A “blank check” is a check that can be written for any amount of money. Someone who receives a blank check is given a check with no specific amount, but has complete freedom to write however much they want on it. In the film world, directors, actors, and producers can receive their own version of a blank check. This could be because of a successful movie or a series of successful or movies, whether awards players or box office success or both, which then leads to a director getting their blank check, which gives them complete creative freedom on the project and whatever budget they need to complete their vision. Think M. Night Shyamalan getting a blank check for The Sixth Sense or Ang Lee receiving one for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (there is a wonderful podcast entitled Black Check that dissects this idea. You all should listen).
The Fast and Furious franchise has been around for almost twenty years. The first film was a surprise hit and the second film, though not as well critically received, was a financial success. However, the third film, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, was a dud critically and financially, and the fourth film, Fast & Furious, while making some decent money, is the worst reviewed of the franchise and left audiences wanted more. After Fast & Furious, it looked like the Fast and Furious franchise was on the rocks.
Then in 2011, we got the fifth installment of the franchise with Fast Five. Fast Five brought back all the major cast members, including adding Han from Tokyo Drift (which skewered the franchise timeline a bit), and brought back director Justin Lin, who had just directed Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious. But Fast Five added one key element that changed the franchise forever: Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs. At this moment in Johnson’s acting career, Johnson was not the megastar that he is today. He had some box office success, but nothing like the success he has now. Fast Five was a jumping-off point for Johnson’s acting career and it could be argued that his performance and presence in Fast Five saved the Fast and Furious franchise. Fast Five is regarded by many as the best in the franchise and really one of the finest action films of the 2010’s. Sure, the plot and action was great, but it really was Johnson and Hobbs that changed the game. This took the Fast and Furious franchise to new heights and made it what it is today.
Watching Hobbs & Shaw, the first spin-off of the Fast and Furious franchise, I couldn’t help but think this movie was Dwayne Johnson’s blank check movie and that he got that check because of Fast Five. This is a movie that did not need to be made. It adds nothing to the franchise, it actually makes it a little more confusing, nor adds anything to Hobbs or Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). It is a film that only exists because Johnson wanted it to be made and, boy, did he make sure this was his movie.
A lot of Hobbs’ character in this film is basically Johnson himself. We watch as Hobbs wakes up early in the morning, eat a gigantic breakfast, work out, and hang out. If you follow Johnson on any social media, you know that he does this stuff on the regular. Hobbs also walks around with a gigantic ego, an arrogance that he never had in any other Fast and Furious movie. He reminds us during the film how he himself has saved the world four times without ever mentioning Dom or anyone else who has helped him, thus making him the best agent to stop a world-threatening virus from getting in the wrong hands because he is the best agent in the world. This felt like Johnson reminding us how he saved the Fast and Furious franchise and letting us know that since he’s in this movie, the franchise is still in good hands.
Hobbs has always been an odd character, one that felt a little freakish in the way he looked and his brute strength and insanity (the scene in Fast 7 when he shoots down a helicopter with a mini-gun is the best proof of this). However, he did fit within this Fast and Furious world that took place in the real world, just minus some physics here and there. It also helped that Vin Diesel also looks a bit odd himself. In Hobbs & Shaw, Hobbs is more powerful than ever, making him feel like a superhero. He and Shaw are tasked with taking down Brixton (Idris Elba), a genetically enhanced villain who calls himself, “Black Superman”. This is a villain who has been literally brought back to life using some crazy technology and a villain who has no fear when riding a motorcycle through a bus or any other crazy stunts because he knows he will live. Yet, when Brixton fights Hobbs, Hobbs puts up a fight, hurting genetically enhanced villain. And when Brixton punches Hobbs with his super strength, Hobbs only gets a bruise on his face and can immediately get back up. There is no stopping Hobbs. You can be an assassin, C.I.A. agent, or superhuman Black Superman, and you will still lose to Hobbs.
There are two major things that take place in Hobbs & Shaw that solidify that this is Johnson’s movie. The first, and this is a mild spoiler, though it has nothing to do with the plot, is that Kevin Hart makes a cameo in the film. I’m not going to say where because it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but the fact that Hart, a close friend of Johnson’s and one of his more consistent co-stars, was in this movie and in such a small roll shows Johnson pulled his weight to get him there. But the second, and biggest thing, is the film’s finale which takes place in Samoa. For those who don’t know, Johnson is Samoan, so the final act of the film taking place in Samoa probably wouldn’t have happened if Johnson were not in-charge. And the final set-piece, in which Hobbs and all his Samoan brothers take on Brixton and his gun-toting army with only homemade explosives, spears, and other Samoan weapons, while partaking in a Samoan War Dance, is completely absurd and completely Johnson.
Hobbs & Shaw isn’t just a movie starring Johnson. Statham is fun as Shaw, Elba is a solid villain, though I don’t know how I feel about having genetically enhanced humans in the Fast and Furious franchise, and Vanessa Kirby is excellent as Shaw’s sister. Like most Fast and Furious movies, the plot of the film takes a backseat to the chaotic, action sequences that will make your ears bleed and your face numb. In terms of a Fast and Furious movie, this is on the lower end of the franchise, as it really doesn’t mean anything to the franchise overall and really feels distant from the other films.
But this is Dwayne Johnson’s movie. Everything about this movie is Johnson. From the character of Hobbs, to the action, to the sets, Johnson’s finger prints are all over this movie, thanks in large part to his performance in Fast Five. Will there be another Hobbs & Shaw? Does Johnson have a blank check from Fast and Furious 6? We’ll just have to wait and see.
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