Fast X opens in theaters on May 19, 2023
Universal doesn’t have X-wings, they have cars that sometimes fly. They don’t have superheroes, they have street racers from Los Angeles who steal VCRs and nuclear subs. With so many filmmakers taking the po-faced, gritty approach to keeping old favorite characters and series relevant in recent years, the Fast and Furious franchise’s open and growing embrace of nonsensical mayhem has been a delight. 2021’s F9 managed to pull off multiple outrageous action scenes based on the magic of magnets. It sent Tyrese and Ludacris to space in a Pontiac. It told us John Cena was Vin Diesel’s brother with a straight face, and we believed it. Or at least, those of us who were willing to suspend enough of our disbelief to go along for the wild ride. But it turns out there’s only so much mileage you can get out of that kind of absurdity without touching grass. The roaring joy of F9 gives way to the cacophonous Fast X, a sprawling and overstuffed opening salvo of a planned multi-part finale which stuffs a potato in the series’ tailpipe. It’s redeemed almost single-handedly by a deeply weird and very entertaining villain performance from Jason Momoa.
It was all the way back in 2011 that Fast Five saw Hobbs chasing Brian and Dom while they were towing drug lord Hernan Reyes’ safe through Rio. It was a watershed moment of cartoon logic worming its way into a formerly self-serious series, which paired best with a can of Axe body spray and a copy of Need for Speed Underground 2 on the PS2. And you know what? The movies that followed were mostly the better for it. There’s vulnerability and risk in significantly shifting the tone of a franchise midstream, and few could’ve imagined watching the 2001 original that not only would the Fast movies take that risk at all, but be so successful in transitioning it to something uniquely bombastic.
As this series is wont to do, Fast X sloppily reveals that Hernan’s son Dante (Jason Momoa) was actually present during that whole chase scene and, after seeing his family’s ill-gotten fortune destroyed and his father killed, has re-emerged to wage war on Dom (Vin Diesel) – the ringleader of the world’s premier group of car thieves/international spies – promising no death while suffering is owed. His revenge motivation may be clear, and Fast X hammers his Anti-Dom foil status home at every turn, but the ways in which Dante brings that vengeance to bear on the Fast Family are as erratic as Dante himself. It’s only through the technology and mercenary forces that he is somehow able to amass that he’s able to do much of anything. He wants to make Dom suffer by hurting his family, but routinely ignores opportunities to twist that knife in ways that read as less patiently sadistic and more just… ineffective.
The looseness of the character demanded an actor ready to exploit that in their performance, and Jason Momoa showed up to set hungry. Dante’s effectiveness as an antagonist aside, the boundless chaos energy Momoa sustains throughout the entirety of Fast X is the one consistently enjoyable element. There’s no other way to say it: Dante’s a real freak, and Momoa flies that flag with gusto. It feels like he’s marathoned all these movies and parodies Dom’s machismo and predictable logic at every turn, both to Dom’s face and he’s completely alone. It’s the private moments of goatee-twirling that set Dante apart from other villains in the series to date, and Momoa deserves a huge amount of credit for keeping Fast X from sinking under its own weight.
Dom Torretto, by comparison, feels like he’s just drifting from one rumination on the meaning of family to another, and Vin Diesel feels checked out any time Momoa isn’t actively forcing him to push Dom in a different direction, as opposed to regurgitating what we’ve heard before.
None of Fast X’s clumsily orchestrated car Rube Goldbergs manage much of an identity of their own either, and that’s a shattering disappointment for a series that has historically found new and interesting ways to move vehicles through time and space and explosions. Multiple action scenes feel like rehashes of previous movies – remember when Hobbs and Shaw played tug of war with a helicopter? Well, now Dom’s gonna do the same thing with two helicopters! Does it escalate things? Yes. Is it stunningly original? It is not.
It’s not a great bellwether for the symphonies of motorized mayhem that the hand-to-hand fights (especially one featuring Charlize Theron’s Cipher) feel like welcome shakeups. Dante’s weird sacrilegious scheme to roll a bomb through Rome to the Vatican represents the most satisfying action sequence – thanks again largely to Momoa’s unpredictability, and yet there’s a whole lot of movie left after that which can’t escalate the thrills any further. Director Louis Leterrier doesn’t succeed much at celebrating either the maximalism or the melodrama of the series, and it leaves Fast X feeling rather confused in both arenas.
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Dante’s attack on Rome forces the Family to initiate Ghost Protocol (or whatever the Fast equivalent of that is) and split up, setting the Agency on their tail and fragmenting the plot into way more perspectives on the action than the story has material for. Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges”), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) continue their bickering support act, with Han (Sung Kang) tagging along because he had nothing else going on that day. Fast X grinds to a halt whenever it has to shift focus back to what feels more and more like a budding Peacock series in the wings. We’re only ever checking in on that group so Ramsey can spout some technobabble exposition while Roman and Tej slapfight and argue over hurt feelings caused by bobbleheads, or so that we have a reason to move the action to a city where another extraneous member of the ensemble can have their next mission set into motion.
John Cena’s Jakob is on babysitting duty for most of Fast X, and even though his corner of the story feels as inessential as the other supporters’, Cena’s ace comedic chops and chemistry with Little Brian actor Leo Abelo Perry are a welcome change from the forced schtick of Roman’s crew. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) gets sidelined, stranded in what is at once a prison of her character’s function being reduced to Dom worship and, you know, an actual prison. No one has anything meaningful of their own going on, and so time spent away from either Dom or Dante, or without solidly engaging action, gets harder and harder to justify.
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There are certainly flashes of the camaraderie this group of performers share but, with the subplots feeling totally disconnected from each other, the recurring check-ins don’t really add anything of value. Since we already know that Fast X serves as the first of a two-part franchise finale (or three-part finale, if you believe Vin Diesel…) its efforts to marshal characters both old and new into position for that final lap feel inorganic – shoehorned in, even, for a series which has always celebrated return appearances and new seats at the proverbial dinner table. And like so many “Part One”s before it, Fast X forgoes – or, forgets – any kind of resolution for its own story. The time it starts rapidly raising questions to be answered next time in the last few minutes only feels more egregious. Couldn’t we have heard what Rita Morena thought of all this mindless violence?