How long have you worked here?
After eight movies and an increasing cast of characters latching on without letting go, the Fast & Furious franchise found itself overcrowded. While not a problem on a supporting level, an ego trip logjam at the top almost always gets broken up. Luckily for Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, Universal understands they can’t just boot one in favor of the other. Whether or not the pair’s rumored feud was a publicity stunt or legitimate clash of personalities, they had already become too important to the property for beef to screw with box office receipts. Since Diesel’s Dominic Toretto can’t go anywhere being that he’s the driving force behind the series’ resurgence as producer, the win-win solution is branching his larger-than-life nemesis out to earn on two fronts simultaneously.
It could be argued that Diesel, screenwriter Chris Morgan, and director Justin Lin (who’s returning to helm Fast & Furious 9) are the main creative brain trust behind this unofficial Point Break remake’s astronomical Hollywood ascent. Despite that, however, you have to wonder if Fast Five would have broken things as wide open as it did without The Rock coming onboard to inject his charisma and popularity. Morgan turned him from lawman villain to integral team member—so integral that he became the de facto lead protagonist in The Fate of the Furious once Dom went rogue. It’s hardly a coincidence then that ticket sales doubled between Fast & Furious (the highest grossing chapter at the time with over $300 million) and Fast Five ($600 million). Johnson sells seats.
No disrespect to the rest of the cast, but keeping Diesel and Johnson apart in Fate (whether intentionally a result of their quarrel or not) meant someone had to fill the role of whipping boy for The Rock’s Luke Hobbs’ corny verbal barbs. Who better than another outsider in Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)—a guy who killed Dom’s friend Han and never really paid a price for it once Morgan ret-conned his villainy into victimhood, a progression cemented here in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Another pariah best excised from the main equation to not have to deal with the vengeance that Shaw saving Dom’s son shouldn’t have erased, he became the perfect contrast in style and presence to keep Johnson’s Hobbs honest upon going solo.
Add David Leitch as director and blockbuster screenwriter Drew Pearce punching up Morgan’s script and the potential to turn this dynamic duo into a recurring event only rises higher. Fate gave us a taste of it with the two bickering like an old married couple ad nauseam before a charming moment where they can’t keep themselves from laughing at the nonsense they just spewed. Hobbs even showed a bit of sadness when he believed Shaw had perished—enough that I was shocked when this spin-off began with the two picking right back up with the testosterone-dripping animosity that creates more sexual tension between them than actual antagonism. These two are going to have to learn to play nice together all over again. Get ready for sugar-coated machismo.
But you knew that. It’s what The Rock does now and the only reason studio executives thought this would be a good idea. Fans loved the comedy-heavy hijinks of Hobbs and Shaw’s differing … everything. So why not provide more? One is all brute force while the other is finesse. One’s a cop with his head on a swivel while the other keeps a spy’s low profile to blend in. One is a giant of a man with a smile while the other’s permanent scowl puts a Napoleon complex on full display that probably never existed until meeting Hobbs. The idea was that this rapport could enthrall audiences for two hours on its own with some sporadic bits of explosive action to ensure things don’t get too stale.
It turns out they were right. That’s not to say the shtick doesn’t grow stale—it does. But there’s enough extra flavor to keep things interesting such as a strong woman lead (despite Vanessa Kirby‘s Hattie being an “effective” love interest for Hobbs because of the added jokes her also being Shaw’s sister provides instead of her honest desire to be with him) and stronger villain (Idris Elba‘s Brixton). Both play into the franchise’s “family” angle as the former is biologically so and the latter someone Shaw once called a “brother” on the battlefield. The distinction shows how thick blood is compared to water because Deckard shot Brixton when push came to shove where survival was concerned. This time, however, he’s hesitant to do the same with Hattie.
Why would the thought come up anyway? Because Shaw’s sister has a deadly virus in her veins that will stop being dormant in forty-eight hours and eventually go airborne unless it’s removed or she’s killed. Hattie injected it herself so that Brixton couldn’t get his hands on it to help his unknown boss’ company Eteon cull the herd and rebuild civilization with a super race of technologically enhanced cyborgs (for lack of a better term). Brixton is a prototype of sorts with augmented strength, algorithm-fueled prognosticative sight, and a fully deluded brain that drank the Kool-Aid of this Brand New World he’s helping to secure by any means necessary. And thanks to an overly convoluted script, we don’t have to actually worry about his power until the end.
Only then does he become a force to reckon with because the desire to recruit Hobbs and Shaw evaporates as the deadline to cure Hattie inches closer. Half the film is about getting the virus out (Brixton wants to do this too), so every destructive rendezvous must finish with Elba breathing heavily as he looks on with frustration knowing he’ll have to try again. We gradually work our way towards finding a solution (cue Eddie Marsan‘s Professor Andreiko) with a few too many comic cameos—that can’t help derailing momentum in the meantime—until the showdown on Samoa (as teased in the trailer) comes to fruition. It’s with desperation that Brixton finally gets a kill order and that Hobbs and Shaw finally realize they’re stronger together than apart.
Is it fun? That depends on your tolerance for Johnson and Statham’s unrelenting routine. I’m still entertained, but I’m unsure I can stomach another full movie without some shift away from its numbing predictability. It works best when integrated into the action, but even that has the tendency of running overlong into camp. Kirby is thankfully there to get in the middle and call them out on their unattractive masculine peacocking, but that also undercuts her autonomy. We can therefore hope Hobbs & Shaw is an expository exercise to compile a team that will be on the same page come Round Two. Its impossible set pieces and a very game Elba ultimately overcome that clunky propulsion to be both Fast & Furious familiar and its own unique beast.
 (from left) Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” directed by David Leitch. Photo Credit: Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures ©2019 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
 Idris Elba as Brixton Lorr in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” directed by David Leitch. Photo Credit: Frank Masi/Universal Pictures ©2019 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
 Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” directed by David Leitch. Photo Credit: Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures ©2019 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS