One of the earliest signs that the Fast and Furious film franchise has finally flown too close to the sun comes within the first 10 minutes of Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, the ninth installment in the now 18-year-old series.
Luke Hobbs, a greased bowling ball and bounty hunter (freelance) played by The Rock “Dwayne” Johnson, confronts his first victim by revealing how he learned of said victim’s illicit behavior: “I’ve been hearing a lot of dark web chatter,” he says, to the viewer’s deep humiliation. If you can imagine a gigantic steak in a too-tight denim jacket saying, “I’ve been hearing a lot of dark web chatter,” before pummeling some guy this way till Tuesday, then you know all you need to know about this already ill-conceived spinoff: It is dumb. Not the good kind of dumb, either. Just dumb. You heard it here first, in this dark web chatter.
As if to put the final nail in the coffin before we even get to the film’s exposition, Hobbs then grabs the closest tattoo gun and inks “I LOVE COPS” onto the man’s forehead. Anyone with even a modest knowledge of the Fast and Furious canon knows that Hobbs is not remotely light-handed enough for the tattooing profession and is himself a cop (freelance), so it’s not clear if this is intended to be an insult or a compliment. From then on, the contradictions grow. The mood is flat. The banter is wack. The first in what will surely be several spinoffs in the Fast and Furious universe is already, within minutes, a throwaway.
I am the first person to argue for more Fast and Furious movies, and I’ve frequently put my reputation on the line to do so: at parties, during job interviews, in the waiting room of my gynecologist’s office. I’m basically always talking about Fast and Furious, even when I’m not supposed to be. What I would not give for another Fast Five, Tokyo Drift, or even 2 Fast 2 Furious; to have Brian O’Conner and Han Lue brought back to life (again); to return to L.A. once and for all; to share one more Corona around the table and raise a toast to family, like we all really mean it, just like we used to. I’d love to see Dom Toretto force some punk through a glass wall, Letty drive some punk off a cliff, Tej crack some code, Roman crack some joke, or hear Mia say something completely benign and forgettable throughout it all. But no—instead, we get the two characters least representative of the Fast and Furious ethos (which is, of course, “WE ARE FAMILY”) alternating between almost punching and almost kissing each other for two hours and sixteen minutes. Who asked for this? Hint: Their names rhyme with The Lock and Mason Nathan and they are both executive producers on the film.
So what happens in this two-hour-plus romantic romp? Here’s the rundown: Idris Elba is Brixton Lore, a superhuman robot soldier who is—what else?—trying to eradicate the planet of weak humans in order to create a superhuman race of, I dunno, superhumans. He intends to do that by spreading a virus that turns your insides to jelly in under 48 hours. But, he is foiled when—who else?—a woman, willing to be the martyr in this whole pistol measuring contest, injects herself with the deadly virus to keep it out of Lore’s hands. She prays and hopes that someone, anyone will save her from having her sexy girly parts liquified—and quick.
Lucky for Hattie Shaw (played by Vanessa Kirby), she has both a brother in Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), and a romantic interest in Luke Hobbs, and they’ll stop at nothing to protect her. She may be a skilled, intelligent, exceptionally competent MI6 agent but feminine weakness being what it is, she cannot possibly pull this off alone. She is also weirdly barefoot for much of the movie, and while Hobbs and Shaw are lit from within and full of vim and vigor throughout most of their skirmishes, Hattie’s cat-eye makeup looks like it was applied by a literal cat. As Hobbs and Shaw attempt to take down Lore’s nefarious plan and save Hattie from imminent death, the duo also manage to destroy a double-decker bus, several glass-walled rooms, a secret lair the size of the UN building, the coastline of Samoa, and an abandoned nuclear power plant that is—if we’ve learned anything about subtlety in the F&F universe—probably meant to be Chernobyl. They also make ample time for love-hate, buddy-comedy banter that never seems to end. And you want to know the worst part? There is hardly even the whiff of a car chase until roughly 45 minutes in.
The movie is full of ridiculous, random cameos. I was just as surprised to see Rob Delaney standing next to Statham as I was when I learned that Ryan Reynolds is actually kind of funny. Despite being a far more talented actor than Statham and Johnson, the beautiful Idris Elba is limited to robotic lines and stiff movement, proving that the egos of our heroic male co-stars are far more delicate than we originally thought.
But you wouldn’t need a villain sapped of charisma to figure that out: Vin Diesel, the godfather of the Fast and Furious movies, is nowhere to be found in this film. Maybe that doesn’t seem like such a surprise, but Diesel has been in all but one Fast and Furious movie so far, including right at the end of Tokyo Drift in a surprising and delightful cameo. Rumors of male fragility on set of the ninth installment are all but confirmed with the sheer existence of Hobbs & Shaw. They may as well have called it Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw & NOT Dom. The other male characters in the film are foils that reinforce Hobbs and Shaw’s toughness: Reynolds plays a bumbling idiot who is in love with Hobbs, Shaw beats up Delaney’s character and still doesn’t even remember he exists, and Kevin Hart practically begs to join in on their dynamic partnership. He is denied repeatedly. Hobbs and Shaw are the alpha males of this universe, so much so that Hattie, who is literally dying from a virus, is forced to yell at the two as they squabble like babies: “I don’t have time for your alpha male shit right now!” Vanessa Kirby is basically the only good thing about this entire mess.
I won’t give away the ending because I bet you can already guess what happens, but suffice it to say that The Rock delivers the following line as if his Oscar is depending on it: “Brother, you may believe in machines, but we believe in people.” We are all praying for release. As the sky clears, our villain now extinguished, poor Hattie ends up squashed between her brother and her lover as they almost begin fighting again. She wills them, with whatever energy is left within her after confronting death, to stop. The film ends. Someone seated in your row will turn to you and say, “I liked it!” and you will briefly wonder why you married them. There is simply no accounting for taste.
For a Fast and Furious purist, Hobbs & Shaw is just one more perversion closer to the inevitable end of the franchise’s long reign, not with a candy-ass bang but a candy-ass whimper. And just in time, as you could probably expect, for the long-awaited, first female-centric spinoff to arrive in the not-so-distant future. The biggest flaw in Hobbs & Shaw’s makeup is not its absolute lack of logic, the improbability of its stunts, the self-seriousness of its characters, the ridiculousness of its one-liners, nor the near-absence of any female agency—those are all the characteristics that make the Fast and Furious movies so beloved. It’s that someone is getting away with the lie that the Fast and Furious movies can ever be about the heroics of just two people, instead of an entire team of wily rejects, criminals, hackers, car thieves, and one loving patriarch to bind them all together. After all, there’s no “me” in Fast and Furious—but there is an “us.”
I’ll leave you with this nugget of wisdom, delivered by Luke Hobbs to his daughter Sam, in a moment of paternal bonding: “In life, things happen. You may not want them to. But they do.” If you swap out the word “life” for “Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” hand me a needle. I have a pillow I’d like to embroider.
Correction: Although 2 Fast 2 Furious used archival footage of Vin Diesel, he was not featured in the movie, making Hobbs & Shaw the second movie without him. The article has been amended.
Dayna Evans is a writer and devoted Fast and Furious scholar based in New York.