That Hobbs & Shaw is the first Fast & Furious movie to open in August frankly comes as a shock. This franchise feels made for the thick of summer, for those hot heavy days when the only thing that makes sense is slipping into a cool theater for an extravagant bit of escapism.
They deliver brawny men, badass women, big explosions, and marble-mouthed ruminations on the importance of family, and all they ask in return is that you kick up your feet and believe, just for a moment, that it might be possible to drive a car through a skyscraper, or parachute one out of a plane, or race one across frozen lake.
Hobbs & Shaw, the first and so far only spinoff of the series, also makes good on that promise, this time by building out the prickly not-quite-friendship established between Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in The Fate of the Furious. But no worries if you missed that one — an early montage of their respective morning routines tells you everything you need to know about how similar and how different they are, with wit and style.
They're teamed this time with a third lead, Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), against a new villain, the technologically enhanced Brixton (Idris Elba), and... something about a world-threatening virus that they need to contain, or get rid of, or whatever? The point is, everyone's alternating between punching, arguing with, and driving very fast cars at each other, and it's all great fun.
Sure, I've got quibbles. Johnson and Statham have phenomenal chemistry, and yet Hobbs & Shaw still manages to overestimate how interesting it is to watch the two of them go yet another round of juvenile dick-measuring banter. Elba is underserved by a role that mostly just requires him to glower, though he does take on a note of unexpected tragedy late in the movie.
The plotting is confusing even by Fast & Furious standards, perhaps because Hobbs & Shaw seems to be trying to retcon some things — though I couldn't tell you what, since the information is sloppily presented. (I don't think there was #JusticeForHan, but I'll leave it to my better-versed colleagues to explain what exactly is supposed to be going on with Deckard's backstory here.)
But any complaints or questions are superseded by the sheer pleasure of watching these beautiful, lovable people subject themselves to annoying guest stars, parental chiding, ever-more-ridiculous action sequences, and of course, ever-more-ridiculous action sequences. Director David Leitch captures the fistfights and car chases cleanly and sharply, without too much CG muddiness and with plenty of cheer-worthy moments; I practically convulsed with glee at several points during one particularly thrilling ride through London.
And then there's Kirby, the film's breakout star and not-so-secret weapon. The former star of The Crown may not have the decades-long action-star résumé of her co-stars, or their cozy positioning within the franchise's mythos. But she (or her stunt double) more than holds her own in the no-holds-barred beatdowns, and what she lacks in tree-trunk-sized biceps, she more than makes up for with her ferocious magnetism. Kirby gives Hobbs & Shaw a jolt of fresh energy, just as Johnson and Statham once did for the core Fast & Furious movies.
Plus, as Deckard's sister, Hattie gives Hobbs & Shaw a way into the naked sentimentality that has become this series' lifeblood. Their sibling relationship is genuinely sweet, if not entirely believable (flashbacks indicate they're supposed to around the same age, which, lol), and her presence gives Hobbs some welcome opportunities to breathe in between bouts of one-upmanship with her brother.
Hobbs & Shaw seems unlikely to surprise anyone who's already into the Fast & Furious movies, or change the mind of anyone who's not. It's the same formula, tweaked for a slightly leaner team projecting slightly more star wattage, and it hits the same sweet spot — and, annoyingly for Vin Diesel, manages to do it all without Dom Toretto. Maybe the family isn't all there. But it turns out the extended relatives throw a pretty good party, too.