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Marvel’s cinematic universe may have dominated the box office for the past ten years, but don’t sell short the Fast & Furious franchise, which has made billions of dollars since it debuted in 2001.  And now it is expanding its universe.  The double ampersand titled Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is the franchise’s first spin off, focusing on two characters that were initially introduced as secondary characters, but have earned so much more.

First introduced in 2011’s Fast Five, Dwayne Johnson plays Luke Hobbs, a lawman and single father who is recruited by a CIA handler (Ryan Reynolds, in a movie-stealing cameo) to help secure a missing, deadly virus.  Much to his chagrin, he is not the only one hired for the job.  Joining him will be Deckard Shaw, first introduced as a villain in 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, then turned ally by the end of 2017’s The Fate of the Furious.  Played by Jason Statham, Shaw has always been a thorn in Hobbs’ side, and the chances of them being able to work together on this mission seem to be zero-to-never.

hobbs and shaw insetWhile Hobbs may just be saving the world, the job is a little more personal to Shaw, for it is his sister Hattie who apparently absconded with the virus.  And she is being pursued by Brixton, a criminal Deckard thought to be dead after he shot him in the head years ago, but who now returns, resurrected by a mysterious tech conglomerate as a half machine/half man “black Superman” with superhuman abilities.  The mission leads Hobbs and Shaw from London to Russia, before eventually taking them back to a place where Hobbs was sure he would never return.

Hobbs and Shaw may have their names in the movie’s title, but Vanessa Kirby’s Hattie is in on just about every action scene and she proves she can handle herself in a fight, a talent she didn’t get to show off last year, despite her role in the stunt extravaganza Mission: Impossible—Fallout.  She is a terrific addition to the franchise, as is Idris Elba as Brixton.  Elba wastes no time declaring himself as a badass, walking up to a group of MI6 agents that have him surrounded and introducing himself as the “bad guy.”

Idris Elba blatantly introducing himself as the villain is the level of subtlety Hobbs & Shaw has in store for audiences and I imagine Fast & Furious audiences wouldn’t have it any other way.  The movie even takes the franchise’s running theme of family and makes it 100% literal, not only introducing Shaw’s sister, but also having Hobbs faced with the vacant family tree his daughter created for a school project.

Then there are the action scenes, which hold little back.  The highlights are the slow-motion-in-the-rain climactic showdown between Hobbs, Shaw, and Brixton, along with the battle in which our heroes take away their enemies’ superior technological advantage and go old-school with spears and clubs.  The opening split-screen introduction to Hobbs and Shaw on their similar but separate missions is also fun.

There are other action scenes that don’t work as well, though.  In a genre that has recently seen a return to practical stunt work in films like John Wick and the aforementioned Mission: ImpossibleFallout, it is incredibly distracting to watch our human characters fight in front of an incredibly obvious green screen with effects that are as noticeable as rear projection techniques in the films of the 1930s.  It is especially troublesome in the central action scene that has our heroes escaping from an exploding building.  There is also some stunt work with Brixton’s motorcycle, a cycle that almost feels like something he transforms into rather than simply rides, that is so obviously impossible for any human to accomplish—even a technically enhanced one—that it takes you right out of the reality of the movie.  That said, taking the audience out of the reality of a Fast & Furious movie is far less of a problem than it might be in any other movie.

Hobbs & Shaw ultimately relies on the likeability and the chemistry between its two stars.  It is the charisma of Johnson and Statham that inspired this movie to be made in the first place and in that department, this movie thoroughly succeeds.  Their bickering, whether harsh or playful, is always fun to watch and is the centerpiece of the movie.  Watching them play off each other is so fun, that at times it almost feels as if the action scenes are just getting in the way.

Outside, perhaps, of the lengthy full title, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is the perfect kind of movie for the dog days of August; a fun escape from the heat into an air-conditioned auditorium where you can hang out with some characters who are a lot of fun to be around for a couple of hours.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.

Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.
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