Listen. I like the Rock. I thought Skyscraper was pretty dope and was infinitely jealous that a co-worker got hugged by the Rock when that movie came out. But, if I had to choose a favorite character from the Fast and Furious film franchise, Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Hobbs would not be it. This isn’t because I don’t like the Rock, I’m just not crazy about Hobbs. And for that very specific reason, I think the new film Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw feels a little lukewarm. It’s a good action flick, but without the lawless snarl of Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, I’m not sure this F&F flick can really soar.
This might be hard to believe, but the Rock kind of took-over the Fast & Furious franchise from the inside very late in the game. His character, DSS agent Luke Hobbs didn’t show up until the fifth movie in the series, Fast Five. That 2011 film also saw the return of Ludacris as the character Tej Parker, who first appeared in the second movie, 2 Fast 2 Furious. The point? Prior to Hobbs & Shaw, Ludacris had been in more F&F movies than the Rock, but where’s the Ludacris spin-off I ask you?
The answer is, of course, nobody wants the Ludacris Fast & Furious standalone movie — Your Fast and Furious Fantasy — except for perhaps me and maybe Ludacris’s agent. The Rock and Jason Statham have marque value, which is why movie studios want those guys in a new F&F product. I get it. But, if we’re going to take these movies even remotely seriously, the issue with Hobbs & Shaw has nothing to do with its plot (which I won’t spoil) nor its action (which is great.) It’s simply that the characters of Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw are not — in my opinion — what the Furious franchise is all about.
Instead, the reason why we actually like these movies is that both Paul Walker and Vin Diesel were lawless street racer assholes who just happened to turn into quasi-secret agents heroes. The Rock’s Luke Hobbs is the opposite of this. Sure, maybe he’s a rowdy cop, but the reality is, he’s still basically a cop. He’s almost too straight-laced and good for these kinds of movies. In other words, he’s not a criminal with a heart-of-gold like Dom.
Now, in theory, pairing Hobbs with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) makes sense since Shaw is a HUGE criminal. Hobbs & Shaw does a little bit to retcon Shaw’s criminal history to make him more likable but, still, the difference between a criminal like Shaw and a criminal like Dom Toretto is that Dom runs a chop-shop and Shaw sends mail-bombs to people in other Fast & Furious movies. He also literally killed a member of the F&F gang in Furious 7. So, in a sense, Hobbs & Shaw is a buddy comedy that asks the question: What if an improbably swole federal agent and fucking evil Bond villain were in a buddy action comedy? The answer is that you get a pretty good movie but without the streetwise charm and heart of a regular Fast & Furious flick.
Obviously, Paul Walker’s character Brian O’Connor was, in some senses, the perfect blend of what the franchise needs in a character; Brian was former FBI and a street-racing criminal. But, since Walker’s tragic real-life death in 2013, it seems like the franchise is understandably unwilling to commit to a character with this kind of slick duplicity. (Also, there’s a long-rumored low-key feud between Vin and the Rock, which is probably the real-deal reason why Vin isn’t in this new movie and is instead, developing Furious 9 with John Cena, set to be released in May 2020)
Yes, Hobbs and Shaw have moral shades of grey, but this is nothing compared to the car thieves of the previous films. If the Rock as Hobbs is like Batman without the cape, then Vin Diesel is like Tony Soprano with a great gym membership. In other words, Vin’s performance brings an element of danger to those movies because he seems like a cold-ass dude deep in his soul. As Hobbs, the Rock seems like he could beat up literally anyone, but he also seems very nice.
This isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually good. But, without Vin Diesel, you may as well call Hobbs and Shaw, “The Fast and the Ripped.” Neither Hobbs nor Shaw seems “furious.” They don’t seem deadass insane the way Vin Diesel does in Furious 7, when he says, apropos of nothing, “time to free the beast.” These movies need to be a little angry, and more than a little unhinged; and that anger and nuttiness should come from the good guys, not just the villains. With Hobbs & Shaw, moral lines are a little too clear-cut. It makes for some good explosions and interesting fights, but it just isn’t angry enough. Fast? Big Yes. Furious? Not even close.
Hobbs & Shaw is out in theaters now.