From left, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson and Vanessa Kirby are good in the latest movie in the “Fast & Furious” series. (Courtesy Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures)

‘Furious’ franchise fast forwards with ‘Hobbs & Shaw’

Cool characters, exciting action in new spinoff

“Hobbs & Shaw” may be the first time a “Fast & Furious” movie actually has a good idea.

Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs entered the series in 2011’s “Fast Five” as a bad guy hunting our car-racing heroes, but he was won over by their family dynamic and became a good guy.

Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw was teased at the very end of “Fast & Furious 6” as the brother of bad guy Owen Shaw, then returned, fully formed, in 2015’s “Furious 7.” He, too, quickly converted to the bright side.

These fine additions brought a fresh energy to the series.

Most aggravating about the early movies is the ever-growing cast of characters, all needing to assert their coolness at every moment. Ironically, the more they remind everybody of their coolness, the more uncool, and annoying, they are.

Statham and Johnson brought a tongue-in-cheek quality to their characters and achieved the opposite. They didn’t have to act cool because they were cool. So stripping away the clutter and focusing on these two is, indeed, a good idea.

Surprisingly, “Hobbs & Shaw” offers more good ideas. Earlier movies had lazy shaky-cam and choppy editing; here the fights, chases and set-pieces are crisp, clear and kinetic.

Director David Leitch knows his stuff. The former stuntman helped create the “John Wick” series (co-directing the first entry, without credit), before directing “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2.”

Yet his pacing needs work. Top-notch, flare-up action moments tend to fizzle out during in-between moments. All three of his films are too long and not as tight as action movies ought to be.

Another improvement comes in the form of Vanessa Kirby (“The Crown,” “Mission: Impossible-Fallout”) as Hattie Shaw, Deckard’s sister and a plucky, agile, fearless MI6 agent. She may be the best female character thus far in a series notoriously known for relentlessly objectifying women, though this one still does that in a couple of scenes.

In “Hobbs & Shaw” — the full title is “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” — our two heroes, who hate each other, are called in to find Hattie. She has intercepted a deadly, man-made virus and, to protect it, has injected it into her own bloodstream.

The creator of the virus, Brixton Lore (a delightfully nasty Idris Elba), has a Thanos-like plan to wipe out the weakest humans on the planet and create a new race of cyborg supermen.

Bickering, fighting, chases, escapes, explosions and races against time, leading up to a final showdown, follow.

Two scenes stand out among the summer’s most astonishing. In one, Brixton and two henchmen, attached to cables, walk down the side of a skyscraper, while Hobbs free-falls to catch up to them (Shaw takes the elevator).

In the other, Brixton’s helicopter tries to lift off, but is chained to a truck operated by Hobbs and Shaw. As the copter raises the truck off the ground, more good guys hook their trucks on to add more weight, as the chain of vehicles swerves close to the edge of a cliff.

While “Hobbs & Shaw” follows 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious,” the eighth of “The Fast & The Furious” series, it’s technically a spinoff and doesn’t count as the ninth film. Yet it ranks well above most of the “official” ones.

The earlier films had “family” as their underlying theme, usually expressed in dialogue, as if to make up for a lack of genuine emotion. In “Hobbs & Shaw,” the concept feels organic. It’s easy to love these guys.

REVIEW

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Three stars

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby

Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce

Directed by: David Leitch

Rated: PG-13

Running time: Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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