From left to right: Hobbs, Idris Elba’s White Doppelgänger, and Shaw
I am excited to be joined for this review by my former six-time teacher, Clifton Raphael. Mr. Raphael teaches screenwriting and filmmaking and film studies at Jenks High School. He has 24 years of experience in TV broadcasting and an MFA in screenwriting and film studies from Hollins University. His students have won two $5,000 grand prizes in the C-Span StudentCam documentary competition (the only school to have repeat grand prize winners), a regional Emmy, and thousands of dollars in other C-SPAN, YoungArts and Scholastic Arts awards. His class also has the first high-school produced program on OETA (Oklahoma’s PBS affiliate). Mr. Raphael has been a judge for numerous film festivals and competitions, has been interviewed on C-SPAN, and sits on the Board of Directors at Circle Cinema. You can watch his students’ films here.
He has been a great influence in my life and has always championed my work with his brand of tough-love, sacrificial dedication, earnest support, and occasional mockery. It’s about time he got to be featured here.
Full disclosure: Neither of us have seen any of The Fast and the Furious films, but we believe this makes us uniquely suited to reviewing its spinoff, Hobbs and Shaw. He, as a film connoisseur, and me, as someone who likes things that go vroom vroom.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Madeleine: Can you describe the events of this film in two sentences or less?
Clifton Raphael: Two guys learn to love each other in order to save the world.
Perfect. But that’s only one sentence.
Okay, so there’s a virus that could kill supposedly all the weakest people in the world, and there’s some benevolent force that wants this done. So Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) have to get together to find this woman, Shaw’s sister (played by Vanessa Kirby), and they have to get this virus that is implanted in her out and save her and save the world.
It’s my understanding that you took a screenwriting class in high school. [He is, of course, referring to the class that Madeleine took with him.]
Why yes I did.
And I understand there’s a thing called a character arc, where a character changes throughout the course of the story. How did these characters change? What character arcs did they go through in this movie?
Okay so first they didn’t like each other, right? ‘Cause Hobbs and Shaw have clashing egos and insecurities.
And then in the middle they don’t like each other, because they’re working together but they just… still, don’t, because of the previously mentioned issues. And then at the end, they still don’t really like each other and then in the last five minutes they realize that if they work together they can punch the living daylights out of the villain, and then the movie will end, so then they like each other.
But then they sort of… don’t like each other.
Right, they still don’t like each other. They like to neg one another. It’s their love language.
What else did this movie do really well screenwriting wise?
You know it sets up a very clear “want” and “need.” The characters want to not need each other.
But then they need to need each other!
Exactly! The film and screenplay also makes great use of character motivations that tie into the theme. Cause the theme is that tech- no, actually the first theme is family, because everyone needs a family. Second, the theme is that humans always beat technology.
Yes, and actually I’m going to quote the movie. I wrote it down because [pulls out phone] it was such an amazing line [he says with the utmost sarcasm].
You were on your phone during the movie?!
Whoops, please don’t tell anyone.
That line is the thesis of the film.
It’s delivered by the Rock. This is up there with Dorothy’s “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” and “Here’s looking at you, kid.” This will go into the immortal words of great lines.
And his Oscar reel.
So he says, “You may believe in machines, but we believe in people.”
Idris Elba’s villain character lets go of his humanity for the pursuit of human evolution through technology, and Hobbs and Shaw use technology throughout the film but the thing is, underneath all of that technology, they’re still just guys who want to get down to their roots and just, [slams hands together] beat the living crap out of each other with their fists.
They don’t like the guns, they just use the guns, so that’s why they can say that.
Let’s talk about Vanessa Kirby’s character.
Right. What has she been in?
Mission Impossible franchise. And The Crown TV show.
I was encouraged to see- and I think we’re seeing more and more of this in movies- that she could hold her own with the men, in terms of the absolutely ridiculous things she was capable of doing. And it’s interesting to me, there’s this whole new trend of women in movies being in these positions of pulling off what would normally be considered “tough guy” roles or missions. So that’s pretty encouraging.
I agree that it is nice that she gets fight sequences and gets the same “cool” treatment as the guys. But what I really want to get to is the agency of her character. It looks like, from the surface, she has a big role. She’s in it a lot, and she has the main plot-
I see where you’re going with this, it’s that the guys still need to take care of her and save her because the woman has the virus injected into her.
Yes, but it’s more than that if you look at what she contributes to the film. Okay so first, she’s a Mcguffin. She literally has the MacGuffin virus in her. But there are only two scenes- I was keeping track- where she does something that advances the plot and changes the events of the film. In all of the other scenes, she either puts up a fight but the result is still the same as if she was, like, a lamp, or she contributes but they would have gotten to that place without her. Or, she’s literally picked up and carried to the next plot point.
She doesn’t have the same level of narrative agency as the other leads, which is still a huge flaw if you’re really breaking the film down. I think that is something to consider because on the surface it looks like the movie is all, [does jazz hands] Oh yeah! Women! It’s important to interrogate these films that are so self-congratulatory about their “progress.” I’m concerned that if we don’t, movies will keep barreling forward towards this faux-empowerment direction without any real substance, not changing the basic ingredients of these films in this genre.
Yeah…baby steps? I don’t know.
The fact that she’s in it is positive because she has cool fight sequences and she’s pulling her weight, but there’s a way to go, and I don’t want the film to pat itself on the back for, you know, advancing that feminist agenda.
[Contemplative silence is briefly kept]
You know, one of the criticisms of the latest Tarantino movie (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and a criticism in his other movies too, is that some of his violence is so exaggerated that you end up laughing at it. So are you then diminishing the impact of violence by doing that? Now this film isn’t as explicitly violent. People get hit a lot but you don’t see them necessarily die.
That’s the thing. We know they die. In real life, they would die, so it sure does undercut the idea of “you believe in technology but we believe in people,” when from the first scene, which is to establish how cool they are, to the last scene, Hobbs and Shaw are absolutely brutalizing people. Everyone who’s not a main character is completely dehumanized, they are props. And you’re supposed to laugh and enjoy these guys completely destroying people and yet at the very end, switcheroo because Dwayne Johnson has a daughter and Jason Statham has a sister, which kinda dehumanizes them as props too. They use the shorthand of, “he has a daughter, he’s human,” so they have to put no effort into anything.
You’re right. But you know, this is a trope of these kinds of movies. I remember this very well from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, that the movie established very early on that Tom Cruise is divorced and he’s got a daughter he has to take care of. Movies always have something that is trying to humanize them-
To make these protagonists relatable to the audience.
Even though you don’t have to do that to me for a movie like this, because I already relate to the idea of running cars off bridges and pulling helicopters out of the sky with my bare hands, these are the things I do on a daily basis [both laugh]. But I can understand for most people you would need to have a humanizing moment. Yet it makes it so that it’s not the pulling helicopter out of the sky moments that are hard to believe; it’s the human moments that are hard to believe.
I don’t like to think that blockbuster filmmaking is useless, or it doesn’t mean anything, because I think it taps into the cultural zeitgeist, and what people expect of themselves and media more than any other genre. I want there to be a redeeming quality to Hobbs and Shaw that reflects our society, or humanity, or Hollywood. Do you think there’s any of that there? A redeeming quality for why people should go see it?
I suppose redeeming quality is that whole, “I have stresses and problems in my life, but they aren’t the problems of having to face ten guys with really, really tough weapons and 18 cars coming at me, and ‘look out, the bridge is out!’”
Wait, you’re saying this is an exercise in gratitude?
[Laughs] Gratitude? Well, that’s not what I meant, but that whole escapism thing and wanting to go to something mindless. But seriously, we’re Americans, do we really put our minds to things that much? Are we really overstressing ourselves with the intelligence needed for our regular lives? But still, I can understand the desire to see something mindless. I’m the first person to go see any new monster movie that comes out- and I’m not talking about horror, I’m talking about like Godzilla or like Kong: Skull Island– because I grew up fascinated by those monsters. And then I’m one of the first people disappointed, wondering why I went to go see it, yet I will see the very next one.
Is there anything you would want to tell the makers of Fast and Furious that they should do differently?
Well, I would definitely go if Godzilla is in the next one.
The most ambitious crossover event of all time! Is there another movie that you would recommend that is less taxing on the brain but smarter than this one that’s out right now?
I liked Booksmart, and Long Shot, that’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. Probably just those two. You?
I can’t just give that information away, people have to read my review to find out! So we’re giving Hobbs and Shaw a free pass?
I’m giving it a free pass.
Nooo, we’re just giving it a free pass.
The low expectations have gotten to us.
But seriously what they could do differently? Just, cleverer stuff? But I think they’re wearing out on that.
There’s only so far a car can go.
I don’t know if we can improve the franchise in this discussion. I guess we’ll have to do that after we see the next one!
The next one? There’s going to be a sequel to this review?
There’s always a sequel.