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One Movie Punch

Aug 5, 2019

Hi everyone!

Welcome back to another Matinee Monday, this time for a film that truly tests the limits of the blockbuster franchise. The Fast & Furious franchise is one of the highest grossing of all time, and their last film, 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” showed no signs of slowing down. It ended up being one of my favorite films that year, with one of my favorite fight scenes, which is a sort of prequel for today’s offshoot. 

For a few other action films, check out “Deadpool 2” (Episode #141) which has an eerily similar prison fight sequence, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (Episode #148) with some other franchise anti-heroes, and last year’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (Episode #211), which also shows no sign of stopping.

Before the review, we’ll be hearing a promo from the Pop! Pour! Review Podcast. Tune in every Monday for an extended discussion about movies and adventures in creating cocktails. Catch their recent episode with a retrospective on the Batman franchise, including a custom drink called The Joker. You won’t regret it!

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Here we go!




Today’s movie is “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw”, the ninth film in the Fast & Furious franchise, directed by David Leitch, and written by Drew Pearce and Chris Morgan, with a story by Chris Morgan, based on the characters created by Gary Scott Thompson. The film follows the unlikely alliance of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), as they team up to take down a genetically enhanced supervillain named Brixton (Idris Elba). And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a strong supporting role for Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds). Sort of.

No spoilers.

I’ve always admired the Fast & Furious franchise. Despite having an initially lackluster response from the critics, the first few films had great success at the box office, pulling in some amazing hauls with later films. Part of the success was understanding the franchise’s strengths, which involved high stakes car stunts and rapid-fire action, with just enough story to move us from one action scene to another. While other films are deep think pieces about existentialism or whatever, every Fast & Furious film is an exercise in stripping down the action film to its bare essence, and delivering a good time in the process.

I’ve also admired the way the franchise has evolved over that time. The first three films were essentially the same film, which is to say a crime story built specifically around illegal street racing, set in either Los Angeles, Miami, or Tokyo. The box office dip in “Tokyo Drift” lead to bringing back the original cast, retooling as larger action pieces and ensemble films, but with the same intensity as the car chases that form the backbone of the franchise. Critics began to absolutely drool over this franchise, with the franchise getting better and better.

“Hobbs & Shaw” is a first attempt at building a larger universe for the franchise, taking the fragments of sub-plots regarding Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, particularly their rivalry, and smashing them together into a buddy comedy film. It seems like an obvious extension for a franchise with a solid ensemble cast. And given the ridiculous and public beef between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, probably a politically sensitive move. And yet, it can’t seem to make it work, despite over two hours of content. 

The main problem has to do with the characters themselves. The “Fast and Furious” franchise has been an exercise in stripping down characters and story to loosely justify the incredible action scenes. It works effectively with its ensemble cast because none of the characters are that well developed. Dom Toretto and Brian O’Connor never really grow as characters throughout the franchise. Every character that has joined (or re-joined) the ensemble has been intentionally underdeveloped, including Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw. We get just enough story and exposition to place the action figure on the field of the imagination, and we’re off to the races. “Hobbs and Shaw” must necessarily take a great deal of time to develop these characters to fill their own space, and without much there, it’s either recycled storytelling, in the case of Deckard Shaw and his family of misfits, or shoehorned storytelling, including an entire family drama in Samoa. The story feels more contrived than usual, especially with all the quite obvious references to their respective careers, and with the “Seriously-Guys-I’m-Not-Deadpool-Wink-Wink” show-stealing supporting performance by Ryan Reynolds as Locke, administrative support for Luke Hobbs.

The second problem has to do with pacing. For a franchise built on speed, this film can almost be criminally slow over its two hour, fifteen minute run time. Part of that has to do with needing to waste time on character development. Part of that was putting way too much emphasis on the comedic aspect of the film. The beef between Hobbs and Shaw is, at best, a sideshow in the larger “Fast and Furious” franchise. Here, it’s forced. Funny, definitely, but often at the expense of pacing. I actually felt tired watching the film, and disappointed at the end of the Moscow/Ukraine segment when I realized there was still another whole section of the film to endure. I like mindless entertainment, but not boring entertainment.

Here’s one more reflection and perhaps another point of contention. The scope of the threat within this film is probably too large for a spin-off film. Hobbs jokes quite a bit about the number of times he’s saved the world, but as with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when there’s a massive threat to be faced, I often ask why they aren’t calling everyone else in to help. Sure, they configured the story within “Hobbs and Shaw” to isolate our protagonists, but this again feels contrived and out of step for the bonds that supposedly exist within the ensemble. I was actually half expecting the rest of the franchise to show up for the last battle, but I’m sure the beef in the franchise prevented any notion of that happening.

Critical reviews and box office numbers suggest we’re going to get sequels, or at least a continuation of the larger story, conveniently left open-ended at the end of “Hobbs and Shaw”. If they don’t decide to fold the larger threat back into the ensemble films, this combination is going to require a little retooling, much like the franchise needed moving from the fourth film to the fifth film. Hopefully future films can retool this duo in a way that capitalizes on what worked within this film, stripping out anything that slows it down, and keeping the scope right where it needs to be so the rest of the team isn’t needed. Otherwise, while the franchise will continue to be a cash cow, it will lose a lot of the ground on which it built its critical success.

“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” is the first attempt at expanding the “Fast & Furious” franchise away from its ensemble cast. The film finds unavoidable limits within its lead characters and suffers from a lack of speed for which the franchise is known. Action fans, or fans of any of the lead characters, or anyone that wants to shut down their brain for two hours of fun action and comedy will definitely enjoy this film.

Rotten Tomatoes: 67%

Metacritic: 60

One Movie Punch: 5.2/10

“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (2019) is rated PG-13 and is currently playing in theaters.