During the press cycle for Hobbs and Shaw, screenwriter Chris Morgan was asked about whether the Fast and Furious franchise would consider sending its characters to space. He tried to temper expectations with his response: “[E]very time we set out to do an action sequence, we’re willing to push physics, we’re willing to bend physics, but we’re not willing to break it.”
After watching Hobbs and Shaw and then considering that statement, it seems possible that Morgan – the narrative architect of the franchise since its third installment in 2006 – might himself be living in space. Or on another planet entirely.
Since Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto and crew first appeared on screen nine movies and 18 years ago, the franchise has cause the kind of whiplash you might feel in the driver’s seat of a nitrous-infused supercar. First, it was about cops stopping street racers who hijacked DVD players. Then it was simply about glorified underground racing. Then it was about drug trafficking for some reason. Then about a Robin Hood-esque heist in Brazil. Then a global crime syndicate suddenly appeared, which opened the door for the crew to be recruited by a secretive government agency to become international spies. In the last movie, they raced cars against an armed nuclear submarine in the arctic as a cyber-criminal mastermind was trying to start WWIII.
And now, after a well-publicized feud between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel forced producers to put their characters into separate movies, the franchise has taken the next (il)logical step: it’s become a full-blown James Bond flick – from the late Brosnan era, with a dash of unironic Austin Powers flamboyance sprinkled in.
The plot is straightforward. Mechanically enhanced super-soldier Brixton (Idris Elba) has a virus that will wipe out the world. Very realistic. An MI6 agent, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), steals the virus by injecting it into her blood (science!) and then goes into hiding. So, the CIA and MI6 send their two best assets, sworn frenemies Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), to retrieve the virus and save the world. Also, Hattie is Deckard’s sister. And Brixton is his former military pal who now reports to a faceless villain, whose name is definitely not Blofeld, with a massive secret lair and an army of bad guys.
Again, as a reminder, this franchise was originally about stealing DVD players.
But back to the task at hand, and onto the subject of broken physics, there’s a ton to enjoy here – not merely because we benefit from the fact that Chris Morgan apparently doesn’t understand a thing about Newton, Einstein, or any other kind of scientist. Our heroes, for example, sprint straight down the sides of buildings, punch their way through hordes of henchmen as though they are weightless, and tether helicopters to the ground…literally with a single hand. And Idris Elba has a damn Transformer for a motorcycle, which I’m pretty sure defies every law of physics and common sense.
What’s fun about Hobbs and Shaw – and make no mistake, there’s nothing more profound in the mix than fun – is not that it attempts to stay grounded in reality. It’s that we get to watch the world turn into a playground where three alpha males (and Vanessa Kirby’s scene-stealing alpha female) constantly try to outdo each other.
Johnson, Statham, Elba, and Kirby have enough charisma and chemistry to make a two-hour movie about drinking tea feel like a blockbuster event. With a mix of clever and stupid one-liners – and a constant supply of shit to blow up – the plot really takes a backseat to the personalities of its stars.
This is a popcorn movie in its purest form. It demands nothing but a grin and a promise that you won’t overthink it.
I’m wired to overthink things, though, and there’s just a small part of me that left Hobbs and Shaw feeling a little underwhelmed. The Rock and Jason Statham are brawlers – the former with a brainy “Hulk Smash!” approach and the latter with gorgeous martial arts finesse. Paired with director David Leitch, who birthed a new generation of hand-to-hand action choreography as the co-creator of John Wick, the movie’s best scenes are the ones that look like they spilled out of a wrestling ring. But on the other end, Leitch sometimes relies far too heavily on CGI and, in doing so, occasionally drowns out the talents of his leads.
I suppose that you can’t really visualize the movie’s ambition without a huge dose of CGI spectacle, and this is where screenwriter Chris Morgan is on the hook.
There’s an infamous sequence in Fast and Furious 6 that sees the heroes chasing down the villain (who happens to be another Shaw sibling, redeemed later, and oddly absent in this movie) as his plane tries to take off. The scene lasts 13 minutes, which the internet calculated to mean that the runway is 26 miles long.
Morgan is finally running out of runway. While the increasing absurdity of the franchise’s evolution is a big part of the fun, the “bigger, bigger, bigger” approach will eventually (and soon) cause these movies to buckle under their own weight. It’s hard to imagine what’s in store for the currently filming Fast and Furious 9 – particularly if it tries to one-up Hobbs and Shaw, which seems inevitable considering that Vin Diesel doesn’t want to play second fiddle to Dwayne Johnson.
For my money, I wouldn’t mind something a little more scaled back when Hobbs and Shaw embark on their next adventure. And, to be clear, I’m totally happy with what we got this time. I can’t wait to watch it again.
By the way, there are two A-list cameos in Hobbs and Shaw that are genuinely surprising. Each one serves a meaningful narrative purpose, elevated above expository plot devices into actual characters due to the talent of the actors. I hope they make their way into a sequel, too. (And don’t let the internet spoil them for you.)