Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Derek May:
YIN: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
You’d think after eight movies of crashing cars, busting heads, and extolling the virtues of the chosen family that the Fast and Furious franchise would be starting to run out of gas. Instead, they’re revving up for a ninth installment, and with Hobbs & Shaw have just released their first spin-off. At this point, I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing many a ham-fisted car wreck for years to come. So is Hobbs & Shaw merely a flaccid attempt to cash in or a legitimate new adventure featuring one of the best odd couples in action today?
My vote is definitely for the latter, as Hobbs & Shaw stays true to the classic formula while freeing itself for even more riotous humor, offbeat comradery, and a deeper exploration of some of those tantalizing story and character breadcrumbs previously laid.
We were first introduced to Dwayne Johnson’s DDS Agent Luke Hobbs way back in 2011’s Fast Five, where he was tasked with hunting down Dom’s motley crew—which naturally resulted in establishing a bond of respect between the muscle-bound giants (at least onscreen). In subsequent entries, Hobbs became a full-fledged member of the team, eventually supporting them when Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw arrived (in Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7) to exact revenge for his defeated brother, Owen (Luke Evans).
With me so far?
I know it’s a lot to track, but the important bit is that enemies Hobbs and Shaw were forced to work together for the eighth film, The Fate of the Furious, and their testosterone-fueled banter got the attention of both audiences and producers alike, enough that talk of spinning off the duo started before Fate even premiered.
Thankfully though, the creators weren’t interested in a slap-dash money-grabber but wanted to really dig in and take full advantage of these characters. The theme of the franchise has always been family, and this continues here with soulful consideration. We’d already been introduced to Hobbs’ daughter, Sam, but we hadn’t heard much about his extended family. Here, we have the breadth to explore his tense estrangement while showcasing Johnson’s Samoan background in the process. While it may add an extra thirty minutes to the film beyond what it might truly need, it’s certainly raucous fun and does indeed provide the necessary platform to heal some of Hobbs’ familial wounds and give the character a grounded, human arc in and amongst the inhuman level of popcorn action.
On the other side, we’re introduced to the fourth member of the Shaw clan after Owen, Deckard, and mother Queenie (played with giddy joy by Dame Helen Mirren herself). Mission: Impossible—Fallout star Vanessa Kirby joins as Hattie, Deckard and Owen’s sister and deadly proficient MI6 agent. Her character not only sets off the plot but ends up tying the two bulls together to form a deadly and endearing trio. But let’s be clear, Kirby is no one’s damsel in distress and proves herself more than capable under just about any circumstance. Just because she doesn’t need saving doesn’t mean she doesn’t need help, and so the group is given a far more equitable footing than in the early entries of the franchise when women were little more than eye candy. Stalwarts like Michelle Rodriguez can be thanked for insisting on that growth, and it certainly continues here. Hattie’s strength and self-assurance is refreshing and attractive to audiences and certain characters alike.
Still, there are two names with top billing here, and there’s no question Johnson and Statham are the stars. While both characters are given their individual opportunities for growth and to heal old wounds, the ones between them are still plenty fresh. Much of the movie hinges on the playful animosity between Hobbs and Shaw, and the duo does an excellent job of finding the right dance to keep the tension going without making it drag. That stems from the constant shifts between finding common-ground respect and lashing out with the adolescent friction of two alpha males. In lesser hands, this could devolve into witless “yo mamma”-level jibes, but the boys keep the barbs fresh, on point, and with enough of a wink that you feel the underlying respect. It’s fun to behold and offers an opportunity for humor sorely missing from the oft-dour parent films.
The final linchpin tying it all together is an epic new villain in Brixton, played by the indomitable Idris Elba. He’s got the skills and chops to make a formidable opponent all on his own, but if you’re going to take out real-life Hulk Johnson and lithe martial artist Statham together you’re gonna need an edge. And so we’re introduced to a shadowy organization that outfits Brixton with super-human strength, speed, and acumen. Silly as that might initially sound, it somehow works in the context of this world where everything is larger than life and the rules of science don’t always apply. Audiences should know that by now, and so you just go with it. Plus, Elba’s very human and soulful performance grounds the character in a reality that overshadows the artificial aspects and keeps him rooted as a legitimate threat both physically and ideologically.
In fact, that leads into one of the more unexpected aspects of the film, some of the social commentary about the state of the world and humanity itself. While the heroes are naturally running around fighting over the macguffin and racing against artificial clocks, there’s also time to at least raise the question of what it means to be human. The villainous plot certainly reeks of Bond-level domination, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s all done subtly enough that it spices up the dish rather than overpowers and gives the otherwise flash and bang some substance.
Speaking of: if family conflict, comedic banter, and societal introspection aren’t your thing, then trust me, there’s still plenty of action to keep you engaged. Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch has parlayed his experience into some of the best action films of the past decade, including John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and of course, Deadpool 2. So I don’t need to harp on how amazing the stunts are. There’s an appropriate mix of practical and CGI, and the gags are realistic enough to make you go with it but outrageous enough to keep the ante ever upped. In keeping with the franchise, there are several car chases, stunts, and aerial acrobatics, including Brixton’s Transformer-bike, so fans will be plenty satiated. But with two big brawlers, there’s also a hefty dose of fisticuffs playing to each actor’s strengths.
Hobbs & Shaw is exactly how a spin-off should be handled, using the classic and familiar elements of the sire franchise that work while introducing new elements like humor and brotherly friction. The film works on a number of levels, including as a family drama, an ass-kicking popcorn flick, and a tense chase film.
Director Leitch and writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce know what their audience wants and expects and, more importantly, know how to deliver along with a few unexpected surprises (I don’t want to spoil some of the fantastic cameos here, but they are worth the price of admission!). I’d be very surprised if the film didn’t please audiences enough for at least a second go-round; and yes, there is already setup for it embedded here.
If you enjoy the Fast and Furious films, then Hobbs & Shaw will not disappoint. And if you’ve never seen the appeal, then this might be the best entry point for a fun-filled ride with some great action stars at the top of their game. Give it a test drive, and I think you’ll be surprised and impressed with its performance.
YANG: What We Do in the Shadows (Season 1)
In 2014, the question about what would happen if you crossed The Office, Monty Python, and vampire roommates was finally answered with the feature-length mocu-mentary What We Do in the Shadows.
The film from New Zealand co-writers/directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi developed a strong cult following, and rumors swirled for years about a possible sequel or, better yet, a spin-off television series. Well, following their successful initial run with Flight of Conchords, Clement’s rising star with the likes of Moana, Men In Black III, and the upcoming Avatar sequels, and Waititi’s career on fire following Thor: Ragnarok and its recently announced sequel, it seems the duo had enough clout to finally get the series off the ground and onto cable channel FX faster than you can say “Bat!”
The series follows the same basic format as the film, though refreshes the cast with new faces and relocates the action to New York. The premise revolves around an unseen human documentary crew that documents the lives of four vampires and their human familiars all sharing a house on Staten Island. The comedy mostly stems from the absurd disconnectedness of the vampires to their modern world and the friction both between themselves and other supernatural creatures of the dark.
If you’re a fan of the drier, more situational humor usually associated with the British, this is much in the same vein. Though while the film played more to that aspect, the series isn’t afraid to be even sillier and punch up the comedy with more one-liners and bits. Whether that stems from an attempt to adhere to a more American sensibility or simply plays to the current casts’ strengths may be a moot point, but either way, I think the series is even funnier than its sire. The jokes are broader, delivered with even more gusto, and the increased effects budget allows for even more outrageous visual gags.
As much as I love Clement and Waititi, the cast they’ve assembled for the show is absolutely perfect. I have to start with one of my all-time favorite comedians, Matt Berry, perhaps best known for his breakthrough turn on The IT Crowd (if you haven’t seen that show, see it NOW!). Berry once again projects his boisterous, aristocratic idiot persona here onto Lazlo, one of the three “traditional” vampires in the house. Berry’s somehow simultaneous over-the-top-yet-subtle delivery gives every line a Shakespearean level of importance no matter how trivial. And his ability to apply gravitas to the most outrageously absurd scenarios (as when describing his vagina garden) is simply pure brilliance.
A relative newcomer this side of the pond is the sole female of the club, Natasia Demetriou as Nadja. Though married to Lazlo, Nadja is very much her own independent character who tows the line between being an occasional voice of reason and completely oblivious to matters at hand. Demetriou’s nonchalant approach gives Nadja a sort of free rein to go and do much as she pleases while still making clear that she has legitimate feelings for those around her. The contrast of her buttoned-up appearance and no-holds-barred observations makes her a unique and vital addition to the ensemble.
Brit Kayvan Novak rounds out the main trio as Nandor, a send up of Vlad the Impaler with a childlike cluelessness. The dichotomy between his historical viciousness and current puppy-dog naiveté fodders no end of hilarity, and Novak’s ability to balance the silly voice, physical mannerisms, and still feel authentically potentially intimidating is masterful. But he’s at his best in combination with his familiar, Guillermo, played by American actor Harvey Guillén. The pair make for a perfect odd couple, at times master-servant, at others big brother-little brother. And with the vampires’ fish-out-of-water bumbling, Guillermo serves as a comedy counter, as well as the audience’s way into the world. Guillén really nails the besotted acolyte, desperate to one day become a vampire himself and yet beginning to question if the suffering is worth the reward.
The final piece is sheer brilliance, as we find a fresh take on a vampire both totally new and yet absolutely familiar. American Mark Proksch plays Colin, an energy vampire who feeds by basically boring the living shit out of you. To see the term given life is remarkable, but the creators are smart to recognize that wonderful as Proksch’s performance is, the premise isn’t necessarily something you can constantly sustain. And so he’s used sparingly to greater effect, popping up precisely as much as needed and in some unexpected and hilarious places.
With a spot-on cast in place, the show sets them loose in a variety of scenarios from the mundane to the fascinating. Tasked by high-ranking elder Baron Afanas (played by veteran costumed actor Doug Jones), the group sets out to conquer the new world for the vampire race. Well, not all the new world. Maybe New York. Or just Staten Island. Or perhaps just their street and the one next to it. The tasks set off a series of whacky adventures and even culminate in a gathering of the vampire council featuring a bevy of familiar faces and iconic vampire-film stars (that episode, “The Trial,” is worth seeing all by itself).
Though the results of some of the storylines are inconsistent, the show overall holds a strong narrative with each episode, and the jokes hit with impressive regularity. Again, much of that is due to the cast, who seem to nail every take and really bring their characters to life from the start.
While I certainly enjoyed the show and wait excitedly for next season, be warned this is definitely not a show for everyone. As a cable series, there is plenty of strong language, blood, and overtly sexual gags and situations (there’s an episode called “The Orgy” after all). If that’s right up your alley, then you’re in for a helluva funny ride. If not, then you’d better steer clear. Fans of the film should enjoy the show as it definitely continues its feel and tone, even if it does push the boundaries further and on occasion recycle a joke or two. But if you’ve been on the fence, I say give it a go. It’s a unique entry in both the supernatural and comedic worlds, and I guarantee at the very least you’ll never look at vampires or projectile vomiting quite the same way again.