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Critics: Hobbs & Shaw pulls a fast one with furiously fun, if overstuffed, spinoff
The Fast & Furious franchise is eight films into its main series and shows no signs of slowing down, so much so that it's hit yet another gear with the addition of spinoffs. The first of these, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, arrives in theaters this week after months of hype and action-packed trailers, and the first reviews have finally landed online. So, what are the critics saying?
First, a little background: Hobbs & Shaw pairs up Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham in the respective title roles for an action romp that's part globe-hopping spy adventure and part mismatched buddy cop movie, with the addition of Vanessa Kirby as Shaw's sister and fellow superspy Hattie and Idris Elba as Brixton, the cybernetically enhanced terrorist who wears bulletproof motorcycle jackets and likes to call himself "Black Superman." Both Hobbs and Shaw were standout supporting characters from the previous films who initially appeared as antagonists and have since landed somewhere in the good guy or at least likable antihero range, and the combined box-office power of Johnson and Statham presented a solid opportunity for the first spinoff of a globally successful box-office franchise that started nearly 20 years ago as a cool flick about street racing.
Hobbs & Shaw shows just how far the franchise has come since that first Fast & Furious adventure. It's a film absolutely packed with stunts that rely on everything from shapeshifting motorcycles to sports cars sliding under trucks to a helicopter vs. tow truck battle on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and it's also laced with enough vaguely plausible superspy tech to match a Mission: Impossible film. Simpy put, Hobbs & Shaw is A Lot, and if reviewers agree on nothing else about the film, they at least agree on that.
Reviews for the film have so far been mostly positive, as critics praise the charisma of Johnson, Statham, and Kirby while also giving props to director David Leitch for his visual style and action choreography finesse.
"Different things can happen to a franchise as it ages, and not all that many of them last as long as this one has," Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote. "Without rejuvenation, they can get tired, repetitive, cob-webby and/or outdated. Not only have these traps been avoided here, but the film gets giddy and goofy in spots and always wears its fundamental absurdity with good humor."
"In stunt-guru-turned-helmer Leitch’s hands, the film is actually a highly accomplished work of contemporary cinema," Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, "finding ingenious ways to convey its own ridiculously distorted ground rules such that audiences can understand the basic parameters of a sequence in a matter of seconds, dump whatever preconceived notions about how it might work in the real world and follow along with the exaggerated way the situation unfolds onscreen."
"If you can ever be too fast or too furious, too banter-y or too bald, that’s a vanishing point that goes unrecognized in Hobbs & Shaw — a testosterone motherlode so relentlessly, ridiculously adrenalized, it doesn’t so much unfold as steadily defibrillate you," Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly said.
Other critics praised some aspects of the film, from the action to the humor to the star power, but had trouble getting past just how much the film was attempting to fit into its two-hour-and-15-minute runtime, while also noting that it doesn't always find a way to rise above its predecessors.
"In Hobbs & Shaw, there are periods where the people feel like afterthoughts to the viral MacGuffin and various conspiracies," Matt Singer of ScreenCrush said. "The action sequences are suitably spectacular, but none top the admirable lunacy of the tank chase in Fast & Furious 6 or the skydiving cars in Furious 7."
"The movie is a bit overextended, and the action runs out of steam in the final battle, but it delivers some bangs and laughs for your buck," Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote.
"Hobbs & Shaw ... definitely lives up to the Fast & Furious Presents in front of its title. But it’s also Mission: Impossible lite," wrote Brian Truitt of USA Today. "And a buddy cop movie. And kind of a superhero film. In fact, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of action-hero testosterone – though the highlight is a woman – that gets lost trying to be its own thing."
Then there were the critics who skewed a little more negative in their outlook on the film. Though they could see what it was trying to be and the mark it was aiming for, they found that Hobbs & Shaw struggled to justify itself as a movie with any real heart amid all the over-the-top action.
"It’s a movie that’s funny, adds very little to the action genre, and exists simply because it can," Germain Lussier of io9 wrote. "That’s not to say it’s without merit or entertainment value. Blowing sh*t up can be super fun, the film just rarely rises above that."
"But too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and this movie’s unwieldy, double-ampersand title should serve as a warning: Johnson, Statham and Kirby are all wonderful in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw—when they’re talking. They’re terrific for much of the time when they’re moving, too—Johnson and Statham aren’t action stars for nothing," Stephanie Zacharek of Time said. "But somewhere around the midpoint of Hobbs & Shaw, the action sequences become so elaborate that they start to weigh the movie down; it becomes less a lean machine than an unwieldy, chubby sausage. And even if you feel certain there’s no such thing as too much action, you surely know when you’ve had too much sausage."
So all in all the critics agree that Hobbs & Shaw is a massive, stunt-packed action spectacular that packs the overwhelming energy of the Fast & Furious franchise into its runtime as much as it possibly can, for good or ill. Will the movie live up to your expectations? Find out for yourself when it hits theaters Friday.