Shock and Hobbs and Shaw

There’s an old story from widely-circulated games history that’s one of my favorite fun facts: the game that would come to be known as Starfox Adventures began life as a very different project, called Dinosaur Planet. Though much of the ground-level design guided the final product, there was one important change: Miyamoto requested that the Star Fox license become the focus of the story, so as to lend greater strength to the IP. The result was mixed; the game itself was serviceable, but most critics noted a sort of Frankenstein effect—an uncanny valley of tone where none of the aesthetic or storytelling elements quite fell into place. This is the fruit of corporate cynicism: the unmistakable feeling of a poor retrofit.

Hobbs and Shaw falls squarely into this creative dead zone; David Leitch and crew cram the square peg of Fast and Furious characters, themes, and action into a round hole of spy comedy, mangling it in the process. Unfortunately, that means it demands some spoiling—this film is such a poor collection of loose threads that anything but direct address would defy meaningful commentary. You’ve been warned.

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Right out of the gate, the film lays bare one of its many bafflements: how is the action this bad? Atomic Blonde isn’t perfect, but its action was executed to a level of competence that allowed me to give in to its ambitions. By that same measure, both Statham and Johnson have previously shown that they can carry out stage combat to effect. How did this happen? This movie is plagued by poor blocking, disjointed stage combat, and a base inability to communicate its brawls. Not every movie needs to be, say, The Night Comes for Us, but given the pedigree of those involved—not to mention the wiggle room afforded by the blissful absurdity of the Fast and Furious franchise—this is downright perplexing. The most egregious example that comes to mind is when Idris Elba kills a scientist, maybe, by breaking his neck (I think?) with what appears to be an elbow chop. Was that confusing to read? It’s worse to look at.

Speaking of, this movie is ugly—not necessarily in terms of color or lighting (though rest assured, cheap-looking sets and bizarrely unfocused green screen composites litter this picture), but in terms of framing. I hesitate to use the phrase “visual motif”—since that gives the impression of deeper meaning, or thematic intent—but the unrelenting deployment of uncomfortably tight, eye-level, portrait close-ups forces my hand. This technique is used in an alarming amount of dialogue, with the combination of shot-reverse-shot and mirrored portraiture creating a sort of profane match-cut facsimile. By the end of the film, I craved a profile, even an errant angle. Hobbs and Shaw can consider itself amongst the canon of films that prove there is discomfort in symmetry.

Image result for the shining come play with us(Pictured: Hobbs and Shaw, getting ready to make fun of my hog)

Odder still, than the disquieting filmmaking, is the characterization. Most of the film’s characters already intimately know each other, but despite the amount of lip-service paid to old grudges and bonding memories, each interwoven history has very little to do with the action at hand. Is it important that Statham shot Elba in the head before the events of the film? Not really, let’s go make some mediocre penis jokes. It carries strokes of The Expendables, operating on the assumption that these characters are so cool that descriptions of long-past, unseen feats are sufficient. It trades in the cheap tonal currency of their living meme, which is especially frustrating given the incredible things we’ve seen them do in other movies. In a post-MCU world, I can’t for the life of me understand why Hobbs and Shaw is so petrified of referencing other films in the franchise it belongs to.

The problem really comes down to our dynamic duo, who’ve been flattened down into indistinguishable reflections of one another. Hobbs and Shaw were never subtle characters, but it really speaks to the Fast franchise’s best qualities that they managed to breathe life into their respective brands of machismo. Here, their complete lack of unique characteristics is poison; it kills the drama, it kills their rivalry, it kills their friendship, it kills their comedy. When every bit of dialogue reads as “I know you are, but what am I?” there’s very little actual conflict. Their goals, methods, strengths, and flaws are functionally identical. Late in the film, they realize they need to work together, and this is presented as profundity even though they’ve been working together the entire movie. The promised buddy/rival tension does not exist. Every insult they level at one another serves to fulfill the aesthetic of friction, nothing more—though that’s certainly not the biggest problem with this movie’s sense of humor.

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Can I just… describe a scene for one second? I’m so sorry. I just have to talk about this airport/airplane sequence. I have to. It begins by meandering into a “my cock’s small” double-entendre name joke (Mike Oxmal); to call this derivative would suggest some creative distance between the above and the preschool playground roasting it plagiarizes. It then segues into a tedious riff-off between The Rock and Jason Statham—who, for their sake, I pray were not improvising—which consists largely of more penis-size jabs. Then we get some sexual posturing over Vanessa Kirby, prefaced by the interminable post-woke dialogue qualifier that gets peppered into movies nowadays (“See? We said she was strong, and that’s why we want to fuck her!” *pats hands* “This is progressive.”). Finally, but not mercifully, the scene is capped by a truly embarrassing cameo by Kevin Hart that retreads almost beat-by-beat the same jokes and delivery as an earlier cameo with Ryan Reynolds.

The entire sequence probably lasts for about ten minutes, which means that this two hour and ten minute disaster could have been ten minutes shorter. I got up to go to the bathroom at this point, and saw two women dead asleep in their chairs. Frankly, this was impressive, because we were watching this godforsaken movie in Dolby Digital. Anyways.

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There’s two important points to glean here:

1) This movie recycles jokes, constantly. Its comedic repertoire is restrictive such that it crushes any levity like a boa constrictor—that is to say, brutally.

2) This film fundamentally does not understand that comedy requires even the slightest modicum of disparity. Two identical characters hurling the same roasts back at each other… isn’t a roast. A good counter-example would be the “two characters are dumb, but one slightly less so” formula. Beavis/Butthead, Dennis/The Gang, Abbi/Ilana. Even when those characters occasionally swap roles, they always maintain that distance—someone always has a leg up on the other. There’s room to point out or accentuate absurdity, because each player has the contextual wherewithal to identify or partake in it. Hobbs and Shaw, on the other hand, is just an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object—it sounds interesting, but it’s actually quite boring to look at.

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The real tragedy is that there actually are some good ideas in this movie, but so much time is wasted on uninteresting posturing that none of them get developed. Ex) Elba belongs to an ecofascist organization. What!? It astounds me that a movie with its fingers so far removed from the pulse of anything managed to sneak this prescient little element in. Do you know what I would’ve loved? If, instead of hammy, flat mugging, Statham and Johnson actually engaged with the ideology Elba presents, even if only a little. There are people in the world who look at the looming climate crisis as an opportunity to advocate for militant fascism, which—inevitably taken to its logical conclusion of eugenics and genocide—joins Elba and his organization in lock-goosestep. The opportunity for instructive antifascism exists in Hobbs and Shaw, but it’s too concerned with its leads’ penis envy to care.

Not only that, but—as any FF fan worth their salt will note—the theming of family is pretty light in this movie. There’s touches of it, particularly in the final act, but it’s the standard your-biological-family’s-always-your-family wafer-thin fare written with the typical reductive surety of the trope. Of all the grievances I’ve listed, this is the one I find most heartbreaking. I’m not outright opposed to the shift towards biological parentage over found family—it had potential to retain the core theming of the mainline Fast movies while giving this spinoff a little of its own identity—but as it stands, we’re left with a tale of little more than incoherent gestures.

There’s really not much more to say. As with the familial theming, the final act is the closest this film comes to achieving the heights of the Fast movies. Maybe that’s why it so disproportionally fills the trailer. An uncomplicated movie befits an uncomplicated takeaway, and I think your friend and mine, Tyrese Gibson, said it about as well as anyone could hope to:

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“Not a win.”

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