‘Fast X’ Review: A Once-Great Franchise Running on Fumes
The most complex concept every devised by humankind is the timeline of the Fast & Furious movies.
How much time has passed for the characters of the Fast universe since we last saw them in 2011’s F9: The Fast Saga? I couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it. In that movie, Dominic Toretto’s son Brian looked like a toddler. In the new Fast X, he’s old enough to receive his first driving lesson from his dad. (The actor who plays Brian in Fast X, Leo Abelo Perry, is 10.)
Okay. So maybe six years have passed? Maybe more? But it also seems like Fast X happens immediately after F9, since that movie concluded with a confrontation between Han (Sung Kang) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a scene that is also in Fast X. Only when it happened in F9, Sung Kang had short hair, and when the exact same sequence plays out in Fast X — same location, same costumes, even the same guy tied up inside a punching bag — Han now sports a gorgeous, flowing mane.
Fast X has a bunch of problems, but this is by far the biggest. Fast & Furious used to be the blockbuster franchise that rewarded attentive viewers. Now it punishes them. Actively caring about the characters only leads to wondering why some of them act differently in Fast X than they did in previous entries. And thinking about the story will just drive you mad as you try to make sense of this bland but confusing revenge tale and its saggy pacing. (One example: At the beginning of the film, Vin Diesel’s Dom and Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty get from Los Angeles to Rome in a single camera cut, but then all of the characters spend the rest of the movie endlessly wandering the globe to get to an all-important safe house.)
Dom’s team needs a new hideout because they are being hunted by a dangerous adversary named Dante Reyes, played by Jason Momoa as if he watched Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow and thought to himself “Nah, too subtle.” Dante is the son of a notorious Brazilian drug kingpin who was robbed and killed by Dom and his allies during the events of Fast Five. Fast X’s opening sequence inserts Momoa into scenes from Fast Five; it turns out he was a part of that movie’s big climactic chase all along, we just never happened to see him the first time around. And while Dante’s father died, Dante survived and dedicated the next ten years of his life planning his revenge.
I would imagine if I had lost my father and my family’s illicit narcotics fortune, and then spent the next decade plotting and executing an intricate plot against a former thief turned super spy for a mysterious government agency known only as “The Agency,” I might be pretty upset about the whole situation. I would like to think I’d approach the task of murdering my enemies with the degree of seriousness such matters deserve. Not Dante Reyes. He is constantly cracking jokes, screaming, making big exaggerated gestures with his hands, suggestively stroking his henchmen’s guns, and talking about how much he loves ballet. He generally looks to be having the time of his life as he tries to kill Dom and his beloved Fast family.
Dante claims he’s mad at Dom for taking everything away from him, but it seems like he should be happy about the situation. Dom gave his life purpose, and he set Dante on a course that he clearly enjoys and is quite good at. (Despite the fact that Dom stole the Reyes’ drug money, Dante has limitless resources, soldiers, and technology at his disposal anyway.) Dante even admits at one point he didn’t particularly like his father. Shouldn’t he thank Dominic Toretto for setting him on this path he obviously relishes? I suppose if he did that would make for a very short and very quiet summer blockbuster.
Instead, Dante lashes out at Dom and his longtime allies, including his wife and fellow badass Letty, precision driver Han, fast-talking Roman (Tyrese Gibson), computer whiz Tej (Ludachris), and additional computer whiz Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) because you can never have too many people in one of these movies who can glance at a laptop and scream things like “I can break the encryption! Just buy me some time!”
Death would be too easy for Dom, Dante says, and so he enacts an elaborate scheme to torture him first. After that opening action sequence in Rome, Dom’s team splits up. For the rest of Fast X’s 140-minute runtime, there are at least four different groups of heroes involved in four different parallel storylines. From that point on, no one in the cast is in the same movie — literally and figuratively.
Most of the heroes wind up waylaid in London, where Han gets to finish the aforementioned F9 post-credits scene with Jason Statham, and Statham gets to collect a tidy paycheck for what amounts to a glorified cameo. Meanwhile, with Dom’s family under attack, Diesel goes into full suffering martyr mode, repeatedly welling up as he talks with total sincerity about the importance of fathers and sons and living without fear. Meanwhile, while Dom’s so worried about Brian, Brian is having the time of his life with his Uncle Jakob (John Cena) as they sneak their way to the Toretto safe house. Jakob was F9’s brutal, stern antagonist; scowling, sneering, and repeatedly trying to kill his own brother. In Fast X, Jakob constantly smiles, cracks jokes, and dances to ’90s hip-hop while wearing an “I Have Gas” T-shirt. Does he have amnesia or something? The movie makes no attempt to explain his complete personality shift.
All of these threads sew together very uncomfortably, and they feel even more disconnected when you throw Momoa’s prancing, cackling villain into the mix. Is this a grim movie about unending cycles of violence or a wacky big-budget version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles about how unending cycles of violence are totally rad? And why does it expend so much time and energy trying to convince us we should be worried about characters dying when a significant portion of the main cast has died and returned to life already? (If you want to get technical about it, Han has appeared to die multiple times.)
Even in the weaker Fast & Furious movies there are still highlights, and director Louis Leterrier, who took over for longtime Fast helmer Justin Lin after he quit during Fast X’s production, provides a couple. Charlize Theron already appeared in two Fast movies as the villainous hacker Cipher where she mostly glowered at computer screens. Finally someone had the sense to realize that if you’ve got maybe the greatest female action star of her generation in your action movie, you might want to give her some action to perform; both of Theron’s big fight scenes are very entertaining. I also enjoyed Alan Ritchson as Aimes, the new leader of the off-the-books spy agency that has employed Dom and his team for the last few movies. Ritchson nails the tone of the Fast franchise from his very first scene, as he wryly insults Dom and compares his fixation on his family to a “a cult with cars.” He makes a nice addition to the ever-bloating roster of macho action heroes circling through Vin Diesel’s orbit.
Befitting a movie with so many different storylines, Fast X — which is supposedly the first of two final movies in the series — concludes with a series of cliffhangers that range in impact from unsatisfying to confusing to borderline insulting. There was a time when Fast & Furious was arguably the best ongoing franchise in Hollywood. It was fun and playful, and had a wonderful cast and a surprisingly dense mythology, one it used to make you care about all of the over-the-top spectacle.
Those days ended with Furious 7, which was also the final film starring Paul Walker, who died during its production. Walker’s presence in the Fast movies was the sweet, underplayed counterbalance to Vin Diesel’s ultra-sincere, ultra-sleeveless bombast, and the franchise still hasn’t found a way to fill the void he left behind. In hindsight, the series probably should have stopped after Furious 7, which not only marked the franchise’s farewell to Walker’s character but also to any semblance of logic or cohesion in its ongoing mega-narrative. Since then, Fast & Furious has basically been running on fumes.
-What you want to do when you restrain extremely dangerous criminals on gurneys inside the world’s most top-secret black site prison is you want to make sure the controls for their restraints are within reach of the prisoners’ hands at all times, so they can break themselves out whenever they want. It really speeds things up when your movie is already running 140 minutes long.
-I look back at what I have written here, and I see that in 1600 words I’ve barely talked about Fast X’s action. That is telling; for perhaps the first time in the entire franchise’s history, there isn’t a single sequence that outdoes what has come before. I can’t think of one set piece that feels destined to go down in Fast history like the Fast Five vault chase, or the Fast & Furious 6 tank attack, or the Furious 7 skyscraper jump, or F9’s magnet cars. That alone might make Fast X the worst film in the entire franchise.