Last fall, my friend and I went to see Hobbs and Shaw. Now, I didn’t go into the spinoff of Fast and Furious expecting some kind of masterpiece. In fact, the movie was pretty much what I expected: completely over the top, lots of explosions, The Rock pulling a helicopter out of the air. But, god, i hated it. Seeing Hobbs and Shaw was definitely the most arduous theater experience I had all year. It was just a complete bore that would never end. However, I keep asking myself, why did i hate that movie so much? Was it really that bad? And why should I hate it when I love all the absurd action flicks from the 80s? At it’s core, is Hobbs and Shaw any different from a movie like Commando? No, it’s not. But there are some differences in the execution. Let's explore what those are.
Here’s the most obvious difference between Hobbs and Shaw and it’s predecessors: special effects. Look, I’m not one of these people who fetishize the past and say “they don’t make em like they used to”, but there is something to be said for practical effects. Practical effects are just fun to watch. Even if they don’t look as good as CGI, they add a sense of realism to the movie because, well, they’re real. The actors are reacting to a physical object which makes their performances more convincing which makes the story more believable. The problem with Hobbs and Shaw, though, isn’t that their effects don’t look real. It’s that there’s an over-reliance on them. Good action movies today still have engrossing stories to go along with their special effects. Hobbs and Shaw doesn’t. It’s story is actually pretty formulaic and predictable. The main attraction is how over the top they can get with the CGI. Some people are entertained by this, but I’m not. To me, it just makes the movie into a spectacle, a completely unrealistic and fake spectacle. In the 80s, they could only do so much with the effects so they weren't able to skimp on the plot. It is a bonus, though, when you get a great story and impressive effects or stunts. That's why Jackie Chan is one of the kings of the action genre. Hobbs and Shaw though, doesn't muster anything impressive.
Forget the effects. That’s not even close to the biggest problem with Hobbs and Shaw. The deal-breaker for this movie is that it’s totally obnoxious. It has no unique style or tone of it’s own. It tries so hard to be like an old school Schwarzenegger movie but fails every time. It’s no different than all the Tarantino ripoffs that have been coming out ever since Pulp Fiction. You just can’t recreate another film’s magic. Hobbs and Shaw is loaded with one-liners and catchphrases. It seems like every line is some kind of quip, in fact. When Schwarzenegger would say one of his corny catchphrases, there always seemed to be a sense of irony about it. It was like the movie knew it was silly and you were supposed to chuckle, kind of like a dad joke. Hobbs and Shaw, though, seems to genuinely think it’s being clever when the characters talk like they’re in a sitcom throughout the whole thing. It also seems to think it’s being clever when it hits all the obvious plot points that you’d expect. This scene is a perfect example.
This is a classic mismatched buddy dynamic that’s been done millions of times. Is there anything funny about it? No. You can see it coming from a mile away. Yet, it just seems like this movie expects you to find it a lot more humorous than it really is. That’s the sense I get, at least. As for how they pulled it off back in the day, I’d just have to say that it was probably better because it was fresh. These things were new and the movies introduced them much more naturally. When we go back and watch those movies, we tend to give them a pass for doing things we’ve seen before. They’re grandfathered in. Hobbs and Shaw would’ve been wise to come up with something more original for it’s story.
Some Final Thoughts
When I was in middle school, Odd Future was one of the biggest things in music. They were an audacious group that wore green hats, short shorts, tall socks etc. and they were cool. But some of their fans—lots of suburban white kids—would try to act and dress like them and it was just embarrassing. My point is that Hobbs and Shaw is the movie equivalent of a fifteen year old Odd Future fan. The movie is ripping off something else’s style and seems to think it’s clever or cool for doing so. Years from now, we won’t be remembering movies like Hobbs and Shaw as examples of great action from this era. We’ll probably look at movies like John Wick or Mad Max: Fury Road that way, because they’re pushing the genre forward and doing their own unique things. So, I guess the lesson here is don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself, especially if you're making your own action movie.