The Long and Winding Road: Chapter 9 – Bald Men, Bold Strat

So, admittedly I owe you all an apology. What was supposed to be a weekly event got delayed. First it was because I moved into a nice new duplex and I didn’t even have internet (but I did get a beautiful 65” SmartTV!) and then the murder of George Floyd and then the protests and my hometown of Dallas got eerily quiet. Suffice to say in about a four week span it feels like I’ve aged two decades and that’s not counting the global pandemic.

The truth is: I couldn’t justify escapism over the last several weeks. Normally these Fast and Furious movies help me relax and live in a world that feels full of justice and love. In that two hour window life was simple and safe and I watched actors take all the risk. The past two weeks proved reality triumphs over fantasy, always.

It’s hard to talk about the minutiae of a fictional family driving around the globe stopping cyber terrorists when the national conversation revolves around police brutality. It isn’t right and people shouldn’t use escapism to dismiss the conversation entirely. I wouldn’t ask that of someone and I hope they wouldn’t ask that of me. That being said I owe my editor more articles to this series I kicked off. Here we go.

Read along on the rest of our Fast Saga coverage with these articles on the other Fast & Furious installments:

A Fast & Furious Ultimate Side Course

We’re back gang. The Fast and Furious model is in full swing, engines revving, staring down the next couple years eyeballing the cash it’s going to make. While a gossipy showdown between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson fueled the idea that they would never work together, a spinoff certainly seemed to affirm it. Everyone involved insisted that this spinoff predates the “Candy Ass Beef” and was only a natural evolution of a successfully growing franchise. Admittedly it seems conspicuous to announce plans of an offshoot in the wake of a feud but sources confirm this was long in the making and plenty of FF crew members rooted for Hobbs & Shaw from afar.

Chris Morgan (writer turned executive producer) takes on this spinoff attempting to balance the FF universe with more detail. David Leitch directs this one after establishing his bona fides with Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and co-directing John Wick. Leitch understands action scenes and stunt work even if he doesn’t have the story to back it up. Chris Morgan’s long-running role in the Fast universe means he’s telling a spinoff story that may relate back to the franchise at large and Leitch’s involvement guarantees exciting action scenes. The final product of these two men ensures something broadly entertaining and vaguely comical.

Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are back as the titular Hobbs & Shaw. Luke Hobbs focuses more on his family than his career and Deckard Shaw is… drinking beer at a pub. Both men take a call from alarmed CIA agents explaining how a super virus escaped the hands of the WHO and now rests with Hattie Shaw, Deckard’s younger sister. Both men agree to track down Hattie and get the virus back from her in London. Meanwhile Idris Elba’s Brixton, a cybernetically enhanced soldier fighting on behalf of shadowy cyber terrorist group Eteon, plans to extract the virus from Hattie and unleash it on the world. It’s a complicated plot and one with lots of unnecessary hoops but it mostly serves as an excuse to dish up an elaborate action scene.

In this film we meet dreary London through Deckard’s eyes contrasted with sunny Los Angeles in Hobbs’ eyes. The color palette differentials enforce the contrast between both characters. Similarly contrasted with each other the other two locations are desolate southeastern Europe and beautiful tropical Samoa. The dichotomous nature of the film strikes right down to it’s choice in geographical locations, a theme the movie doubles down on throughout.

As for music we’re granted with Yungblud’s rendition of ‘Time in A Bottle” for a breezy opener that ultimately dials up the volume for a rock anthem. This movie retains it’s electronic influences of the previous films with tracks by Grandson, The Movement, and even Idris Elba getting to DJ alongside Cypress Hill. This one leans on it’s hip-hop soundtrack more heavily featuring Logic, Yungblud, and A$ton Wyld. These musical influences lack any of the culture-specific niceties of the very early Fast movies and bear the more broad international intersection of later films. One thing worth noting is the lack of reggaeton entirely from the soundtrack. It points to a spinoff from the Fast franchise overall. The soundtrack mirrors a taste skewed more towards what our protagonist’s would love.

Idris Elba’s villain fails to deliver on anything of interest other than Elba having a good time. His motivations for destroying the human population are vague and he really only serves as a taskmaster for the mysterious Eteon. Brixton is just another boss fight for the two protagonists. His abilities astound, sure, but they are utterly meaningless other than to intimidate other characters. So what if he can lift a flame thrower all by himself? What does it accomplish? Some cool visuals?

The real question surrounds Eteon: a mysterious organization recruiting black ops agents into their world-dominance agenda. We never see a leader of Eteon. Instead we’re granted bizarre vocal-scrambling screens. Whoever they are, whatever they plan it’s no good. They’re a near-direct snag from the James Bond movies Spectre organization, a common trope in spy movies.

Eteon’s role in Hobbs & Shaw seems to hint at something bigger in store for the universe at large. No sequel was secured at the time of release of this movie but it’s mediocre success invited an additional movie at a later date. Hobbs and Shaw would go on to fight Eteon again, sometime in the future. Who are they? What are they doing? What is their role in Vin Diesel’s universe? All questions to be answered over the next four or so movies set in the Fast universe.

The Fast Franchise Reaches its Final Form in ‘The Fate of the Furious’ (2017)

Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham!

(from left) Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” directed by David Leitch.

The real joy here is watching Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham go to work. Their gusto for stunts and fights rivals few other A-list action stars. While Statham exists in the 2000’s era action hero and Dwayne currently occupies the number one spot for the 2010’s both men foible each other admittedly well. The two breathe a little more life into the Fast universe’s constant ensemble medley.

Leitch never skimps on action sequences, actively dialing up the danger at every possible turn. It’s not enough for Brixton to have cybernetically enhanced strength or reflexes his motorcycle literally transforms and drives on it’s own. When the Rock clamps a hook around a helicopter they then add a chain of cars all hooked to each other wheeling around the island of Samoa off the edge of a cliff. The movie promises a massive final battle (complete with a ‘gearing up’ scene) and delivers big time. Men in traditional Samoan warrior garb bash black ops soldiers in a cosmic-sized street brawl. Say what you will but the Leitch knows how to step up their game.

Hobbs and Shaw certainly carry the brunt of the movie but the whole thing perks up substantially when it’s ancillary characters get involved. The most memorable performances can be credited to Ryan Reynolds doing his snarky Reynolds shtick or to Eiza Gonzalez posturing in a visible lace bra with an assault rifle slung across her shoulders. Hobbs’ entire family delivers compelling performances and get more nuanced acting scenes than most of the leads,

The real medal goes to Vanessa Kirby for playing Hattie Shaw. Not only is that role a genuine workout but also it drives the literal plot. They are motivated to catch Hattie, then save her. Kirby smirks and grimaces her way through everything in a way that tells you she did her homework on Jason Statham. For anyone counting the Shaw family has Deckard (Statham), Owen (Luke Evans), Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), and their Mother (Helen Mirren). That’s one powerful family.

Family is always at the heart of these movies. They were part and parcel of every Fast movie and they find a place in this one too, albeit one that feels forced. Small dangling plot lines about the two men getting back in touch with their family linger from the early part of the movie clearly setting up emotional stakes and an obvious confrontation later. Hobbs staring at a family photo heavily implies we’re going to meet this family later in the movie, ditto Shaw. It feels forced, though, as Hobbs doesn’t address the plot point of his missing family until the final fourth of the film takes place. The small energy dedicated to that through-line feels more like a shout out to the “you don’t turn your back on family” line.

Leitch’s directing style carries heavy undertones from the new wave of Ultimate Action Movies. Previous action movies contentedly reveled in it’s unabashed emotionality and over-the-top stunts. The new wave lingers an extra second to wink at the audience at its own ridiculousness. Leitch directed the sequel to the greatest self-aware action movie ever made (and clearly brought Ryan Reynolds over with him.) This winking comedy disrupts the flow of the film.

Previous Fast movies might slip in a joke (Lin, Gray) or stop entirely to tell a ridiculous anecdote (Wan, Singleton) but it’s at it’s best when it takes itself seriously. Leitch’s unending injection of comedy into the franchise makes the whole thing feel like one long joke. It’s okay to have those moments but at a certain point it just doesn’t contribute anything whatsoever to the film’s value. Hobbs & Shaw suffers accordingly as it’s too smart for its own good.

The Fast Franchise Reaches its Final Form in ‘The Fate of the Furious’ (2017)

How Ultimate is it?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the movie. As escapism goes it’s near-perfect. The first time I saw it I completely escaped my world and when I came back I completely forgot what happened. This is as boilerplate a blockbuster action flick as they come, with little to no memorable experiences. The film earned $760 million globally and another $160 domestic, not even touching the higher earners of the Fast franchise. By Fast & Furious standards it was a dud in terms of earning. It cost two hundred million to make so it still made a pretty penny, likely what garnered it’s inevitable sequel.

As a chance to round out the lore of the Fast Universe it functions well. As a character piece on a former baddy-turned-good-guy it pays lip service. Mostly it’s an excuse to watch The Rock and Jason Statham beat the ever-living-hell out of some henchmen while insulting each other’s masculinities every way possible. It’s got the old Friday night WWE vibes of smack talk and violence with the thinnest plot possible.

As an experiment into the deeper mythology of a hastily construed universe it’s not a bad dip. It could certainly be worse and it steers clear of playing with Fast canon. It even sets up more elaborate foes to be encountered later. It proved spinoffs could succeed and audiences would enjoy seeing other corners of the Fast universe.

A Hobbs & Shaw 2 is guaranteed in this world but even more importantly an all-female spinoff is also promised. Similarly Vin Diesel confirmed two more movies in the fast universe after F9 so while the main family seems to be winding down the studio is exploring new routes and options to take to capitalize on an accidental franchise. This offshoot of characters demonstrates some viability to the franchise as a whole and it’s excuse to craft elaborate action scenes. It may not work as well as when Vin Diesel does it but there’s something to be said for this current iteration of the Fast saga that started so long ago.

Hobbs & Shaw is ultimately a waypoint. The larger story has yet to be told and this small offshoot isn’t guaranteed to go on as long as the other movies. Here we are, however. This movie isn’t intended to be the last word on the Fast franchise, those plans were disrupted, but it is certainly a loud and bombastic statement. Hobbs & Shaw established itself out of the shadow of it’s Fast siblings and made room for more branches on the ever-growing Fast tree, as a quippy actioner with plenty of violence and not a lot of emotion.