As the type of voracious pop-culture junkie who starts a magazine about music, movies and TV, I’ve seen just about every film in every big franchise there is. Every Bond film. Every Star War. All the Marvel movies and every trip to Middle Earth or the Wizarding World. But until last night I’d never watched a Fast & Furious movie. I guess to be fair, I’d also skipped the Transformerstras movies until Bumblebee, but at least there it was Michael Bay I was avoiding.
I really had no excuse for Fast & the Furious. I mean, I don’t have the gene that makes me care a great deal about cool cars, but I can appreciate a good chase. Maybe I just skipped the first couple and felt like there was no catching up once eight had had passed me by.
But The Paste Podcast is weekly, and to feed that beast I decided to skip the Democratic Presidential Primary Debate and go see a preview screening of Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw. Sorry, Senator Warren.
And, of course, I get it now. I understand why this series of movies won’t die. I turned to our TV editor as the credits rolled and said, “So the action is the comedy.” The tension builds and builds to those near misses when a motorcyclist impossibly squeezes between the tires of two semi trucks and the audience lets out a cathartic laugh.
This is the best kind of ridiculousness. Silly earnest monologues are elevated by great acting for comic effect the same way the physics-bending close calls. At one point, Idris Elba—the man who gave us Stringer Bell, DCI John Luther and Nelson freaking Mandela—actually utters the phrase “Genocide Schmenocide” and deserves an Oscar for somehow making that work. Helen Mirren, an actress of such depth she’s been awarded The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, doesn’t look out of place acting opposite Jason Statham because Statham can hold his own against the best. Vanessa Kirby, coming off a show-stealing turn as Princess Margaret in The Crown deserves her own spinoff and whatever Marvel role might come available next. Ryan Reynolds continues his Reynoldssance with a long cameo, recreating his Deadpool schtick as Hobb’s CIA handler. Dwayne Johnson has made the long journey from wrestler once known only as The Rock to bit-part villain to one of the most charismatic leading men of this century. And all of this would simply not work otherwise. The constant banter, the soapy family drama and the dizzying jump cut action scenes would all fall apart in lesser hands.
Our movies editor Dom Sinacola maintains that this is one of the weaker entries in the franchise (and obviously I’m not in a position to argue its relative ranking), but to me, this international sci-fi spy thriller is just about the highest form of popcorn entertainment. I believe Jason Rhode now when he wrote of Fate of the Furious in 2017, “It is so over-the-top that it establishes a new top. ... Its exaggerations—like when The Rock lifts an insufferable bureaucrat against a wall by ninety degrees—are as much a part of its deliberate technique as the oversized gestures of kabuki or opera. ... It’s so clever, so perfectly executed, emotionally sincere, self-aware and gloriously cinematic that I think it’s made me happier, and more entertained, than any other movie I’ve seen this year.”
Sure, there is a deep love for cars here—reverent shots of dashboards, sleek curves and pedals are spliced into every chase. Statham gets most of the best driving sequences, but Johnson gets to smash things in a truck built with a ramming cage. Characters hang onto moving vehicles by the tips of fingers or slide out onto hoods as they go hurtling through buildings and down from rooftops. Cars get chained to a helicopter and swerve between tires of semi trucks. And Elba and his self-driving motorcycle perform balletic CGI dances with every near miss. The more ridiculous the driving feat, the bigger the release of tension—and laughter—in the audience.
And that’s a joyous thing. I can’t yet speak to the rest of the franchise (but be sure I’ll at least go back and watch all the Hobbs entries), but Hobbs & Shaw perfects what we loved about those old Bond openings in a way so many other big-explosion action flicks have tried and failed. There’s a reason the franchise has lasted nine entries, and I’m all in for number 10.
Listen to Josh Jackson and Allison Keene discuss ‘Hobbs and Shaw’ in the latest episode of ‘The Paste Podcast’ below, or better yet, download on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify or the new app from our podcast partner Himalaya, and subscribe!