Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw | 2019
This apparently globetrotting, FX-laden buddy movie is a long way from Rob Cohen’s original, low-budget 2001 street-race flick The Fast and The Furious. Forget suspension of disbelief, you’ll need suspension of physics, suspension of mechanics, suspension of logic and a whole lot more as mismatched pair Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are, yes, unwillingly paired up by the authorities to track down an artificial and potentially world-destroying virus that’s somehow become stored in Shaw’s estranged sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby). Trying to prevent them is genetically engineered superman Brixton (Idris Elba).
Enough of the plot, let’s start crashing cars and blowing things up.
The film kicks off in London with an MI6 copter raid on a bunker which seems to be near St Paul’s Cathedral. It all goes wrong and the team is killed except for Hattie who manages to inject capsules of the virus into herself and escape on foot across the Millennium Bridge, fast becoming a screen regular, following appearances in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Shaw is also looking for info on what is nicknamed the Snowflake virus in one of those flashy nightclubs that always turn out to be run by gangsters from a back room. In this case, beneath the flashing lights, that wild and crazy club is the austere deco Freemason’s Hall, 60 Great Queen Street in Covent Garden, London, WC2, seen in Green Zone and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.
Hobbs, meanwhile, is being recruited by Locke (Ryan Reynolds) in an LA diner – ‘Jenny’s Pancake House’ (a scene mocked up in London where, the unbilled, Reynolds happened to be filming).
Suspected of being a double agent who subverted the raid, Hattie is forced to flee her flat in the Middlesex Street Estate at Wentworth Street, E1, in London’s East End. Middlesex Street used to be called Petticoat Lane. Along with the stretch of Wentworth Road you see, it's part of the famous Petticoat Lane fashion and clothing street-market, but not usually dressed up with so much neon.
Hattie heads off to the Savoy Hotel, 1 Savoy Hill, on the Strand, changes and exits the rear where she’s accosted by Hobbs. This posh hotel, by the way, doesn’t have an illuminated sign for deliveries at the rear and is separated from the river by the very busy Thames Embankment.
Sparks fly when Hobbs and Shaw meet up at the CIA’s secret ‘Black Site’ housed, as many furtive agencies are, at the top of one of London’s most noticeable landmarks, Leadenhall Building, 122 Leadenhall Street, London EC3.
This is one more of the ludicrous vanity projects from ego-driven architects which are turning the skyline of London into an incoherent jumble of silly shapes, each of which gets an appropriate nickname – the Gherkin (US: Pickle), the Shard and the Walkie-Talkie. The steeply-sloping face of the Leadenhall Building saw it dubbed the Cheese-Grater and it’s clearly this feature that inspired the rappelling sequence as Brixton and his goons kidnap Hattie from the CIA site.
Hobbs follows but Shaw sensibly takes the elevator.
This is a bit of a cheat. The Grater’s elevator, at eight metres per second, is the fastest in Europe and it is a glass box, but it runs vertically in a groove up the side of the building, not down the sloping front. Pity.
Standing directly opposite, and in the background of the ensuing fight at the base of the Grater, is one of the first (and by far the best) of the City’s new generation of high-rise offices, the Lloyd’s Building, HQ of the famous insurance company, which you might recognize as ‘Xandar’, attacked by the Dark Aster in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Being a Fast & Furious movie, the fight naturally escalates into a full-on road chase. Londoners might feel that the streets, despite whizzing by so quickly, are oddly unfamiliar.
That’s because the chase was filmed elsewhere. There’s a clue as a furious Brixton finds himself thrown from his bike in front of The Piper bar, which stands on Cochrane Street in the heart of – um – Glasgow. It’s opposite George Square, which you can clearly see throughout the chase. And that’s it for Glasgow.
Brixton is given his orders at the HQ of ETEON, a sinister company bent on wiping out superfluous human weaklings with the virus and who were also responsible for giving Brixton his Robocop-ish makeover.
Throughout, Shaw drives a McLaren 720S, and ETEON’s swanky curvilinear nerve centre happens to be the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey.
The McLaren isn’t Shaw’s only car as we see when he takes Hattie and Hobbs to his secret garage, which is beneath the innocuous looking Carpenters Arms pub, 73 Cheshire Street, E2, in the East End. There’s only a glimpse for the moment (there’s a little more later) but this is a clear nod to London’s gangster past. The Carpenters was once owned by the notorious Kray brothers, who ruthlessly ran the city’s underworld in the Sixties and lived nearby. A little further along Cheshire Street you can still see the Repton Boys Club, the gym where the pair boxed (and which also turns up in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Jason Statham's breakout film). You can see the Krays’ story in 2015’s Legend (with Tom Hardy as both of the twins) or in Peter Medak’s quirkier 1990 The Krays.
The Carpenters is now a smart welcoming place but, for all its history, one thing the Carpenters Arms doesn’t have is that spacious subterranean armoury. Those low stone arches are the Pennington Street Warehouse vaults, also known as The Rum Warehouse, Pennington Street, London E1, at the northern margin of the old London Dock.
The vaults date from 1806 and were used to store newly-imported goods, including spirits, hence the nickname. The vaults are Grade II-listed and after standing empty, they’ve recently been converted to art studio space.
You might have noticed the location again in Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
Since Fast and Furious films now demand plenty of gratuitous globetrotting, Hobbs, Shaw and Hattie (I really hope that the title of the next film) need to travel to the ETEON facility in ‘the Ukraine’. Obviously unable to smuggle a cache of arms aboard a commercial airliner, they travel via Russia, where they can stock up on weaponry.
In fact, it’s ‘apparent' globetrotting as we don’t leave the UK.
Shaw’s arms supplier is an old flame known as Madam M (Eiza González). For F&F fans missing the obligatory scenes of hot chicks in microshorts languidly polishing cars in slo-mo, Madam M runs an all-female gang which consists entirely of babes whose main occupation is torturing men.
Her grand ‘Russian’ mansion (looking more like an upscale S&M dungeon) is West Wycombe House, West Wycombe Park, a National Trust property near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.
A bit of digital fiddling turns its familiar ochre colouring to a bilious green and also adds a few decorative ‘Russian’ touches.
There’s clearly something about West Wycombe which shrieks ‘Russia’ to location scouts. In 2011’s X-Men: First Class, it was the ‘Moscow’ military facility gate crashed by a young Magneto and Xavier while, back in 1970, it became the estate of Tchaikovsky’s patron, Madame von Meck, in Ken Russell’s fantasy biopic of the composer, The Music Lovers. Its interior is seen as 'Hellman Hall' in Disney's 2021 Cruella.
As a ruse to discover the location of the MacGuffin machine, Madam M delivers Hattie as a captive to Brixton.
The nighttime handover is in the pillared arcade of the Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, London SE10. Another much-used location (the college was ‘St Petersburg’ for The Music Lovers again). It was also ‘Paris’ for Les Misérables, ‘Venice’ for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and 'Italian cafe' in The Dark Knight Rises, 'Regent's Park' in Cruella and even Greenwich for Thor: The Dark World, among many other appearances.
With Hobbs and Shaw following, she’s taken to ETEON’s industrial facility, with its eight massive concrete cooling towers. Of course, this isn’t the ‘Ukraine’, it’s is the disused Eggborough Power Station, east of Leeds in North Yorkshire. An old coal-fired plant, it closed down in 2018 and was ideal for filming, before it’s due to be replaced by a gas-powered plant.
No nearer the ‘Ukraine’ is its enormous underground bunker, where the virus’s developer, Prof Andreiko (Eddie Marsan) is held. This is Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre Etps Road, Farnborough, about 25 miles southwest of London, in Hampshire. It’s part of Farnborough Airport, seen in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Expect to see more of this new venue, a 12,000sqm hall, which being pillar-free, is well suited to action sequences.
I hope it’s not a spoiler to reveal that none of the three are killed but they do manage to escape, only to discover that, in all the chaos, the virus-deactivation gizmo has been damaged.
Where to go to get a state-of-the-art C17 Virus Extraction machine repaired? The local Apple store? Or, perhaps, the motor chop-shop run by Hobbs’ bother Jonah (Cliff Curtis) in Samoa?
Having already conveniently befriended Dinkley (Kevin Hart), a reckless air-marshal, they are able to get an unofficial flight to the South Seas – though not to Samoa.
Standing in is the beautiful and film-friendly Hawaiian garden isle of Kauai. You’ll already know Kauai as ‘Isla Nublar’ in the original Jurassic Park.
Smallest of the four main Hawaiian islands, it can reasonably claim to be the most spectacular. A relatively young volcanic island, it’s yet to be smoothed by erosion and offers staggering vistas of jagged peaks, dizzyingly steep valleys and extraordinarily tall ribbon-like waterfalls, all covered in lush, green vegetation.
Much of the island is impenetrable by car or foot, but you can take a charter flight to see those fantastic views in the film. These include the Na Pali Coast, a series of sheer headlands which are otherwise inaccessible and that stunning gorge, which is Waimea Canyon, dubbed the 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific'. You’ll need a head for heights but the experience is unforgettable.
From being a chop-shop for stolen motors (in Samoa, really?), ‘Hobbs Customs’ has grown into a legit international vehicle customizing service.
It looks a little rusty, but that’s because it’s a Hawaiian national landmark, albeit an oddly industrial one. It’s the Old Sugar Mill in Koloa, in the south of Kauai. Once considered desecration of a beautiful island, time has rendered it charmingly rusted, enough to become a protected site.
Don’t go looking for the Hobbs’ family home, which was constructed for the film on private land nearby but has since been dismantled.
Remember I mentioned that the Carpenters Arms would appear again? Following the precedent set by Marvel, it’s now taken for granted that a major film will have at least one mid- or post-credits scene.
The pub used for the final gag, involving Hugh Janus, is the real Carpenters Arms.