• Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

In June of 2015, Universal Studios Hollywood opened “Fast and Furious: Supercharged”, a motion simulator ride based on the namesake franchise. Another version of the ride would open in Universal Studios Orlando three years later. All the leading actors of the source franchise came to film a completely new stunt sequence for the project. The Hollywood ride was housed inside a custom-made 65,000 square-foot building, making it the largest 3D projection installation ever built, and the Orlando ride was twice that size! The queue line gleamed with polish, with painstaking details packed into every corner. The studio bulldozed Disaster Studios, Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, and a Hollywood Horror Nights studio to make room for this.

Universal put two shit-tons of prime real estate into this ride, to say nothing of all the millions of dollars that must have been poured into development. That’s not even getting started on the retirement of so many classic and beloved (albeit aging) attractions that were still guaranteed to bring in parkgoers. It’s hard to overstate how big Universal was betting on this ride. So of course it quickly became a theme park punchline, almost unanimously reviled as what may be the worst ride in the theme parks’ history.

It’s easy to see why Universal made this move: Fast and Furious is the studio’s all-time biggest franchise, grossing over $5 billion and counting, so of course Universal wants to capitalize on that. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know how to do that successfully when the success of the franchise itself is so inexplicable. How is it possible for a franchise with such a thin premise to sustain itself on adrenaline-fueled thrills through eight goddamn films over two fucking decades?

Or, looking at it another way, what if the ride failed because the franchise really is growing stale? Is that even possible, when each of the last two films in the franchise grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide? Well, the characters are starting to get old, and the actors are getting even older. One of the main actors died tragically young, the films’ treatment of women is starting to grate, and cracks in the “family” of the cast are starting to show.

For instance, did you notice how the basic premise of the eighth movie guaranteed that Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson would spend virtually no time on set together? Or that Johnson won’t be in the cast of the upcoming ninth movie? No way any of that is a coincidence.

Oh, and a lawsuit with Universal ended with producer Neal H. Moritz getting fired from the series he’s shepherded from the very first movie. That happened.

With all of this going on, it’s been confirmed that the next two movies in the franchise will also be the last two movies in the franchise. Which brings us back to the original question for Universal. The studio doesn’t really have much of anything else in the way of tentpole franchises, and they’re still licking their wounds after the Dark Universe disaster. They need to keep this cash cow alive, so how do they make a viable spinoff?

Enter Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw, starring the namesake breakout characters (respectively played by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, both producers here) from the later franchise entries. For extra measure, they brought in director David Leitch, the stuntman-turned-director who co-founded the John Wick universe before making such rock-solid awesome action flicks as Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. Put it all together and what do we get?

Buckle up, folks.

Our antagonist for tonight is Brixton, played by Idris Elba. Long story short, he’s a rogue MI6 assassin who was left for dead and scooped up by Etreon, a massive corporate syndicate with fingers in everything from biotech firms to media conglomerates. Brixton was effectively brought back from the dead with an array of cybernetic upgrades that make him super-strong, hyper-intelligent, and pretty much bulletproof.

See, Etreon’s ultimate goal is in killing off the “weak” and enhancing the “strong” with their bionic upgrades, thus ensuring the “evolution” of mankind. To do this, they’ve engineered a kind of biomechanical virus that can be programmed to target and near-instantly kill anyone with a certain DNA sequence. Or, if the virus was released before programming, it could kill the entire human race.

Remember when this franchise was about stolen DVD players? We’re still in that same continuity, right?

Anyway, MI6 sends in a cadre of operatives to retrieve the virus. One of them is Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), who gets framed as a traitor when her entire team gets killed. On top of that, Hattie has to infect herself with the virus to keep it safe. So now she’s on the run from every law enforcement and intelligence agency on the planet, and she has just under two days to get the virus out of her system and out of the wrong hands before she dies and takes the whole world with her.

Enter the CIA, who enlists the help of two professionals to resolve this. One of them is of course Hattie’s big brother Deckard, though the two of them had a falling out some time ago and haven’t spoken in years. The other one is Lucas Hobbs, the best tracker they could find and an acquaintance of the Shaw family to boot. (Seriously, I think Deckard might have more blood relatives in the franchise than Dom Toretto himself at this point.) Hilarity ensues.

Obviously, a lot of time is given to exploring the Shaw family dynamic. Elsewhere, Hobbs’ family history and his Samoan heritage play a huge part in the film, especially in the third act. The theme of family is of course nothing new to this franchise, but exploring it through totally new families, outside the Toretto crew, gives it a new flavor.

Additionally, our conflict of flesh-and-blood humans versus a bionic antagonist is a new spin on the established franchise theme of lifting up human emotion and analog technology over cold unfeeling microchips. Even if the tech itself feels way too sci-fi to fit into the universe of this franchise, it makes perfect sense in terms of theme. And anyway, the bar for disbelief has already been set so impossibly high at this point in the series, who even cares anymore?

What’s potentially even more interesting is that for all of Brixton’s posturing about how he’s the next step up in evolution for all mankind, he’s still dependent on regular maintenance from Etreon. He isn’t just serving his corporate overlords because he believes in their cause, he serves them because they could literally kill him with the push of a button at any time. So is this really about evolving and improving mankind, or is it about taking over the world by turning people into corporate property? If all these enhanced abilities and state-of-the-art technology come at the cost of basic human freedom, is that really an upgrade?

Of course none of this is made explicit in the text. You don’t hire David Leitch to make a film that ruminates about humanity’s place in a corporate-run technology-oriented world. You hire David Leitch to see three people get the shit beaten out of them with a toaster oven.

Those familiar with Leitch’s brand of chaos will not be disappointed here. We’ve got car chases, gunfights, fistfights, and huge screen-busting set pieces, all delivered with the visceral style of a legit stuntman and the creativity of an unhinged maniac. It is a perfect demonstration of Leitch’s hardcore, merciless, fast-paced, gleefully demented, painfully immersive style of action, and it fits surprisingly well with the tone of the later Fast and Furious movies.

Put simply, when so many cars crash into each other as they’re blown into smoldering scrap heaps, and it’s all shot in a way that makes the audience stand up and cheer, that’s really the least you can expect from a Fast and Furious movie.

Then we have the comedic banter, a tool added to Leitch’s kit post-Deadpool. This is obviously the heart and core of the film, given that Hobbs and Shaw are literally the title of the film and of course their working relationship has been contentious at best. So much of the movie was specifically built around these two and their ongoing petty squabbles.

For example, there’s one sequence (seen in the trailers) in which Hobbs and Shaw each have to fight their way through two parallel hallways, ending in doors that have to be opened simultaneously. Hobbs’ hallway just has the one giant who goes down easily. Shaw’s hallway is staffed with something like a dozen guys that Shaw needs several minutes to take down while Hobbs mocks him from behind glass.

In strictly functional terms, this hallway arrangement makes absolutely no sense. In terms of the Hobbs/Shaw dynamic, it makes a lot of sense.

On the one hand, this is Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. The both of them have long since embraced their onscreen personas as Action Heroes writ large, and they’ve played up those personas for laughs multiple times. (The Other Guys and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle come immediately to mind for Johnson, Spy for Jason Statham.) Of course the two of them are immediately comfortable with their posturing, trading insults and one-liners and pranks with comedic aplomb.

On the other hand, there comes a point when you kind of wish they’d just drop their pants, get the measuring sticks, and get it over with.

Look, I love the over-the-top macho parodies that these two were playing into. I got a lot of great laughs watching the two of them go even lower and farther in trying to push each other’s buttons. And even I have to admit that it got juvenile and obnoxious pretty quick. That’s part of the humor, and they play it really well, but your mileage will absolutely vary regarding how much playground taunting bullshit you’re willing and able to put up with.

Then again, it certainly helps that while the Hobbs/Shaw dynamic is most of the banter, the filmmakers are good enough to switch it up at times. Of course Idris Elba gets in some pretty good zingers, and Johnson gets some cute little interplay with his daughter (now played by Eliana Sua, taking over for Eden Estrella). Eddie Marsan gets a funny little exchange at one point, and there are some scene-stealing cameo appearances I don’t dare spoil here.

Put simply, David Leitch is a master of tightly-controlled off-the-cuff improvised banter like Paul Feig only wishes he was. I am dead serious.

And what of Hattie? Well, she doesn’t have quite as much verbal swordplay as I might have liked, but it was extremely useful having a third party call out Hobbs and Shaw for their perpetual dick-waving. Plus, while the other two are fighting over their fragile masculine egos, Hattie is quite literally fighting for her life with every second she doesn’t have to spare. It brings a tinge of much-needed pathos, just enough to balance out the shallow fun of put-down jokes and explosions.

It also helps a great deal that while Hattie is technically the MacGuffin of the piece and she’s naturally captured once or twice throughout the movie, the filmmakers are good enough to never portray her as a Sexy Lamp. Hattie is a bona fide badass, tough and resourceful as they come, and she’s never too terrified or helpless that she can’t find a way out of any given scenario. I’ll say this for Vanessa Kirby, I can’t think of any other actor in her class with her combination of action chops, acting talent, and sheer beauty.

Which makes it a real disappointment that Hattie never takes down a bad guy in her weight class. She’s stuck with disposable bad guys, never scoring a victory against Brixton or even a noteworthy sub-boss. Such a waste.

I suppose I should also mention the wishy-washy romance subplot between Hattie and Hobbs. Through most of the film, it’s not entirely clear if Hobbs has any genuine feelings for her, or if he’s just playing into it to piss off her big brother. Hattie certainly never shows any interest in Hobbs, aside from a couple of awkward situations that are quickly brushed aside. But then there’s one out-of-place scene near the start of the third act that brings the whole thing crumbling down, directly addressing it while resolving nothing. What the hell were the filmmakers thinking?

On a final miscellaneous note, I suppose I should address the ties to the larger franchise. I’ll say this about the Fast and Furious movies, especially the later ones: The filmmakers continue to do a fantastic job of rewarding return moviegoers without alienating newcomers. When Helen Mirren makes an appearance, you’ll love it regardless of whether or not you already know what she’s doing there. If you don’t know who Mr. Nobody is, you can brush off that passing mention like it was nothing.

If you know absolutely nothing about Dom Toretto or his crew, then (for better or worse) you’ll still have no problem following along. And if you’ve never met Hobbs or Shaw before, you’ll know everything you need to know about them before the opening credits. It’s not like there’s a whole lot to know, after all.

Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw doesn’t have much in the way of firm ties to the main series, but it still delivers some neat new spins on the classic franchise themes. Yes, the franchise as a whole is still hopelessly brain-dead, cartoonishly uber-macho, and at times relentlessly obnoxious. But this one is considerably less so, if only because Tyrese Gibson is mercifully absent. Plus, the filmmakers are good enough to deliver straightforward, brain-dead, adrenaline-fueled action in a way that’s genuinely fun and creative. (Yes, Angel Has Fallen, I’m looking at you.)

Your enjoyment of this one will depend pretty much entirely on your tolerance for the ongoing self-parody schtick that Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham have been playing up in recent years. If you’re good with that, watch this movie and have a great time. Otherwise, you might want to look to David Leitch’s other films to get your action fix.

Also, can we please get Vanessa Kirby her own superhero franchise? At the very least, can we get her into the James Bond series, or a John Wick flick? Come on, Hollywood, please give her a starring vehicle, let’s see what she can really do!

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

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