS MUCH if the movie didn’t constantly try to tell me that he’s ACTUALLY a good person and that everything bad he did was either a lie or justified, yet they conveniently ignore… well everything we’ve already seen him do!  That, and I do recall Hobbs and Shaw kind of working out their differences in the last movie, so to see them go through those same motions here without some sort of new angle (maybe Shaw screwed Hobbs over in some way between films) feels off as well.  If nothing else, I think this is a good illustration of where the EXPANDED UNIVERSE model can work a bit better than direct sequels which is what he Fast and Furious franchise has been doing up to this point.  We’re watching these movies based on the characters in them and we know their histories up to this point, and again it was ALL melodrama which means that the decisions characters made and the impact they had was REALLY important.  With Marvel they spread the stories out far enough that the narrative of each individual film isn’t burdened by the weight of everything else that came before it, and unfortunately that’s not the case here no matter how badly they want it to be.

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HASHTAG JUSTICE FOR HAN!!

If you want another action film to end the summer on, you really couldn’t ask for much more than this.  There are better movies this year and there are better spectacles to see, but with so much working in this movie’s favor from its casting, its action, to even the talent behind the camera, it’s got more than enough going for it to make it worth your time.  I’d definitely recommend seeing it in a theater to get the most out of the experience since it’s the kind of movie where the big screen and loud audio brings out the best of what this movie can be.  The Fast and the Furious may not be the most refined franchise out there, but it’s stood the test of time like few others have and I’ll certainly keep watching them until they decide to stop; unless of course the next one is a sequel to Tokyo Drift.  Oh who am I kidding?  That’s EXACTLY what they’re gonna do to bring back Han!

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