'Hobbs And Shaw' Spoiler Review: Yes, It's Still All About Family

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.

First Gear

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.

Top Gear

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.

Spin-off

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.

Car-toon?

As befits an episode from the F&F franchise, there are of course bits where automobiles race along quickly. One major sequence involves Shaw's Mclaren 720S, a sexy bit of quarter-million-dollar supercar that's exactly the kind of gullwinged obnoxiousness befitting such a flick. For all the seizure-inducing cuts in and around the chase, I appreciated the one of the rear badge, left for late in the race, just to let the curious petrolheads that may be confused by the car's curves just what ludicrous bit of automotive kit we're watching carve up London streets.

When we visit Shaw's lair there are also plenty of other drool-worthy autos, including a nice green vintage Mini that is an overt allusion to The Italian Job, making the F&F universe even more broad if we're to retcon that narrative into Deckard's backstory.

Brixton drives a souped-to-hell Triumph Street Triple RS bike, but given how often the physics of the ride are augmented by CGI nonsense, it's the least convincing ride of the bunch. There are a slew of Jeeps and Range Rovers throughout, but it's only during the closing sequence that an old-school F&F car rampage is allowed to flourish.

Justice for Han

With all this comraderie, it's easy for some to forget that Shaw did murder one of the franchise's favoured sons. There's a brief respite where Shaw contemplates his past, torn by what he has done. The name Han is never mentioned, but the producers have already alluded that this weighs heavily on them, and that they're working, slowly, to make sense of how this character can be accepted after having done this kind of harm.

They'll work it out, I'm sure – after all, Idris' character came back from the dead, who's to say the same can't be done (in prime comic book fashion) for a previous fan favourite.

Family Values

After jumps of logic and location, eventually the core three find themselves on the run to Hobbs' native Samoa in an attempt to outrun the still-rampaging Brixton. This is Luke's "family" portion of the narrative, where he reunites with his mom Selfina (Lori Pelanise Tuisano) and brothers Jonah, Mateo, Timo and Kal (Cliff Curtis, Roman Reigns, Josh Mauga and John Tui) on the island he abandoned when he joined the DSS. This is yet another way the film conflates the storylines between the two protagonists, showing that, but for a few detours, the two are far more alike than they first appear. 

This is of course the central tenet of the entire film, showing that only by working together can one defeat the stronger foe. It's hardly revelatory, but it's pretty fascinating how the film manages to incorporate the theme in multiple ways.

In the film's most Furious-y sequence, a number of rusty, Island-built hotrods battle a helicopter where Brixton is trying to escape with the damsel in distress. Wrapping a chain around one of the copter's protuberances, H&S drive along while the aircraft acts like a kind of parasail towed behind. When the single car isn't sufficient to keep things grounded, a centipede-like chain of Polynesian brethren form a link, making manifest visually the notion of familial bonds. 

This is exactly the kind of charming smart/stupid that has made the saga work as well as it has. Unlike the supercycle silliness, this is the kind of over-the-cliff rampage we want to see in this kind of film, and the result is totally thrilling. When the copter slides down the hill and Brixton emerges ready for battle, it's suddenly a rain-soaked cliff face where only if Hobbs and Shaw can finally work together can they properly beat their nemesis. Oh, and there's a ticking timebomb attached to Hatie's arm.

After the bawl ends with a bunch of the usual Bond-style pontificating, Brixton is destroyed not by the two who had been punching him but by the mysterious "Director," switching off his pawn and promising much mayhem to come in the future. He falls, Golum-like, into the churning sea that during the copter chase seemed so serene. Even the weather doesn't give a damn about continuity, we're to pay attention to the body blows, not the meteorological verisimilitude.  

After no less than three post-credit sequences that further cement the family reunions for both Shaw and Hobbs, as well as more screentime for the neurotic agent played by Reynolds (who, supposedly, also may have voiced, uncredited, The Director, which may or may not mean something), we're left sated and exhausted after 135 minutes of mayhem.

The Rearview Mirror

You're unlikely to get more movies for your dollar this summer than from Hobbs and Shaw. It's an exhausting film without ever being tiresome, with so many ingredients, asides, shifts in tone and location that it feels almost as pumped as Johnson's biceps. There's a candy rush feeling, like you've been given permission to gorge on so many sweets that your head gets a bit swimmy. What are we to make of the romance between Hobbs and Shaw's sister, save for the fact that she's clearly going to be the one calling the shots? No time to think, we've got a helicopter to lasso.  

The inclusion of some of Johnson's island background is a welcome one. Shot in Hawaii with actors from various Pacific locales, it's a celebration of the culture of the entire Polynesian culture, not dissimilar to the work he did on Moana. Maori actor Cliff Curtis often plays variable "ethnic" roles, just as Johnson does, and here, bearded and braided, he conveys a sense of power and intensity that despite his smaller stature still stands up to the imposing frame of his on-screen brother. The final battle takes on a organic-vs-mechanical divide (think Ewoks battling the Empire, which of course was derived from Lucas' Apocalypse Now treatment), no small irony given a franchise that has often situated the vehicle over the character driving it.

The rusted-out hotrods with their powerful, nitrox-powered hearts are yet another visual metaphor for the film's central mantra involving family. It's comical how many ways this can be repeated, yet somehow it all works, just as the ritual dance should feel like a tacked-on diversion but is unironically quite moving and effective. At a time when notions of identity and who counts as being part of "normal" are constantly under attack from the highest echelons of political power, it's not simply for tourism's sake that these elements are incorporated in mass entertainment. They remind directly and forcefully the greater "family" from which we all derive from, a group where differences can be celebrated rather than feared, and only through coming together can the battle be won.

There is Another

We've come an enormous way from Point Break with street racers, and it's been such a crazy ride that it's easy to forget how many miles have been travelled. At its best, Hobbs and Shaw is a welcome slice of summer fun, a movie where shit blows up real good and the battles provide more than enough catharsis. Statham and Johnson are masters of this kind of film, never presenting themselves too seriously but nor coming across as if they're above such trivialities. Their commitment leads us to commit, for us as an audience to go along for the ride. Elba's perfectly find at Brixton, even if it's clear he has much less to work with than the other leads. And kudos to Kirby for injecting an appropriate amount of sass into her ass kicking, a believably powerful daughter birthed to the likes of Dame Helen's Magdalene Shaw.

It's clear the film is setting up even further branches of the Furious tree. Way more time is spent than normal on Reynold's character, and between him and air marshal Dinkley (Kevin Hart), we could see yet another side-kick film emerge, fractal like, from this spin-off. One can imagine an entire universe of prequels and postquels, threading around a grand saga of Furii, maybe even intersecting with actual comic lore (Deadpool being an obvious thread) or other franchises. If we got Alien Vs Predator, why not Hobbs vs John Wick? Who is to say what will be wrought.

The entire goal of Hobbs and Shaw is to provide entertainment, to give an outlet to some fine action stars that know how to engage in banter just as much as they know how to throw a movie punch. More than that, it can show just how inflated and far away from the central thread of the Furious films we can go and still have it feel part of a whole. On that front alone the film is an obvious success, promising to take all the elements of modern action extravaganzas – the Bournes, the Bonds, the impossible missions, the Italian Jobs and the Oceans heists and MCU meanderings, merge them all into a cauldron, and craft a unique brew of awesomesauce. 

Nine films in and it's clear – they're only now beginning to rev their engines. The race, it seems, is just getting started.