IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 136 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A crew of MI6 agents attempt to retrieve a virus, Snowflake, which can be programmed to decimate millions of people, from terrorist organization Eteon. Brixton Lore, an Eteon operative with advanced cybernetic implants that allow him to perform superhuman feats, arrives and kills all agents except for their leader, Hattie Shaw, who injects Snowflake into herself as a dormant carrier and escapes. Brixton frames Hattie as a traitor who killed her team and stole Snowflake, forcing her to go on the run. Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, Hattie’s brother, are assigned to work together to find Hattie and take Eteon down, something that’s very hard when the two can’t stand each other….
Re-reading the above synopsis, I’m reminded of Mission Impossible 2, though the film that this spin-off movie addition to the box office-storming Fast and Furious franchise is probably Tango And Cash, the 1989 action movie that teamed Sylvester Stallone with Kurt Russell. In a year full of cracking examples of the genre [The Killer, Blind Fury, Lethal Weapon 2, Roadhouse etc], that film was a commercial disappointment, but an undeserved one in my opinion as it provides loads of silly fun. I get the feeling that the screenwriters for this endeavour Chris Morgan [on his sixth installment in this series and therefore somebody who’s been somewhat overlooked when the success of these films is talked about] and Drew Pearce were clearly riffing on the 1989 film here. Is the result as guiltily enjoyable? It is in places, though looking at the two pictures can result in one comparing the way these kinds of films are made now with the way they were made back in the ‘80s and the ‘90s [I feel that the first half of the ‘90s was every bit as good a time for the action movie as the ‘80s, just think of the classics that came out], and sadly these comparisons are mostly in favour of the good old days – though I say this, of course, as a 49 year old fuddy duddy. Many young people consider the Fast And Furious series to be the bees knees, and I have to admit that I can’t help but feel fondness for a mega-budget, mega-successful franchise that doesn’t feature superheroes [well, unless you don’t count the self-described Black Superman in this entry], even if personally I kind of wish that it would return to its car racing routes [and I know that there are some fans who wish this too].
But enough about me. An interesting factor in Fast And Furious 7 was that Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel didn’t share much screen time, and didn’t seem to be enjoying sharing the screen time they did have. Instead, Johnson was mostly paired with Jason Statham while we were presumably supposed to forget how Statham’s character murdered a particular character beloved by many fans some time before. The chemistry between the two was very strong, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the two big screen tough guys have been gifted with a spin-off. I can’t say that I missed the irritating, pretentious Vin Diesel one bit – but I can say that Johnson and Statham are great together again, and their pairing is easily the best thing about this movie. Right from the beginning, the two deliver put downs to each other, and they’re mostly lacking in genuine wit [but should you really expect wit in a 2019 blockbuster?], focusing mainly on each other’s size and peaking [if you can call it that] in a joke where Shaw creates alias for himself, Hobbs and Hattie, and gives Hobbs the moniker of Mike Oxmaul [say it out loud!], resulting in a variant on one of the scenes in Porky’s which had me cracking up as a younger teenager. I admit that I was still amused in 2019, though in general the writing isn’t very good. But the two main stars are obviously having so much fun, and the film plays up to this, that one can’t help but be carried along and have a good time. In fact the other two leads are really good too – Vanessa Kirby as a slightly cheeky heroine in a film which presents her as very capable and at times more sensible than the men but which still thankfully doesn’t feel the need to shove Girl Power stuff down our throats, and Idris Elba as a frankly ridiculous Terminator-style baddie improved by Elba’s quite layered acting which lets you know that Brixton clearly believes that what he wants to do is justified.
We open of course with some action, some terrorists gunning down CIA agents and Hattie only just about escaping from Brixton, who’s stopping of bullets with his hand Matrix-style immediately lets us know that he’s something special. He has a mysterious leader we never see, but maybe we will in future installments. Meanwhile Hobbs and Shaw are on a mission in London, quick inter-cutting and even split screen showing them getting up [Shaw has a female bed partner while Hobbs reads Nietzsche] and entering a night club to dispatch some bad guys, with Hobbs employing a tattoo needle to deadly effect and Shaw managing to not break a champagne bottle while fighting a few opponents [it’s very Jackie Chan-like, if not on that level] – before accidentally dropping and smashing it afterwards. It seems that they’re already after this virus, but of course are now told that things are now far more urgent, cue the first of several cameos that just slow the movie down, this first one by an actor whose screen persona I find incredibly tiresome though of course if you like him than you’ll probably enjoy him doing his usual schtick. First of all our duo has to find Hattie who’s Shaw’s sister, but she’s on the run, having been framed by Brixton. They find her, but Brixton is on her trail, leading to the first piece of action absurdity as Brixton sprints down the side of a skyscraper after kidnapping Hattie, forcing Hobbs to jump down after him trailed by Shaw in a lift. These supposedly non-fantastical films are known for their unbelievable thrills, but there are times when this one just goes too far, perhaps making all this talk of the series going into space sound not quite so ridiculous after all.
After Brixton falls off his motorbike and crashes through the second level of a double decker bus, the trio have some brief breathing space within which to locate Professor Andreiko, Snowflake’s creator, who informs them that to prevent Snowflake from eradicating humanity, Hattie has to either be killed or use an extraction device – and of course this extraction device is far away and hard to get at. Meanwhile Hobbs is taking a liking to Hattie. There’s the employment of much humour, some of which succeeds and some of which doesn’t. At one point, Shaw walks by a Mini Cooper and says he used that in an Italian job he did once. It’s unsubtle but still brings a smile – until you realise that the car is the wrong one for the version he was in – I mean for god’s sake! But the fast pace is certainly maintained up to a point where several decades ago the film would have probably ended but here needs to carry on and try to justify a bloated running time. A switch to Samoa at least gives us some greenery to enjoy after all the grey, and develops the franchise’s theme of family, but it almost feels like we’re watching a different film until the finale where any sense has clearly gone out the window, making a mockery of Morgan’s recent claims about not wanting to go too far with unbelievability.
There’s still some stuff with cars, bikes, lorries and helicopters, but the emphasis is more on hand to hand combat, something that’s perhaps not surprising with David Leitch at the helm. However, it’s sometimes hard to see the hand of the director who brought back physical, cleanly shot stuntwork for John Wick and Atomic Blonde in this film. The brawls do probably have as much choreography as the stars are able to carry out, but the filming is messy and even resorts to god damn ‘shakycam’ here and there and majorly in the climax. We see things such as bikes and cars going under lorries and crashing out of buildings, but, because these feats are only shown in several cuts, we’re not convinced that these are real stunts that are being carried out. It more looks like they’ve been put together in the editing room from several different shots, and if it is real stunt work that we’re watching [which I sadly doubt], then why chop the scenes up? Intrusive, obvious CGI appears quite frequently, and, while you can understand Leitch doing this kind of thing in Deadpool 2 which was a superhero flick and therefore more fantastical, it’s sad to see Leitch resorting with Hobbs And Shaw to the usual current Hollywood attempt to wow the viewer with computer game physics and choppy, dizzying camera work and editing. When he was first assigned to this project, I was quite excited, but that excitement was mostly unfounded. Then again, he may have had dictated to him by the studio what was wanted by them, so maybe one shouldn’t moan at him too much!
There are three closing credits scenes, including one at the very end. They’re all silly but the middle one has a sequel hook – and that sequel will probably get made seeing how well this one’s doing. Because less people seem to want to see ‘R’ rated movies these days, Hobbs and Shaw is a ‘PG-13’ rated film and that was no doubt the right decision commercially. But if any ‘PG-13’ movie felt held back by being an ‘R’, it’s this one, especially with the ludicrous way that these characters are endlessly hit and thrown about yet blood or even any sense of vulnerability are no-nos – and yes, I’m sure that this could have been achieved even when taking into account the contracts of those egotistical asses Johnson and Statham which state they should not lose fights or look weak. Yet the idiocy of film ratings means that we still get a fairly long torture sequence! But Johnson and Statham – and indeed Kirby – do make for a great team. Hopefully next time around they’ll put them in something more worthy of their efforts.