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REVIEW: Hobbs & Shaw Is a Delightfully Over-the-Top Blast

Hobbs & Shaw

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is the apex of the blockbuster action franchise, taking the absurd and bombastic tone of the series to new, bonkers heights while never losing sight of its human elements. A love letter to over-the-top action, it's one of the most purely entertaining films of the year.

When MI6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) is framed for stealing a dangerous biological weapon by the mysterious -- and super-powered -- Brixton (Idris Elba), the CIA turns to Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to hunt her down. To Hobbs’ disgust, he’s forced to work with ex-criminal and former enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who turns out to be Hattie’s elder brother. When the two are accused of going rogue, they’re forced on the run, to save Hattie and, by extension, the world.

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Deadpool 2 director David Leitch helms the film with confidence, bringing his distinct eye for action. The movie excels in both comic combat (the hulking Hobbs confronting the significantly smaller Hattie plays out like a real-life Looney Tunes short) and genuinely impressive battles (a fight between Shaw and three men inside a booby-trapped apartment is fantastic). The action is consistently clear, avoiding much of the shaky-cam style that has defined many films in the genre over the past decade. Hobbs & Shaw eschews almost all illusions of realism, using the opportunity to escalate set pieces into ambitious spectacles. The characters are barely removed from being superheroes, and it's great.

Like Leitch, the cast is keenly aware of what kind of film they’re in. Johnson and Statham are perfect together, and have never looked as relaxed in their Fast & Furious roles as they do here. They play their parts like alpha dogs cuffed to one another, instilling the film with a sense of humor that grounds much of the narrative, even when it goes full-on ridiculous.

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The supporting cast is likewise game for the absurdities of the plot. Kirby immediately finds a rhythm with the pair, and displays a particularly strong chemistry with Statham. Elba imbues Brixton with enough confidence to make him entertaining, but just the right amount of pathos to make him a compelling antagonist. Minor roles played by Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart are likewise memorable, adding the comic actors into perfect places within the franchise. Reynolds especially shares a great back and forth with Johnson that’s worthy of its own spinoff.

At its worst, the story is somewhat predictable, dictated more by genre conventions than anything else. That's probably why the romance teased between Hobbs and Hattie ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. But for every scene that feels obligatory, the film finds some new action beat to explode on the screen.

It’s important to remember this franchise began with a couple of drift racers trying to steal DVD players. Now, the heroes are fighting for the fate of the world, dealing with super-viruses and secret labs beneath the ruins of Chernobyl. But the charm of the main cast is more than enough to help make Hobbs & Shaw work, even when lesser movies would have been lost in the spectacle.

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Whenever it reaches the limits of believability, the film knows to lean back on charming characters to bring itself back down to Earth. Family proves to be one of the most consistent themes of the film, as with the rest of the franchise. Both Hobbs and Shaw experience a sizeable amount of character growth from their previously fractured connections, bringing the lessons they've learned about family to help them heal their own lives. It works as a defining theme for the film, and provides connective tissue to the rest of the franchise. The tight direction and winking script keep the narrative going, even when the plot could otherwise get out of hand.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is perfect at what it's trying to be: hilarious and exciting, in equal measure.

Directed by David Leitch from a script by franchise veteran Chris Morgan, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw stars Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba and Vanessa Kirby. The film opens Friday nationwide.

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