The Case for Hobbs & Shaw
From a pure storytelling perspective, Hobbs & Shaw’s opening scene is its best. Framed in a side-by-side split screen, we’re taken from their morning routines all the way through an evening of ass-kicking and through this process the movie sells and explains itself better than any trailer ever could: this is an odd-couple buddy comedy. Hobbs, surrounded by reminders of his fatherhood and quiet domestic life starts his day by gulping down a pitcher of raw eggs while Shaw wakes up next to a woman whose name we’ll never learn and gets to work on an omelette in his immaculately clean high-end apartment. Odd-couple contrast? Check. Next we watch each square-jawed bad-ass stroll through a nest of easily dispatched bad guys while quipping their way to a confrontation with a particular baddie who can give them information about the main plot. Comedic prowess and common goals established? Check and check. From there on we settle in to await the inevitable confrontation of these two over-muscled egos and in that regard Hobbs & Shaw does not disappoint. From start to finish this film never skimps on the laughs (intentionally or otherwise) and is always at its best when the titular stars are trading silly insults. Their competing chemistry is so effective and natural that you’d be forgiven for wondering when the two will realize their true feelings for one another and the movie will evolve into the rom-com it’s yearning to become.
Despite the Fast & Furious Presents moniker, this film feels far more like a comedic spin on Mission: Impossible meets The Winter Soldier than it does any of the films from the franchise that spawned it. Sure, there are gravity defying car chases and an emphasis on the importance of family (this time blood-related ones) but far more time is spent on fist fights, espionage, and cybernetic super-soldiers and thus the new burgeoning franchise is allowed its own identity. That’s probably for the best since the action scenes are where Hobbs & Shaw sputters and stalls. They’re not bad so much as they are forgettable. There’s nothing that comes close to the excitement or sheer insanity of Brian and Dom using an enormous safe as a high-speed wrecking ball or any of Tom Cruise’s M:I stunts. The action is kind of just… there. Exciting enough and interspersed with enough ridiculous moments to keep you engaged but it’s not what you’ll leave the theater excited about nor is it the reason you’ll show up for the inevitable sequel, 2 Hobbs 2 Shaw (credit to Mike Reistetter for this perfect and obvious joke I wish I’d thought of as quickly as he did).
What truly keeps the movie going is the comedy. Much like last year’s Venom, this film is on to something with its central dynamic and it’s charming and fun enough to carry it though some mild action and occasionally horrendous dialogue. As a duo, Hobbs and Shaw have the potential to reach Riggs and Murtaugh heights if they can get the right pieces around them. Thankfully, they’re off to a solid start as this movie’s second biggest strength is its cameos. I won’t spoil them, as the Hobbs & Shaw marketing team was smart enough to keep them a surprise, but I’m already vastly more excited to see the return of these supporting players than I am any of the original franchise’s.
Hobbs & Shaw is pure dumb fun and never aspires to be anything more than that so it’s easy to look past the expected flaws like bad dialogue and thin characters, but the biggest black mark is the unexpected whitewashing of the Shaw character (no, not THAT kind of whitewashing). Part of what made Shaw so fun in the first place is that he was an amoral bad guy who had a genuine motivation (avenging his brother) to do the things he did but was not so purely evil that he couldn’t be convinced to do the right thing now and then. That gray area is part of what made his team-ups with the rigidly moral DSS Agent Luke Hobbs so much fun. But this film posits that Shaw was never bad in the first place and under all his combative machismo beats the same genuinely good heart as his co-star. That sucks. Why make an effort to simplify the dynamic when the complications were what made it fun in the first place? Not to mention how the movie completely ignores the sibling Shaw was introduced to avenge. The film spends a notable amount of time exploring his and his sister Hattie’s childhood, a childhood that apparently didn’t include their other brother. It’s hard to say how distracting this will be for the average moviegoer but it nagged me the entire time I was watching.
Overall, your mileage may vary with Hobbs & Shaw. The requisite suspension of disbelief is enormous (perhaps most of all with the assertion that Jason Statham and Vanessa Kirby are about the same age) and there are too many times you’ll be laughing AT the movie as opposed to with it, but I have a feeling most audience members will be won over the pure charm of the film’s leads. It’s silly, it’s fun, and it doesn’t overstep its bounds. Warts and all, Hobbs & Shaw is a fun time at the theater and I’ll likely be in attendance for the next one.
Best enjoyed on the big screen but by no means mandatory viewing