Spoiler alert: It’s about family.
And that’s it? We can end this article there, right?
Okay. We’ll go beyond that. When taking about Hobbs and Shaw, the latest film in the Fast and Furious saga, it helps to step back a bit when reflecting on the ridiculousness of the first spin-off from what I’ve dubbed the Fast and Furii (I’ll keep going ‘till it catches on, dammit). And here’s your real spoiler warning: all plot points are on the table from here on out.
The summer of 2001 was a simpler time, where the core idea of an automotive Point Break was meant to amuse viewers. The role of the undercover cop was bestowed upon Paul Walker, with Timothy Olyphant tasked to play Toretto. Olyphant bailed, and the producers gave Vin Diesel the role. It was a pre-9/11 world, and summer audiences just wanted to see cars race and Walkers ride.
Rob Cohen’s film is exactly what you’d expect – near pornographic shots of feet (take that, QT) slamming into car pedals, the vrooming of engines revving and tires screeching. It’s a street racing film mixed with a bit of a crime drama, and it’s pretty silly. It’s also pretty self-contained, hardly giving portent to where we’d end up. It’s exactly what you’d expect for this kind of film, and no more. Surely, no audience could see where we’d be almost two decades later.
2 Fast 2 Furious saw the cop become the criminal, and the first film that Vin bailed on (take that, talk of family!). John Singleton brought his craft to the series, expanding ever slightly this world of tight-knit racers. We got a hint of bigger things, but fundamentally it was more of the same.
Then Tokyo Drift slid into our hearts, with Justin Lin grabbing the franchise by the wheel and turning it into something pretty magical. In this first iteration he’s relatively cautious, expanding the scope of the film but still very much talking about cars and racing subculture. Along with the new writer Chris Morgan, it essentially was mix of reboot and redux, taking place in the “world” of F&F but involving a whole new crew. A vanilla performance by Lucas Black as the Walker stand-in is most forgettable, but the suave Han Lue (Sung Kang) truly made an impression, and the way Lin shot the hell out of those cars injected a turbo boost into what easily could have been a by-the-numbers bit of nonsense.
It’s really with the fourth film that Lin and Morgan began to hint at the world domination that these films would achieve. We’re back to a basic racing movie, kinda, but there are hints of the larger stakes involved, and even more talk of family connection. The action is amped up, and the expansion of the retinue of renegades made Fast & Furious (AKA Furious 4) that much more fun. This lead, of course, to the miracle that is Fast Five, the first of the truly mega films in the franchise that abandoned all pretense that these were simple movies about a bunch of people street racing. Here Lin and Morgan introduce Luke Hobbs (Dwane Johnson), an agent of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) who’s tasked with taking down these wily racers.
From here on, the films would be far more focused on heist motifs and abandoning most of the laws of physics, eschewing car porn for heist and crime film tropes from the likes of The French Connection and The Italian Job. By Furious 7 (with James Wan taking the helm), the team was leading in a fully James Bond-like direction. Jason Statham’s character Deckard Shaw showed up to kill off Han in the close of the sixth film, and then spends much of the seventh film being a foil for the rest of the crew (this would also be Walker’s last ride). Antes were again amped up further, the chases got bigger, the crew adding characters like some sort of sticky ball rolling downhill. With Fate & The Furious you had a submarine chase while cars dodged ice floes, which pretty much solidified there was little they were going to hold back with these films.
From the earliest there has been talk about how this saga was going to have storylines that branched off. In a way Tokyo Drift was a kind of diversion, and only through some clever retconning did Lin and Morgan make it fit chronologically into the timeline. In a franchise that has seen most of the “bad guys” somehow become rehabilitated (just as it was a story where the “good guy” joined the outlaw gang), it was perhaps inevitable that characters with as much charisma as played by Johnson and Statham would be given a chance to shine.
Hobbs and Shaw’s story is still Morgan’s, who has emerged as a kind of “showrunner” for the series, a GPS for the Furii films’ dashboard selecting the route. This script is co-written with Drew Pearce, who has experience with super hero (Iron Man 3) and mega-action films (Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation), and director David Leitch recently saw success with Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, with some uncredited direction on the first John Wick. The resumé of this bunch is indicative of where the series is going: miles and miles away from a simple car flick and to full-on comic book blockbuster territory.
Luckily, both Statham and Johnson are perfectly capable of delivering bigger-than-life with absolute commitment. We meet them as two sides of the same coin, each with a different morning ritual that showcases their unique forms of preparation. Through split screen we see them try to use their sets of skills to draw out information about a nasty virus that threatens to destroy the entire world.
The virus named “The Snowflake” has been injected into the arms of Hatie Shaw (Vansessa Kirby), a tough MI6 agent who outwits a cybernetically augmented rogue agent named Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) who is tasked by a mysterious global organization called Eteon to reclaim the virus capsules so that they can be used for eugenical purposes.
Hatie is of course Deckard’s younger sister (let’s ignore, in Hollywood fashion, the 21 years separating the two), and along with an imprisoned mother dubbed Queenie (Helen Mirren) and a brother from earlier in the franchise, the family Shaw is well-represented in the saga.
Hobbs, meanwhile, is still being a good dad, often video chatting to his precocious daughter Sam (Eliana Sua) and living by a code even as he punches people in the face. Spurred on by an over-affectionate CIA agent (Ryan Reynolds) he must team up with the mercurial Shaw as they traipse all over the world trying to stop the apocalypse.
We Have the Technology
Idris Elba’s Brixton is part Robocop, part Wolverine, with a dash of Six Million Dollar Man thrown in. His enmity for Shaw is deep, as it was he that shot Lore repeatedly and left him for dead. Resurrected Anakin-like by the mysterious (and Spectre-like) Eteon, he’s led by a computer-voiced “director” that leads him on his mission of revenge. With a Batman-like transforming motorcycle and Iron man-like augmented vision, Lore is the most unapologetically “super hero villain” that’s ever entered the franchise. Elba does well to inject a bit of pathos into the character, feeling his pain and the nature of his rage as well as providing a believably physical presence to combat the likes of Statham and Johnson.
Given how many films have come before, it’s easy to forget just how much of this narrative nonsense is actually introduced in this film rather than referencing what’s come before. There’s a feeling throughout H&S that it’s not just a spin-off from what we’ve seen, but there are missing (prequel?) pieces skipped over and simply accepted as having taken place. It’s a nice way of immediately enlarging the scope of the film, but does take a bit of mental gymnastics to parse what we actually know has occurred and what’s new info. God forbid we’ve gotta pay attention between the body blows and screeching of tires, but it is what it is.
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