Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) — ‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

If you had told me when I initially saw the original The Fast and The Furious at age twelve that it would inspire a massive franchise, now dubbed The Fast Saga, I wouldn’t have believed you. Nevertheless, it did just that, spanning eight sequels and one spin-off (thus far). I’ll be racing a quarter-mile at a time from the beginning of this franchise to its current finish line of F9: The Fast Saga. In this installment, we’ll take a side road to check out Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019)!

It’s the worst kept secret in Hollywood that this franchise’s star, Vin Diesel, and Dwayne Johnson do not get along. Nor have they since the two machismo-abundant actors first worked together on Fast Five (2011). Thus, it’s no surprise that their feud grew over the years and, throughout the sequels, became tantamount to the legendary industry feud between Joan Crawford and Betty Davis. Diesel and Johnson simply don’t work well together as neither seems too keen on being outshined by the other. Eventually, it got to the point where they refused to appear on screen together in The Fate of the Furious (2017) unless absolutely necessary. Of course, it only made matters worse that Johnson was considered “franchise Viagra” for The Fast Saga.

While the concept of producing Fast & Furious Presents spinoffs had been in the hopper since November 2015, the idea of pairing up these titular characters was conjured up during Fate, when (most of) the producers of that film and its distributor, Universal Studios, couldn’t help but notice the comedic chemistry between Johnson and Jason Statham (Wrath of Man). Thus, the idea of giving these action stars a spinoff was put on the Fast track. Needless to say, Diesel was not happy about this decision and was even less pleased that the movie in review was slated to go into production and be released before F9: The Fast Saga (2021). Mind you, this decision to delay the ninth entry occurred long before we even knew COVID-19 would shake theatrical release dates up along with everything else. As a result of all this, Diesel, who had been a producer on this franchise since Fast & Furious (2009), stepped down from that position for this spinoff — a decision that I find to be quite childish. I’ll give him this though, Diesel maintained his principles and sacrificed what surely was a large producer’s fee.

It’s worth noting that Diesel wasn’t the only producer who walked away from this project either. The franchise’s primary producer, Neal H. Moritz, unceremoniously departed from this series while Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw was in development due to a financial dispute. Not that this spinoff was lacking for producers as it sports a whopping eleven people credited in that role. Last but not least, there was one other cast member who was none too pleased with the direction of this spinoff. Tyrese Gibson, who plays Roman Pierce in The Fast Saga, felt that not only would this lead Johnson to drive the franchise, but overshadow the ensemble. Moreover, Tyrese also maintained that his character and Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) should be the duo getting a spinoff instead. Frankly, I can’t imagine a Roman & Tej flick, as I feel the characters only work well as supporting comic relief.

Unsurprisingly, though, none of these objections slowed Universal from moving forward with Hobbs & Shaw. The studio also brought along the franchise’s veteran screenwriter, Chris Morgan, who teamed up with Drew Pearce to pen the screenplay for this spinoff. This screenwriting duo is highly appropriate since Pearce co-wrote Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, and Morgan’s take on the franchise is essentially to make them international espionage flicks. Still, this flick needed a director who could bring a fresh enough flavor to the first (and thus far only) installment under the Fast & Furious Presents banner.

It’s rumored that Shane Black (The Predator) was briefly considered to direct the picture. However, knowing Black’s style as both a writer and director, I cannot imagine him helming this off-shoot. Heck, I think the only reason Black was interested in taking on Iron Man 3 (2013) was that his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) collaborator Robert Downey Jr. convinced him to do so. Instead, they ultimately chose a director who I think is perfect for this kind of film — stunt coordinator-turned director David Leitch (John Wick, Deadpool 2). Unlike most modern action filmmakers, Leitch understands how to stage and shoot action sequences the viewer can easily follow. Together, all this talent would bring this spinoff to the screen.

Picking up two years after Fate, we find Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) has been forced out of early retirement to once again save the world. But this time, he’ll find partners in even more unusual places than the traditional Fast family. Hobbs is partnered up with a former enemy Deckard Shaw (Statham). Begrudgingly, the two men agree to join forces to stop a crew of cybernetically engineered soldiers led by someone from Shaw’s past — known only as Brixton (Idris Elba) — from releasing an apocalyptic virus on society. Worse yet, Shaw’s newly introduced sister, former MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), has injected herself with one half of the two-part viral compound to keep it out of the wrong hands. For this, Hattie’s now working against the clock ala Mission: Impossible 2 (2000). Together, Hobbs and the Shaws must save humanity.

There’s no point in belaboring the fine point here. You’re going to enjoy Hobbs & Shaw if you have numbed your neurons by some means. Otherwise, you will be unable to ignore how ridiculous the story is as it trots the globe. But if you can accept the narrative for what it is, then there’s fun to be had. Why? Because unlike most of the Fast & Furious sequels, this one, thankfully, does not take itself seriously.

On the contrary, everyone involved in Hobbs & Shaw is aware that they’re making a silly action flick. Gone is the forced import and pretension that Diesel attempts to bring to this series. Instead, we get a buddy movie that essentially mixes the tone of Tango & Cash with a smattering of Fast & Furious. Alas, they continue to force the franchise’s family theme along the way, which I could have done without. Leitch brings us a top-notch genre picture where everyone in the cast is at the top of their game despite the overall absurdity. This on-screen sense of fun translates wonderfully.

Most of all, the screen chemistry between Johnson and Statham is undeniable. I haven’t seen a better action duo in years. But therein also lies the rub of pairing these two together: they would have been great in anything together. Moreover, there was no reason they needed to be playing the titular characters born from this franchise to make the movie work. The fact is that Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is a Franchise Implosion because it doesn’t feel like a part of this franchise, nor did it need to be. Even still, Hobbs & Shaw is still an entertaining flick despite being overlong and featuring unnecessary celebrity cameos. Still, this is the most fun I’ve had watching anything related to this series in a while.

Despite being one of the lower earners in this franchise, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw still went on to gross over $759 million worldwide on a $200 million production budget. Thus, it’s no surprise that a sequel is in development. But consider Johnson’s comments in a Hollywood Reporter interview while promoting Jungle Cruise (2021), I would say a sequel is improbable. When asked if he planned to return to this franchise, Johnson said, “I’ve wished them well. I wish them well on Fast 9. And I wish them the best of luck on Fast 10 and Fast 11 and the rest of the Fast & Furious movies they do that will be without me.” Still, even if Johnson’s now far more than a rock’s throw clear of this franchise, I’ve no doubt Statham will return in some capacity.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is available on all home video formats.

Finally, the road brings us to F9: The Fast Saga (2021) which is Now Playing in Theaters & is Available for Rental on Premium VOD!

Looking Back A Quarter-Mile At A Time:

The Fast and The Furious (2001)

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Fast & Furious (2009)

Fast Five (2011)

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Furious 7 (2015)

The Fate of The Furious (2017)

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