10:16am PT by Richard Newby
How 'Hobbs & Shaw' Looks to Take on the Superhero Genre
The world of Fast & Furious is expanding in a major way. Friday morning, Universal Pictures released the trailer for David Leitch’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, the first spinoff of the franchise that finds fan-favorite characters Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw thrown together in an over-the-top buddy cop movie that plays off the star power of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. To say the series has come a long way since its debut with The Fast and the Furious in 2001 would be an understatement. Across eight movies, we’ve seen a group of street racers go from stealing DVD players off of semi-trucks to becoming a global espionage unit engaging in, as Ludacris put so eloquently, “vehicular warfare.” Now, with Hobbs & Shaw the franchise looks to be heading in an even more ridiculous, albeit pleasing, direction.
Rather than easing viewers back into this world and first reacquainting us with Hobbs and Shaw, the trailer lets loose with a new villain unlike any the series has seen before. As if Johnson, Statham, and Mission: Impossible - Fallout breakout Vanessa Kirby weren’t enough to get action junkies hyped for this film, Idris Elba is also along for the ride as the super-powered villain Brixton. Universal released character posters earlier this week, and Brixton’s described him as bulletproof and superhuman. Logically, many assumed that just meant he had quick reflexes and was good at dodging bullets, or had some special bulletproof armor. But logic, at least in the physical sense, has little place in the Fast & Furious films, and Brixton is a full-on genetically engineered superhuman, like an evil Captain America. Universal, one of the only major studios without a superhero franchise, hasn’t been hurting for billion-dollar blockbusters with the Fast & Furious and Jurassic Park franchises at their disposal. For years fans have jokes that Vin Diesel and Paul Walker-led films were moving closer and closer into the realm of superhero movies, and now it looks like screenwriter Chris Morgan, who has been with the series since the third entry, is fully entering that realm. But we shouldn’t fear that the series will be trading in torn T-shirts for costumes any time soon.
As much as Hobbs & Shaw looks to compete on the superhero-dominated summer blockbuster playing field, it also looks like a tribute to good old-fashioned muscle. In 2012, Sylvester Stallone went on Entertainment Tonight to discuss the state of the action movie genre. He said, “Let’s just say it’s fading away. You have the superheroes today, which are possessed with all extraordinary powers; they can blink and a fireball comes out of there. It’s great. And then you have a bunch of us which is just your basic male-pattern baldness … kind of like hands-on action.” Stallone isn’t part of Hobbs & Shaw, but his sentiments, or ones similar, seem to be evident in a film like this. What is Hobbs & Shaw if not a commendation for bald men who can get the job done without the need for superpowers? As much as the Fast & Furious movies have evolved, they still feel like throwbacks to '80s and early '90s action movies like Commando (1985), Tango & Cash (1989) and Demolition Man (1993) that prided themselves on brawn and one-liners. If anything, we’re expecting Hobbs & Shaw to be a winking and a nod to old-school action heroes and the fact that Universal is just fine without capes and masks.
David Leitch, who is quickly becoming one of Hollywood's top action movie directors with John Wick (2014), Atomic Blonde (2017) and Deadpool 2 (2018), is employing his clever visual style, affinity for neon and a sense of good old-fashioned fun with Hobbs & Shaw. It’s that last element that makes the film so anticipated. Where so many of our biggest franchises are caught up in grounded rules, and complicated mythologies, there’s something refreshingly laid back about the Fast & Furious films where anything goes and there’s no canon to hold above the proceedings.
This rings doubly true for Hobbs & Shaw, because even as a spinoff of a larger series, it still looks like a film that’s playing by its own rules and can be enjoyed without having to watch eight prior films — though for the sake of thrills they’re definitely recommended. The John Wick series, which has been taken over by Leitch’s co-director on the first film, Chad Stahelski has found itself in a similar, enviable position, although on a slightly small scale. In a number of ways, we can look at John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and Hobbs & Shaw as companion pieces in their respective spots of opening and closing the summer movie season in May and August. Both films exhibit stylish yet classic sensibilities that showcase that there’s still a place for meaty action movies with their bones fashioned out of the western, kung fu and buddy cop movies of Hollywood past. Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t just have the potential to pave the way for the future of a beloved franchise, but to help reclaim a place of honor for an important action heroes without superpowers.