The Fast & Furious franchise is in the midst of an identity crisis. Having moved beyond the Point Break Except It’s Street Racing conceit of the original film, the enterprise has incorporated increasingly absurd car-themed set pieces while constantly raising the profiles of characters who were originally just petty thieves with elite driving skills. But as the franchise has gone from swiping DVD players to stealing millions of dollars from a Brazilian drug lord to preventing a Russian nuclear submarine from falling into the hands of a cyberterrorist, maintaining the overarching ethos of fast cars, bottomless Coronas, furious flurries of butt shots, and family has become more and more difficult. The eighth and most recent entry, The Fate of the Furious, included a sequence with a bunch of “zombie cars.” Really.
Now, before you rail at me for being too critical of a franchise that is just a [ahem] vehicle for wonderful and excessive stupidity, let me say that even a bad Fast & Furious movie has awesome sequences: The prison escape from Fate was riotously entertaining, and the moment when the crew’s cars converge to protect Dom from the blast radius of the exploding submarine should be installed in a museum.
As far as franchise problems go, running out of dumb shit to do with cars and trying not to make every Vin Diesel mumble-monologue about family sound exactly the same are pretty good ones to have. It’s also a matter of personal preference: In a blockbuster era defined by superheroes and the Marvel Industrial Complex, the Fast & Furious series has sure started to look like it belongs in that genre. The Fast & Furious discourse seems divided between those lamenting the days when the franchise was just about street racing, and those celebrating the galaxy brain evolution that’s given us skydiving sports cars and Kurt Russell as a government operative known as Mr. Nobody.
The franchise’s first spinoff film, Hobbs & Shaw, appeals to the latter base. These would be the fans who harbor no ill will toward Dwayne Johnson for his ongoing feud with Vin Diesel (and to a lesser extent, Tyrese Gibson). It got so bad that the actors refused to film scenes together in Fate, jeopardizing Luke Hobbs’s continuity in the main series going forward. The solution? Give the guy his own movie; beyond that, just skip nearly all the car-themed pretenses and make this thing a straight-up superhero flick.
Really, everything about Hobbs & Shaw goes super. When MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby) and her team are attacked by genetically enhanced supersoldier Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), she injects herself with capsules of a deadly (and vaguely explained) supervirus to prevent Lore from getting his hands on it, then flees the scene. The capsules, however, will eventually dissolve, making Hattie a ticking time bomb/pending source of lethal airborne contagion/human MacGuffin. To track her down and prevent a global catastrophe, the American and British governments separately enlist the services of the superhuman Hobbs and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, and yes, he and Hattie are siblings), respectively, oblivious to the fact that these two dudes have shared animosity and more than a little homoerotic chemistry in the past.
Beyond the fact that everyone has assumed their own type of superpowers—Brixton can stop bullets with his hands and anticipate attacks, and appears to have synchronized with his motorcycle like an Eva pilot; in Fate, Hobbs altered the trajectory of a torpedo with his bare hands—Hobbs & Shaw revels in the contrasting styles and life philosophies of its leads. An early split-screen sequence shows their daily routines—Hobbs, after waking up beside his very good dog, inhales raw eggs and coffee grounds; Shaw makes a fancy omelette with a base of butter for him, and, presumably, the anonymous lady who shared his bed. Shaw’s wardrobe seems entirely composed of immaculately tailored suits; Hobbs always looks like he’s one good flex away from tearing through his tank top. When he fights, Hobbs is all brute force; Shaw has the kinetic, agile energy of a spider monkey. You get the idea.
Make no mistake, then: As the trailers and all the promotional lead-up implied, Hobbs & Shaw is a quintessential buddy-cop action flick where opposites accordingly attract. That has led to some well-meaning concerns from Fast & Furious diehards, who are worried the spinoff won’t maintain the wholesome and endearingly cheesy theme of family that drives the franchise (primarily through those Diesel monologues). Perhaps more concerningly, this spinoff is co-led by the guy who quite recently killed franchise favorite and snacking savant Han Seoul-Oh (yes, really). But while the #JusticeForHan contingent won’t be satisfied with a throwaway line in which Shaw concedes he’s made some mistakes—that’s one way to describe killing someone!—the family ethos is still present via Hattie, Dame Helen Mirren reprising her role as the Shaw matriarch, and the third act when Hobbs reunites with his estranged family in Samoa. Also, get this: The Hobbs clan runs a successful body shop, because everyone in this universe must be tangentially related to cars.
You can quibble over the illogical specificity of the Hobbs family’s car-themed backstory, or the fact that Kirby (31) and Statham (52) are siblings that are, in flashbacks, clearly shown to have grown up together. But you don’t watch a Fast & Furious movie for sensible plot developments, the same way you don’t expect any of the action sequences to obey the laws of physics—all that matters is that they rip. And let me assure you of one thing: Hobbs and Shaw does, in fact, rip.
Blessedly, director David Leitch continues his hot streak. The former stuntman has rapidly become one of Hollywood’s most enterprising action directors, following up John Wick (which he codirected with Chad Stahelski) with Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. In lieu of breaking the wheel, Leitch composes familiar action set pieces—one chase through London feels very Mission: Impossible–esque—with cleaner compositions than the franchise’s forebears.
Along with streamlining the action so it’s easier to follow, Leitch leans on the self-awareness that this franchise has gone deliriously off the rails. Here’s just some of the things Luke Hobbs is able to do in this movie: pick up an assailant off his motorcycle and ram him into a wall with one hand; pull down a helicopter with a biceps curl like he’s Captain America; catch Vanessa Kirby with one hand while driving a huge truck through muddy terrain; repel down a skyscraper and land on a goon’s back, twice. All that somehow pales in comparison with the abilities of Brixton, who likens himself to a “Black Superman” and whose abilities are gifted to him by Eteon, a tech company with aspirations to “enhance” the human race. We learn very little about Eteon through the course of the film, but you get the impression its employees are huge fans of Soylent and believe Cyberdyne Systems was a well-intentioned company. Hobbs & Shaw gleefully sets up a sequel, leaving the door open for Eteon and its mysterious leader to terrorize humanity in the future, and seems uninterested in returning to the stakes of the original Fast & Furious. Moving forward, even peripheral ties to sports cars for Hobbs & Shaw could be a tricky proposition—unless the Shaws have second cousins in the U.S. who work for NASCAR or something.
With its first franchise offshoot—and rumors of more on the way, including a female-led spinoff—perhaps the Fast & Furious can try to appease all types of fans. If Hobbs & Shaw delves into more globetrotting heroics from a British mercenary and a federal agent who can pull down a helicopter with his arm, maybe the ninth Fast & Furious film can lean a bit more into the franchise’s roots. (Well, up to a point: Charlize Theron’s cyberterrorist Cipher is officially coming back for Fast & Furious 9, and after she hacked a nuclear sub in Fate, I doubt she’ll challenge Dom to a quarter-mile street race for the fate of the world.) In any case, given the ongoing hostility between Johnson and Diesel—whose feud seems way more authentic than the one between Hobbs and Shaw—it’s best not to expect a larger Fast & Furious reunion in the future.
The absence of Hobbs was never going to be a big problem for the Fast & Furious franchise, which can boast the rest of the Toretto extended family and a rotating cast of A-listers as fresh new adversaries. But as Hobbs & Shaw has demonstrated, these characters can more than hold their own, and feel most assured when they’re not indebted to their predecessors. When family drifts apart, it’s not always a bad thing.