Just got out of seeing Fast And Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw at the Cineworld IMAX cinema in Leicester Square. I mention that because IMAX paid for my ticket and I want to get that out of the way. Yes, this is the kind of film that if you see it in IMAX you will indeed get the benefit, lots of vistas, city landscapes, big explosions, details and minutia of stuff that's going on that's more enjoyable to experience at that kind of size, surround sound and whatnot. Warning, minor spoilers going in but nothing movie-ruining. I hope.
What we have here is a superhero movie in disguise as a buddy cop movie. It's not a very good disguise, and Drew Pearce, who wrote the superhero sitcom No Heroics, wrote for Iron Man 3 and the Sherlock Holmes films (which are also superhero stories in disguise) has his writery fingerprints all over this thing – especially the Shaw family, I would wager. And thank goodness for it, because this film is actually funny in all the right places.
Also, with a large chunk of it set in London, it manages to get that right too, in a way that only the likes of Kingsman has managed in recent blockbuster movies. Even Thor: The Dark World managed to mess up how to get to Greenwich from King's Cross. It is especially to its credit that the movie managed to do that while filming in Glasgow and in the process giving blockbuster movies' their first-ever full shot of a Greggs bakery. If I thought they could afford it, I would swear that was product placement – like all the car and bike logos that the camera suddenly finds fascinating. There are maybe a few too many Union Jacks – this isn't America, we don't have flags everywhere, and especially not in Glasgow, but it may help remind the audience where this is meant to be and why everyone is on the wrong side of the road.
The film starts with an MI6 team led by Hattie taking down the owners of a supervirus, only for it to be snatched from their hands by Idris Elba's Brixton. That's right, give a British character the name of a British place, someone's been reading too much Warren Ellis. Oh and also the London suburb known for being the blackest part of the city. Rub it in. But 'Black Superman' is going to be a thing, no question. See, the film even knows its a superhero movie.
And then it's off to a split-screen treatment of Hobbs and Shaw in their different worlds, one filled with sunshine, the other with rain, making their respective breakfast, with Hobbs pulling weights at the gym and Shaw pulling pints at his pub. But there is that virus at loose. And Hattie has it – embedded in her hand in dissolvable capsule form – with only two days before it dissolves, kills her and then kills the world.
We are given two options by the virus scientist, Go the bad guys' plans to extract the virus safety. Or kill Hattie and burn the body.
Except both myself and the audience I was with had a third option. It's an elephant in the room – and I don't mean Hobbs on the aeroplane trying to get a seat. Cut off her hand. She lives, she's very able, they probably have some MI6 CIA thing. Cut off her hand and burn that. Even just part of her hand. We can see where the capsules are, cut off the hand, maybe keep the thumb, and burn what hets cut off. Cut it off, we were shouting, It seems so obvious, it isn't even explained away by the scientist's mumbo jumbo. Though I guess with one hand, how would she be able to hold the idiot ball? I'm going to ask Drew, Anyway…
So these two disparate types are pulled into London's world of spies, gangsters, genetic engineering and red buses, tracking down the missing Hallie as Brixton's mysterious tech-criminal group Eteon are planning their Thanos-like plots of genocide. While also souping up humanity with technology, creating a Cyborg Idris Elba, with a Midnighter-style internal computer, bulletproof skin and a remote control motorcycle that behaves more like the Silver Surfer's board, taking orders from a never-seen Big Bad. It's a superhero film, it really is.
It crosses continent and country, from London to Moscow to the Ukraine to Samoa, there is a size and an expanse to this film that IMAX suits, which also helps fight the moment when the denouement of the movie turns into the third act of every A-Team episode ever.
This is not a sophisticated film by any stretch of the imagination. Not even as sophistacated as most superhero or spy movies. But it does have a real sense of fun throughout, and the camera loves Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson's faces as they growl, grimace and spit at each other. One sequence in a CIA black site in London is especially rewarding as their faces fill the massive IMAX screen, insulting each other – gurning straight down the lens of the camera, eyebrows bouncing, chins jutting, back and forth. It's like the biggest budget episode of Peep Show you've seen.
And the camera – and especially the lighting engineer – loves Vanessa Kirby as Hattie, the shadows playing off her nose, as she does a convincing job of the current Hollywood trend of waif-as-badass-fighter, but never stretching disbelief too far, as one early memorable scene early on fighting Hobbs has it, as he just lifts her up in the air and holds her there to stop their fight. I can envisage that she might have been the only one to think about cutting her own hand off but wisely kept that to herself.
Ryan Reynolds as Hobbs' not-best CIA friend Agent Locke obsessed with Game Of Thrones as a star turn as he basically reprises Deadpool in every scene he's in – including two credit scenes – especially inappropriate when it comes to kids. Helen Mirren as Shaw's mother is a superb old lag, who ties the family together. Eliana Sua as Hobbs' daughter is classic Disney clever-cute, and gives us the whole Hobbs' sappy Dad scenes littered through the film. Rob Delaney as Ryan Reynolds' British CIA equivalent Agent Loeb gets far too scant screen time. And Kevin Locke as an air marshall who becomes their Oracle could have also done with a little more – is he is destined for bigger appearances in future versions of the franchise, like Simon Pegg in Mission Impossible III? Eddie Marsan, I love in everything, and his Eastern European scientist has him on the more timid side of his range – at least to start off with. But all of them add to the sense of lightness that runs through this film and stops it being a deading slog to get through.
And yes there is Newsnight presents Gavin Esler popping up. Clearly Hollywood beckons.
So yes, this is a fun film, and the script keeps it lighter and breezier, genuinely funnier than any of the franchise so far. You probably won't be expecting too much. But you will be pleasantly surprised.
As long as you aren't just in it for the cars. Because yes, there were a few car chases. But you know what? No more than in any other spy film. Things have moved on…
Fast And Furious Presents: Hobb & Shaw is in cinemas now. Including IMAXes.