This Time There Is No Team
After an MI6 operation is hit by a terrorist group known as Eteon, the only surviving agent, Hattie Shaw [Kirby], injects herself with an engineered virus to ensure it can’t fall into the wrong hands. The Eteon insurgents are led by Brixton Lore [Elba], a biogenetically enhanced soldier with various cybernetic upgrades. With Hattie on the run, the CIA bring in two fixers to hunt her down: federal agent Luke Hobs [Johnson] and former Special Forces mercenary Deckard Shaw [Statham]. As the two have a history, they are less than happy to see one another but must work together to prevent Hattie from dying and the Snowflake virus going pandemic.
In truth, the story boils down to a fairly by-the-numbers odd couple heist film meaning it eventually devolves into an incredibly long, bloated and surprisingly dull slog. With the first The Fast And The Furious starting out as Point Break with cars, the franchise has kept itself alive by evolving somewhat and moving from street racing action thriller to action heist dramas and finally to superhero (in all but name) features. This has earned the Fast/Furious franchise a bit of a formulaic reputation for constant posturing and testosterone-driven alpha-male nonsense peppered with on the nose dialogue about family and loyalty, etc. Nowhere is that more evident than this release.
On paper, doing a spin off pairing one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood makes complete sense. It frees up the characters to largely step away from the trappings of what came before and acts as a jump-on point for anyone who isn’t up to date with the now eighteen year old series. But what we get is dumb.. truly, laughably dumb. In The Winter Soldier Captain America (a genetically enhanced super soldier) has difficulty holding onto a helicopter but Hobbs can hold one down with a chain because.. muscles. Then we have the constant tension. I was less convinced by the painfully trite romance between Johnson and Kirby as the real on-screen sexual tension is undeniably between Johnson and Statham. Which would actually work as a nice progressive story arc but I don’t think the fanbase or even the actors themselves could handle that kind of development. So in addition to emulating the action set pieces of a superhero film (abandoning all semblance of realism and escalating so far from stealing DVD players in the first film) the film heavily shifts its weight from thriller to comedy. For all its flexing and end of the world talk, a cavalier attitude is on display from start to end and this film thinks it is incredibly funny. It is not. Instead, we have a supposedly high stakes scenario with two indestructible characters wisecracking throughout.
For the most part, the CGI is impressive and the fight sequences are rather well-choreographed but anything positive is butchered with clumsy editing. Fairly early on in the film, Hobbs and both Shaws are trying to evade capture by Eteon agents. The chase itself is a decent combination of thrilling action, noteworthy CGI, great sound design and a decent score complimenting the whole thing. But as it comes to a close, our leads manage to evade capture and it becomes painfully obvious that this film is never going to create a scenario wherein our heroes struggle. And sure enough, every fist fight, every chase, everything circumnavigates back to a victory for Hobbs and Shaw. One could argue this is true of any action piece but it is in fact the opposite. The standard cliché is to introduce our character, have them experience a setback or lose, show them learning from their mistakes and coming back in the third act to achieve a more meaningful victory. Again, it’s cliché but it’s also writing 101. Hobbs and Shaw seemingly refuses to adhere to this because the alpha cannot be seen to fail and the ego of the actors is too strong and unyielding. Meaning the film is robbed of any tension, development or consequence.
Before we cover the central cast, something has to be said about the supports, most notably the self-indulgent extended cameos. Ryan Reynolds portrays a quipping CIA handler named Locke, who may as well be Deadpool. I thought I had missed something in a previous instalment because his introduction is so absurd and extremely jarring that it’s hard to know if he is in any way genuine or just psychologically unhinged. Then we have Kevin Hart appearing as an Air Marshall in what would usually amount to a throwaway line but carries on for a full mini-scene plus call-back. One could say there’s nothing wrong with these harmless oddities but in truth they skew an already uneven and unbalanced film.
In truth, there’s little to say about Johnson and Statham’s respective performances because they are remarkably safe; there is nothing outside of what we would expect and frankly, that’s what the film wants. I will discuss Elba more later in the review but I was both impressed and disappointed for Vanessa Kirby. It’s evident that Kirby is a great actor and that she will rise to prominence quite quickly. She has already proven herself with standout performances on The Crown and Mission: Impossible – Fallout and while she is afforded the opportunity to portray a physically capable character, she is instead relegated to a support with little agency after the first act. Speaking of Hattie Shaw, this film offers us a few flashbacks and imparts the closeness of their relationship (with some absolutely fucking stupid “plan names”) but completely omits or forgets that Deckard has another brother, Owen Shaw from Fast & Furious 6. It’s not really worth dwelling on but it’s such an oddity and smacks of amnesic writing.
Some of the best on-screen action, in terms of how it is shot and executed, can be found in the Mission: Impossible films and for action comedy the first Kingsman movie strikes a wonderful balance. Hobbs & Shaw presents the worst components of both, all flash and flare with little to no substance, heavily reliant on the lead’s charm and incredibly dismissive of any sort of intelligent engagement. While it would be so easy to simply dismiss this as a franchise staple and claim that these movies have always been big and dumb, the truth is that they have been bold and flashy but largely had a modicum of heart or passion. Hobbs & Shaw, regrettably, resembles the weaker Fast/Furious releases but will no doubt entertain its core demographic and make more than a mark at the box office.
02 August 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
Throughout the film we are constantly told that these two superhuman leads are not only physically capable but extremely mentally savvy. Quoting Nietzsche, referencing previous accomplishments and boasting about flawless plans, we are instructed that the eponymous characters are masters of stratagem. When it comes down to it, however, their plans are laughable and the big “Mick Jagger” plan simply doesn’t work, almost entirely reliant on a deus ex machina in the form of a Russian scientist. But that’s what you get for basing your highly coordinated strike on a crudely outlined con run by children.
The villain for this feature was crucial and while the owner of the mysterious distorted voice remains to be seen, Elba is a fantastic choice. He has the confidence, presence and acting chops to helm an antagonist of this nature and exudes cool. On top of that, there is an nicely thought out physicality to his performance, moving and holding himself in a way that reflects the biometric upgrades inside him. Even if his bulletproof suit with an exposed head is remarkably stupid.
“The more machine I am, the more humane I become”
In A Few Words:
“I will commend this film for trying something different but the final output is a silly lazy comedic action piece that, despite its blatant flaws, will likely go on to be extremely successful”