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‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Gives ‘Fast & Furious’ a Fresh New Direction

Dwayne Johnson saved Universal’s flagship franchise once before. Now he’s turned it into a full-blown superhero spectacle.

By Jason R. Latham

“I’m trying to save the world, which, for the record, will be my fourth time,” boasts Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs in the debut trailer for Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, the spinoff to Universal’s long-lasting and lucrative franchise.

Fast & Furious turns 18 in June and while it has, over the years, outrun the wrath of critics and survived the sudden death of original co-star Paul Walker, 2017’s The Fate of the Furious (despite a $1.2 billion global haul) showed obvious signs of an aging series in need of a tune-up. Exhibit A: the out-of-nowhere revelation that Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto had unknowingly fathered a son sometime between Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 – a Cousin Oliver-sized shark jump, even for a series that has employed amnesia as a plot device.

Likewise, Fate’s addition of Scott Eastwood as a secret agent who joins Toretto’s team failed to boost cast chemistry and only served as a reminder that Walker’s presence is sorely missed. 

So, where can the franchise turn for a fresh coat of paint? Re-enter Johnson, a.k.a. “Franchise Viagra.”

The wrestler-turned-actor-turned-box office lucky charm has already saved Fast & Furious once, when his Luke Hobbs character joined the fray in 2011’s Fast Five. In doing so, he not only revived interest in the series, but resurrected his own career from the doldrums of kiddie fare such as Tooth Fairy and Race to Witch Mountain.

With Johnson’s arrival, the Fast & Furious films not only made more money, but they became more and more outrageous, with cars fighting tanks, cars jumping through skyscrapers, and cars outracing a nuclear submarine on a frozen lake. Like Johnson’s Hollywood profile, Hobbs’ presence in the films has expanded with each successive Fast entry, with the character evolving from a hulkish foil into a lawman who loves his family as much as loves cracking skulls.

Along the way, Hobbs made a frenemy in Jason Statham’s rogue secret agent Deckard Shaw, and the pair’s scene-stealing chemistry in Fate added some much-needed levity to counter Diesel’s dour performance. Recognizing this, Universal rightly gave Johnson and Statham room to grow in their own spinoff, one that pits them against Idris Elba’s bulletproof supervillain, Brixton.

The Hobbs & Shaw trailer bills Brixton as “human evolutionary change,” a huge leap forward from the street-level drug dealers and cyber-thieves that have comprised the Fast & Furious rogue’s gallery. An outsized villain needs outsized heroes. Hobbs and Shaw fit the bill, and the trailer thrills by showcasing Elba as a bad guy who can go toe-to-toe with both. 

The concept of “superhero fatigue” can be overblown. Audiences are still drawn to charismatic stars, and Johnson has always had charisma to spare. The spinoff at last gives him the spotlight – where he belongs – and further expands the Fast & Furious universe, which is now free to leave street racing behind and rally around its characters instead of cars.

With Hobbs & Shaw, Fast & Furious can fully evolve into Universal’s superhero franchise, further embracing James Bond-ian levels of action (and absurdity) reminiscent of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. 

Johnson’s name has been bandied about superhero (and supervillain) circles for years. As Hobbs, an original creation, he’s not bound by the restraints of comic book continuity or fan expectations. From the moment he burst through the window of a Rio de Janeiro favela — hot on the heels of Toretto — he’s been the hero Fast & Furious needed.

Now, with Statham’s smart-ass super spy serving as his sidekick (although I wouldn’t tell him that) and Elba’s indestructible baddie in his sights, Johnson is set to steer the franchise into unexplored territory. Suddenly, the idea of Fast & Furious in space doesn’t seem so strange.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw hits theaters August 2.

Need more F&F? Head to our archives to revisit the Now Playing Podcast retrospective!

February 1, 2019 - Posted by | News

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