With one hero who quotes Friedrich Nietzsche while flexing his gigantic biceps and another who sports a jacket in tropical temperatures, director David Leitch’s “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” combines silly and satisfying into a deliciously frothy cocktail. This action-packed spin-off easily slips right into the franchise’s legacy, playing to the series’ strengths as well as forging an identity of its own. Featuring a bulletproof, cyborg villain and copious amounts of splendor-filled, CGI-assisted stunts, the filmmakers deliver the goods in a wildly audacious, crowd-pleasing summer standout.
As we glimpsed in “The Fate of the Furious,” our eponymous heroes Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) mix about as well as oil and water. Their alpha-dog egos and hot-headed tempers frequently clash, jockeying for the power position in any situation. Dulled homoerotic undertones reverberate through their latest picture – a burly bromance fueled on clever banter and married-couple-style bickering. However, action’s answer to “The Odd Couple” is about to be tasked with their most difficult mission yet: getting along to save the world.
Deckard’s estranged younger sister, quick-thinking MI-6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), impulsively injected herself with a deadly virus and has disappeared off the grid. She’s being pursued by genetically modified super-soldier Brixton (Idris Elba) and his motorcycle goon squad. Their mysterious, creepy corporate overlords intend to use the biomedical technology as a weapon. As the trio’s cat-and-mouse game with their nemesis ensues and their attempts to extract the virus are foiled, Hattie’s life expectancy grows increasingly short thanks to the ticking time bomb inhabiting her body.
Though no one drinks a Corona, Leitch and screenwriters Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce make the narrative all about family. Not only is Deckard reuniting with his sister, Luke’s also dealing with a similar estrangement from his brother Jonah (Cliff Curtis). This theme is the tie that binds all of the “Fast and Furious” films, but here they go deeper. It’s not solely alluding to the family that car culture creates, but palpable cultural heritage, pulling from Johnson’s real-life Samoan roots and utilizing them as an interesting asset especially when viewed through this franchise’s prism.
Gearheads should feel satiated with the amount of vehicular mayhem. The pursuit through high-trafficked London streets plays like an extended commercial for McLaren sports cars and Triumph motorbikes – albeit impossibly tech-enhanced models. A million mid-life crises will launch thanks to this luxury toy showdown. The shot of Brixton sliding his bike under and through the tires of two big rigs elicits gob-smacking glee. Other big set pieces utilize an industrial dune buggy scaling the walls of a nuclear power plant, ridiculously-reinforced cargo trucks crashing through everything standing in their way and – perhaps this film’s most elation-inducing construction – a convoy of trucks hitched to a helicopter.
Leitch, who has a background concocting exhilarating practical stunt sequences in films like “Atomic Blonde” and “John Wick,” once again pulls no punches when spotlighting hand-to-hand combat. From Brixton’s introduction to toggling between Deckard’s fight with baddies and Luke’s tussle with Hattie, to the climactic two-on-one fight in a downpour, the stunt team’s work is perfectly showcased. He adeptly finds a way to make his branded aesthetic line up with the franchise’s outrageous visual effects style. Plus, there’s something to be said for letting Elba single-handedly bring back the Blockbuster Summer Movie Soundtrack (something that’s been achingly M.I.A. for far too long). The actor/ DJ composes the character-inspired song that plays over the end credits, and there are three tags to make sure you’ll stay seated to hear it.
Despite all the good, its armor is not impenetrable to a few bullets. The love interest angle between Luke and Hattie is awkward at best. We could do without the unnecessary additional fuel to Luke and Deckard’s rivalry. She’s perfectly capable of hijacking the entire film away from her two brawny male counterparts without the aid of a lazy screenwriting device to soften her edges. Morgan and Pearce put a delightful spin on their iteration of Bond’s gadget master with their “Hot Q,” Madame M (Eiza González). She and her team of female assassins are strong, sleek and smart, though thoroughly underutilized in one short scene. It would’ve been fun to see them in action, but now we can only hope they’ll be starring in their own spin-off.
While its worst aspect is that it’s about fifteen minutes too long, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” is a welcome extension of the beloved universe.