Scalding Hot Takes: Hobbs & Shaw
I probably enjoyed the 2019 Hellboy (you know, the huge flop that everybody hates) and the Dwayne Johnson/Jason Statham Fast & the Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw more because they were the first two films I saw after attending the 2019 Gathering of the Juggalos, Insane Clown Posse’s annual festival of arts and culture. They were the perfect masterpieces of cinema to usher me ever so gently back into the world of film and film criticism because they’re like the Gathering in so many ways: tacky, pulpy, enthusiastically, unabashedly vulgar, full of outsized human cartoon characters battling it out and improbably but delightfully blessed with the presence of Helen Mirren, who surprised an overjoyed Gathering audience this year by hosting the Miss Juggalette pageant.
Post-Gathering I angrily demanded mindless spectacle from my lowbrow entertainment. Hobbs & Shaw was just what I needed, a realistic if somewhat flattering exploration of what life is like for the typical bald middle aged man like myself about dueling hairless hunks Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).
Johnson of course swooped into the deathless Fast & Furious franchise in 2011’s Fast Five and added a much-needed element of manliness, even machismo to an otherwise foppish and effete group of films. When Statham swaggered into the franchise as a bad guy in 2013’s Furious 6 it raised the testosterone level of the series to uncharted heights.
Hobbs & Shaw, the first film to be released under the “Fast & Furious Presents” banner picks off its two most swaggeringly charismatic cast members and pits them against each other in a stand-alone spin-off adventure that finds the battling bruisers going to war with Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a former MI6 field agent who was nearly killed by Shaw only to be rebuilt by mad scientist into the ultimate android fighting machine, an unstoppable force made up mostly of metal and wires and circuitry.
That’s right: nine films into the Fast & Furious franchise, they up and decided that fucking cyborgs belong in their universe now. Cyborgs! A goddamn metal monster! A newfangled Six Million Dollar Man! A bullet-proof badass in black with some manner of crazy robot KITT motorcycle that seemingly comes when he calls for it!
For genre purists, introducing a flagrantly science fiction conceit like a cyborg villain might represent a step too far. That’s precisely what makes it so delightful. Of course it’s a step too far! That’s the whole point of movies like this.
In its crazed frenzy to provide the most lowbrow kicks possible Hobbs & Shaw leaps deliriously over the wall separating action movies from science-fiction and straightforward sequels from follow-ups that streak off madly in some weird and wild new direction.
I wish other long in the tooth action franchises would take similarly bonkers, audacious risks and combine elements from science-fiction and fantasy as well.
How much more exciting would the Mission Impossible movies be if Ethan Hunt’s team included a werewolf? Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change of pace if it James Bond mixed it with the occasional ghost or gremlin in his next big-screen adventure? I know I’m not alone in wanting to see Jason Bourne fall in love with a mermaid. Will that be the direction of the next Bourne sequel? Probably.
Why should Bright be the only action movie with Orcs in it? Wouldn’t their presence, in even minor roles, liven up the next Taken sequel? Why can’t Clint Eastwood return to the role of Dirty Harry one last time so that he can fight zombies, vampires and Frankenstein’s Monster after traveling back in time? He could even have a threesome or two (I bet Dracula’s Wives would be into something like that) in Dirty Harry & Zombies, as that’s apparently the only thing that can get him back onscreen at his age.
Hobbs & Shaw refuses to submit to the tyranny of genre limitations. It says, “Fuck yo genre conventions and restrictions. We’re going full-on Terminator with this one!”
Johnson and Statham are a study in contrasts here. One is a swaggering, muscle-bound alpha male badass with attitude to spare. The other is a swaggering, muscle-bound alpha badass with attitude to spare and a British accent. They might just become friends…if they don’t kill each other first! These bad boys can handle anything thrown their way: except each other!
At its lurid best Hobbs & Shaw suggests a 2019 version of the beloved cult classic Tango & Cash. Like the earlier mismatched buddy cop movie, Hobbs & Shaw exists comfortably and completely in the tongue-in-cheek realm of complete self-parody. It’s a glorified b-movie with a two hundred million dollar budget that casts Johnson in the Kurt Russell role of the tough, no-nonsense lawman and Jason Statham in the Sylvester Stallone part of the slick one, the smooth operator who is all about finesse rather than brute force.
In actuality, they both come off as human Rock Em Sock Em robots/sentient blunt weapons. Johnson is like a massive club wielded by an angry giant; Statham is more like a sleekly designed hammer, the kind that is as gorgeous to look at as it is deadly. Like Stallone in Tango & Cash, Statham is adorably, wonderfully unconvincing as a well-dressed yuppie with a taste for the finer things in life.
Sticking Statham in expensive suits and casting Helen Mirren as his jailbird mum does not make him posh; he’s a bruiser regardless of wardrobe but that does not keep Hobbs & Shaw from trying to pass him off as a sophisticated geezer all the same.
This begins with a Brian De Palma-style introductory split screen comparing and contrasting the ostensibly very different lives and morning routines of Hobbs and Shaw, two bald, middle-aged man-mountains with suspiciously similar interests.
Hobbs and Shaw can’t stand each other because they are so alike but also because the well-worn conventions of mismatched buddy crime-fighter subgenre angrily demands that the mismatched good guys bicker and squabble and fight and give each other the business until the climactic moment when they must put aside their differences for the sake of beating up the bad guy.
When Hobbs begins flirting with Shaw’s much younger, extremely badass sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) during the course of their misadventures it only adds to the tension, sexual and otherwise, between the two men.
Johnson and Statham spend nearly the entire film sassing each other in a way that feels more than a little like flirting. Their squabbling feels wildly counter-productive. All of the time and energy they devote to insulting one another could be better utilized fighting the many people trying to kill them, at least one of whom is a fucking cyborg.
Then again, at no point in Hobbs & Shaw do either Hobbs or Shaw ever seem to be in any actual danger. Because they are played by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, these manliest of manly men are damn near indestructible. They could punch a jet plane in the nose and wrestle a dinosaur and emerge unharmed.
Hobbs and Shaw don’t need science to intervene to make them something more than human. At this point in the franchise, they’re pretty much superheroes without capes or secret identities fighting a superhuman foe in Brixton. There’s never any question as to whether right and might will prevail, any danger, any suspense, any moral ambiguity despite the movie pairing a righteous lawman with a dude who was the main heavy, the big baddie, a few films ago.
This all somehow all works in the film’s favor. Hobbs & Shaw succeeds through delirious excess. It is a big, dumb, stylish live-action cartoon of an over-the-top macho fantasy that in its third act transforms unexpectedly into a stirring affirmation of the Samoan people once Hobbs returns home for a climactic battle royale between evil minions with the world’s most advanced super-weaponry and Samoan warriors whose greatest, most deadly weapon is their strength of character and pride.
Hobbs & Shaw takes a turn towards the dramatic when the action shifts to Samoa. A movie this spectacularly dumb and silly should not waste its time with earnest family drama but thankfully the high-powered spin-off has its priorities straight. Hobbs & Shaw is a 12 year old boy’s fever dream of endless power and dominance, a roided out action epic that delivers the goods and then some.
Johnson and Statham are great movie stars whose movies are almost invariably less than great, with the notable exception of The Southland Tales, of course. As actors and celebrities, they’re tremendous fun; the same cannot generally be said about the interchangeable vehicles they grace with their presence. Statham and Johnson’s charisma and blinding movie star magnetism don’t make good movies great so much as they make otherwise dire genre movies bearable.
Hobbs & Shaw is the rare Dwayne Johnson/Jason Statham movie that is every bit as much ridiculous, proudly stupid fun as it should be. Normally nothing is more important to me than the fragile emotions of musician and actor Tyrese Gibson, who has lashed out publicly at Johnson for jeopardizing Gibson’s ability to provide for his family by selfishly making a Fast & The Furious movie not starring musician and actor Tyrese Gibson. But when the results are this enjoyably preposterous, and this much fun, I’m happy to relegate Gibson to the sidelines, permanently, if need be. With all due respect, fuck that asshole.
Hobbs & Shaw breathes new life into a venerable film franchise that, despite the preponderance of British names in its cast could not feel more American, for better or worse but mainly for the better. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a bloody red steak with a tall glass of scotch, a movie so macho that it becomes a gleeful burlesque of Neanderthal manhood at its most preposterously over-the-top.
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