Fast X is Big, Loud, and Dumb — But Not in a Good Way
Fast and Furious has finally become a parody of itself.
No one expects realism when it comes to Fast & Furious. Long gone are the days when Dominic Toretto and his crew boosted illegal DVDs. Now, the franchise is a globe-trotting tentpole that stands alongside the titans of action franchises. At least, that’s what Vin Diesel thinks.
For a series that’s all about the dumb popcorn fun of throwing cars out of planes, its star takes Fast & Furious strangely seriously. And without longtime writer Chris Morgan on board nor franchise veterans like Justin Lin holding him back, Diesel brings this self-serious attitude to Fast X with the help of Transporter director Louis Leterrier.
The result is a ludicrous, patchwork blockbuster that strains the limits of even Fast & Furious reality. It only took us 10 movies, but Fast & Furious has become a parody of itself.
Fast X takes us 10 years back to the events of Fast Five and the chase sequence that changed the trajectory of the franchise: the bank vault heist. Only, it’s not the heist you remember. Intercut with footage from the 2011 film are extremely goofy scenes of Jason Momoa’s Dante, the son of drug lord Hernan Reyes, who was definitely there the whole time. Dante dutifully follows his father’s orders and gives chase to Dom and Brian (the late Paul Walker), but things quickly go south. Dante is thrown into the river and nearly dies, while his father is killed in Dom and Brian’s escape. Dante blames Dom for his father’s death and his family’s loss of fortune, thus kicking off the scheme that will force Dom to go through the greatest, most devastating reckoning he’s ever faced. Kind of.
Despite the sky-high stakes of the film, which turns Dom and his crew into international fugitives after they’re framed for bombing half of Rome, 85 percent of Fast X is cartoonish hijinks. The rest of it is made of Diesel buying into his own delusions that Dom Toretto is a cinematic god — and that Fast & Furious is reshaping the pop culture landscape in its image. It’s almost endearing the way that Fast X builds up Dom to be some kind of new American mythic figure, one whose legacy is spoken of in hushed whispers or who’s treated as a cult-like leader by the secondary antagonist and new Agency leader Aimes (Alan Ritchson, instantly charismatic). But despite the movie’s many monologues spouted by villains who couldn’t cut it in a Mission Impossible movie, Dom is no Ethan Hunt. And as many slow-motion shots of Dom cradling yet another wounded lady (it happens several times), Fast X can’t convince us otherwise.
Fast X’s bizarrely self-serious approach might be palatable if every subplot apart from Dom’s didn’t reduce its characters to Looney Tunes versions of themselves. The B-team — consisting of Roman (Tyrese Gibson, extra grating this time around), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Han (Sung Kang who, despite the material, is refreshingly always cool) — spend most of the movie futzing around London and getting into scrapes of their own making. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, relishing some solo time) is forced to make a wary alliance with Cipher (Charlize Theron, who finally gets to fight this time) in a half-baked prison arc. Jakob (John Cena, channeling his dopey Peacemaker performance in a sudden personality transplant) is tasked with protecting Dom’s kid Brian (Leo Abelo Perry) in an action-comedy road trip subplot. Finally, Mia (Jordana Brewster) has one fight scene and disappears…?
With its many disconnected subplots, Fast X feels like four movies in one, each with a wildly different tone. But Fast & Furious has balanced an unwieldy ensemble before. The drawback to Fast X is that it has to go through the pains of introducing new characters while forcing in several surprising cameos to lead up to the grand finale. While franchise newbies like Brie Larson (who plays the daughter of Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody) and Daniela Melchior (a spunky street racer with a familial connection to Dom) are given precious little to do, Fast X’s scenery-chewing new villain more than makes up for it.
Momoa’s Dante is easily the best villain of the whole franchise, with the Aquaman actor chaotically prancing from setpiece to setpiece like he’s auditioning to be the next Joker. Bold, erratic, and lewd, Momoa’s Dante shows more personality in his messily-painted pinky finger than half of the brooding Fast X cast, which only makes Diesel’s many attempts at summoning emotion through his perpetually pursed lips more laughable. Momoa knows what movie he’s in, even if Fast X has been zapped of any of the self-awareness that Justin Lin brought with his return in F9. (Louis Leterrier is reduced to a journeyman director, occasionally dropping in stylistic flourishes like the odd split diopter or lighting trick to remind people that he can direct.)
Thankfully, the stunts are just as wild and ridiculous as you’d expect 10 movies into Fast & Furious. But with each newly absurd setpiece, Fast X manages to stretch the limits of the keenest Fast & Furious fan’s willingness to suspend their disbelief. Jakob and Brian Jr. jump out of a plane in a kayak. Meanwhile, Dom uses his car to play whack-a-mole during a street race and swing two helicopters into each other. Even the most impressive setpiece, in which Dom uses his car to ping-pong a giant rolling bomb through Rome, is the action-movie equivalent of Batman’s “some days you can’t get rid of a bomb!” scene.
The Fast & Furious franchise has never been high art, but until now, it’s have always known what kind of entertainment it is: pure popcorn fun. But Fast X may be a tipping point — the moment when Diesel and co. buy into their own hype and build themselves up to be cinema’s new American gods. Fast X is big, loud, dumb, and on occasion, fun. Its biggest problem is that it wants to be more.