Hobbs & Shaw, the latest installment in the Fast and Furious cinematic universe (yes, because that’s a thing now) has made nearly $500 million worldwide, and it continues to rack up big numbers both abroad and here in the US. Landing a respectable 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, and scoring a solid A- on Cinemascore, the movie has been reluctantly accepted by critics and embraced by lovers of bro-riffic action flicks.
I’ve been an unabashed fan of the franchise since Fast 5. The diverse cast, the enjoyable but utterly unrealistic stunts, and the genuine, if not shallow emphasis on “family” made the franchise perfect popcorn fun. This isn’t Oscar bait, and it’s definitely not trying to be. Fast 5 introduced Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Luke Hobbs, a government agent badass originally positioned as an antagonist to Vin Diesel and his gang of merry street racers. The addition of Johnson gave the Fast franchise the shot of NOS it needed, and since then the franchise has continued to deliver big spectacle and big box offices.
In Hobbs & Shaw, The Rock really channels his 1980s testosterone fueled no-nonsense tough guy persona. On full display are his huge muscles, corny as fuck one-liners, and a years’ supply of baby oil. Anyone else other than Dwayne Johnson would crumble under the weight of this character’s preposterous presentation. But this is The Rock, a man with enough Charisma (with a capital ‘C’) to make movies like Rampage and a Jumanji reboot profitable.
Here, Dwayne’s Luke Hobbs is paired with foe-turned-friend, Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw. Shaw is sophisticated, cool and confident, a perfect odd couple match with Johnson’s Hobbs. The two play off each other well, and glimmers of comedy gold are revealed as these big bald action stars rift and rift and rift. There’s also some amazing cameos. Seriously, like two of the best not-so-secret cameos I’ve seen in years.
As a casual movie-goer, that’s basically all you need to know. The first two acts are packed with everything you’d expect in a FF movie. Manly men being manly, over-the-top car chases and actresses who look like models (or models who act like actresses?).
At this point, I’d like to focus on the final 30 minutes, where in my opinion, the movie flies uncontrollably into third-act hell. Caution, spoilers ahead.
From the movies’ beginning to the end of the second act where Jason and Dwayne go toe-to-toe with Edris Elba’s Brixton Lore (the best black Superman to ever grace the big screen), I’m 100% on board. I’ve seen the even better odd-couple pairing of Ryan Reynolds with Johnson (yes Universal Pictures, I’d like some more please), a hilarious extended cameo by Kevin Hart as an US Air Marshal with delusions of grandeur, and several action-packed set pieces featuring a strong (but underutilized) female character in Vanessa Kirby’s Hattie Shaw.
Up to this point, I’m chomping down my buttery popcorn and completely happy with the $20 I spent to watch these bros be bro-ey. Act two concludes with our titular heroes barely surviving an exploding Etheon facility (Etheon is basically evil corp. Seriously, that’s really all you need to know about it) and getting their asses handed to them by the suped up Brixton Lore. Honestly, the movie could have basically ended there, and would have been a perfect set up for a “learn to work together” sequel.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, we get what happens when The Rock’s production company produces a movie starring The Rock. For “reasons”, Johnson and Statham have to fly to Hawaii, umm, I mean Samoa, because Dwyane’s estranged brother (a car mechanic?) is the only person who can fix a futuristic one-of-a-kind viral extraction machine. From here forward, the movie focuses on Hobbs’ family. A story I didn’t need nor did I want.
The third act feels like a different movie. It’s cornier (if that’s possible), and maybe not a coincidence, is more like watching Johnson’s Instagram feed than a movie. Hobbs & Shaw has shots that are literally taken from The Rock’s Instagram. That’s right, I’m looking at you “pancakes and cheat day” scene (something Johsnon posted a year and a half ago). I totally get that it’s Johnson’s brand, and as another bald dude who likes to work out, it’s one of the reasons I follow him. But c’mon, this didn’t just land a little on the nose, it was like getting punched in the face.
The portrayal of Hobb’s mother was also cringe-worthy. She makes sure “her boys” eat well, crackles when she laghes, and belts out possibly the worst cheesed-up one-liners in the movie. Her boys are many, and the movie suggests that she has like 20 sons (orphans, natural, adopted, who knows, it’s a Fast and Furious movie, so who cares?), and believe me, they all have gym memberships.
I don’t know anyone with Samoan heritage, and I understand it’s a risky place to be judging the portrayal of another ethnicity, but god dammit these scenes felt like cultural appropriation in the worst way. Is there a tribal battle dance. Yup. A tribal battle song. Check. Johnson delivering an end-of-movie motivational speech in Samoan. You bet your ass there is. For a movie and franchise that gets major points for both its racial and gender diversity, this part of the movie misses the mark. Perhaps the worst line in the entire franchise occurs when The Rock (in English) says to his Samoan brothers, “they may have all the technology in the world, but we have heart.” That’s what is supposed to motivate 50+ Samoan islanders to follow Hobbs into battle and certain peril and death. I don’t know brotha, I think I’ll sit this one out.
And before I wrap up, can we talk about the scene where Johnson puts a shirt back on? At the beginning of the final battle, he’s shirtless and wearing a lavalava and pants. To American eyes, the lavalava looks like a skirt, and I don’t mean this as a slight in of itself. What I mean is, Johnson has never been that public with his Samoan ancestry (his father is Black, Canandian/Nova Scotian and his mother is Samoan). Watching Johnson use his Samoan ancestry here felt forced to fit the “family” through-line the franchise has adopted, and even more like profiting on Samoan culture, i.e. cultural appropriation. But back to the shirtlessness. This is a big movie about big dudes with big muscles, and I appreciate the hard work it takes to look that good when a man is topless. About halfway through the fight, Hobbs jumps on a truck to chase down a helicopter, and in the process, puts a shirt back on. It’s such a weird scene. Like why did he need a shirt now? Was he feeling self conscious around all the other burly men? Did he get cold? Was he concerned his rippling muscles would make his co-star feel bad? If you’re wondering, there are no right answers.
Overall, that’s the problem with the third act. I found myself laughing at the movie and not with the movie. Maybe I’m asking too much of a Fast and Furious spin-off, but I expected more, and let me tell you, I didn’t expect much going in.
This article was originally posted on Four Dots, and has been re-posted here with permission.