‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Lands on the Nose

The first spinoff of the 'Furious' franchise knows its roots.
Hobbs & Shaw
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The fifth installment of the Dwayne Johnson-centered Furious series was bound for a spinoff since his inclusion in 2011’s Fast Five. It was then that the ongoing series — this one the 9th total, and counting — pivoted from its small-time race car and theft roots to morph into what we recognize now as the Fast & Furious formula: over-the-top machismo and action that has become its own standard in defining the genre for a generation. When Fast & Furious 6 introduced Jason Statham, played as Deckard Shaw, his character and Johnson’s Hobbs quickly turned into an antagonistic bromance of one-upmanship as the Hulk-ish Hobbs fought against, and then alongside, the sleek debonair of Statham’s Shaw. To enjoy their inevitable spin-off takes the prerequisite suspension of disbelief and immersion into the Furious universe where little makes sense aside from speed, strength, and sexuality, but also unearned forgiveness of Deckard Shaw as the character who killed fan-favorite Han. If you’re able to make the leap and are a fan of the series, Hobbs & Shaw will meet your expectations by being the blockbuster promised and your summer fix of the Furious franchise.

Idris Elba plays Brixton, whose villainy serves as an allusion to climate change and the increasing threat to human extinction that begs for our need to evolve. Cybernetically enhanced, Brixton is the lead foot soldier for the secret society that made him, and he is on a mission to own a virus that can wipe out the world as we know it. When the fate of the world is at hand at the same time the virus’ host turns out to be Deckard Shaw’s sister, the stage is set for the duo’s begrudging team up.

Adding Elba as Brixton, the technologically-advanced cybernetic terrorist from an underground organization adds more star power to a series that runs on it as fuel. Each new Furious meets its mandate by adding a new hook of increased action (see: Fast & Furious tropes like crashing a car into an ever-escalating series of other vehicles) and new A-list celebrities who want in on that action as almost a rite of passage, a certification that they’re part of the fun crowd who takes themselves lightly enough to join the franchise. Hobbs & Shaw is no exception, including Helen Mirren as she reprises her role of Deckard Shaw’s mother to absolutely no purpose in the film’s plot and two other A-list cameos that won’t be ruined by my naming them here.

Hobbs and Shaw’s team up, of course, is full of quippy banter and escalating action that bring Johnson’s acting style home to his WWF roots. The third in their trio, Hattie Shaw, played by Vanessa Kirby, plays the tie that binds the two men together in the most expected of ways. Still, within the my-sister-is-dating-my-frenemy trope, the film exercises as much self-awareness as it can muster through Hattie’s autonomy as a badass of her own, and a short speech by Hobbs that puts the point — as all things are in this film — directly on the nose. What you might find harder to believe is that Deckard and Hattie are meant to be around the same age (the actors are over 20 years apart in real life), but like much of the series, details are not meant to matter.

Suspiciously (and disappointingly) absent from the film are any character ties to the main Furious characters. When the Hobbs, Shaw, and Shaw trio find their backs against the wall with no place to turn, Hobbs takes them to Samoa in a forced setting that gives us a shirtless Johnson on his home island rather than seeking help from “the best crew in the world” as each previous film has reminded us. The setting serves its purpose though, capping the previous action sequences with a beautiful new backdrop in ways that both register payoffs from previous foreshadowing around the villains’ use of guns, but also pay homage to the larger franchise’s roots where family rules all and nitrous oxide will save the moment if not the entire day.

Of course, I won’t ruin the film’s ending except to say that the shadow organization behind Brixton’s terrorism is yet to be revealed (it could be argued whether a Furious-movie ending could even be ruined). There are allies who arm the team with crucial weapons, feats of engineering that build Elizabeth Holmes’ Edison in a day, and heroic speeches that outright state the themes of the film in case you happen to miss them. Like the rest of the Furious world, Hobbs & Shaw is tailor-made for a sequel should the franchise choose to continue their adventures, as it almost undoubtedly will. Until then, you could make worse decisions than spending your money on an action-powered escape full of A-grade comedy from A-list actors. For Furious fans, you should find yourself right at home with family, old and new.

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  • Jordan Calhoun is a writer and pop culture savant in New York City. He holds a B.A. in Sociology and Criminal Justice, B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Japanese, and an M.P.A. in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy. He might solve a mystery, or rewrite history. Find him on Twitter @jordanmcalhoun

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