FAST X Review: The Beginning of the End for the Globetrotting Action Franchise
Vin Diesel stars in the action-adventure, directed by Louis Leterrier.
Dismissed — not without reason or justification — at the time as an unofficial remake of Point Break (or a rip-off if we’re in a less charitable mood), a mid-budget actioner pitting part-time electronics thieves and illegal street racers against an undercover FBI sting operation, aka The Fast and the Furious, would go onto to spawn nine sequels (and counting), one big-screen spin-off (and counting), and a combined six billion-dollar (US) gross (with more to come) from all corners of the globe.
Collectively, the decades-spanning series would also make franchise stars of Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker, along with turning frequent director Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond, Better Luck Tomorrow) from a relative unknown into an A-lister and a brand name among franchise devotees.
It hasn’t all been smooth drifting, though. Over the 22 years since the first entry premiered on American multiplexes, the series has seen the untimely death of Paul Walker (partially written out, but never forgotten), occasional director turmoil, ballooning budgets, and a pandemic that slowed or halted production on the most recent entry, F9: The Fast Saga.
The series has also seen more character heel-turns, deaths, and resurrections this side of Marvel or DC Comics. And yet despite the in-universe’s comic-book approach to story logic and the usual laws of physics or gravity (suspended as needed), audiences continue to return entry after entry.
The stories themselves — along with Diesel’s furrowed-brow, gravelly voiced mantra (“family”) — matter less than the elaborately choreographed set pieces involving fast cars, indestructible characters (or rather their stunt stand-ins), and NOS-boosted pacing to keep audiences perpetually in stimulation mode right up until an end credits scene that reveals either the return of a beloved character, the back-from-the-dead return of another, or simply both. It’s a formula that’s worked time and time again, though the 10th time around the racing track, Fast X, has started to show more than a few signs of engine and tire wear.
Opening with a nostalgic nod to Fast Five, arguably the high-point of the series and the first entry to leave street racing behind entirely for heist-oriented plotting, Fast X reunites Diesel’s Dominic “Dom” Toretto with Walker’s Brian O’Conner for a Rio de Janeiro robbery involving a mega-sized bank vault, a chaotic, destructive chase in and around the streets of said Brazilian city, and the untimely death of Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), a vicious gang boss. In another comic-book inspired plot turn, Fast X retcons that heist to include Reyes' heretofore unknown son, Dante (Jason Momoa), both a participant in the bank vault chase and a witness to his father’s demise.
Ten years later and Dante, even more vicious and sociopathic than his psychopathic father, puts an incredibly complex revenge plot into motion. Said revenge plot involves a super-secret mission in Rome supposedly for the “Agency” (the CIA by any other name) to retrieve the latest iteration of the Great Whatsit, four members of Dom’s family-team, the miserly, money-obsessed Roman (Tyrese Gibson), his perpetual foil and straight man, Tej (Ludacris), an uber-hacker with the requisite genius IO, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and the recently resurrected Han (Sung Kang).
When the mission goes predictably sideways, Dom and longtime partner Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) spring into action, Dom in a super-charged muscle car (an extension of his ego), and Letty on a sleek, easily maneuverable motorcycle. Not everyone, of course, gets saved, but the mission and the attempt to save Dom’s team leads directly into the first extended car-related set piece. Mirroring the bank vault of the prologue, the “new” scene swaps out the cube-shaped vault for a mini-Death Star-inspired bomb.
While that scene rides right up to the line between tedium and excitement, the rest of Dom and Letty’s crew stateside, Mia (Jordana Brewster), Dom’s sister; Little Brian (Leo Abelo Perry), Dom’s son by another mother (not Letty); and Jakob (John Cena), Dom’s formerly estranged brother, are forced to fight and flee as the new head of the Agency, Aimes (Alan Ritchson), far less tolerant of Team Family’s penchant for urban destruction, sends dozens, if not hundreds, of interchangeable helmeted goons to take them in.
Yet another semi-exhausting subplot involves returning cyber-villain Cypher (Charlize Theron), betrayed and imprisoned, attempting to convince an unlikely ally to join her on an escape mission while Tess (Brie Larson), the daughter of the missing Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), and, like her father, somewhat of a loose cannon, refuses to follow Aimes’ search-and-capture order, a fireable offense in any bureaucracy, government or otherwise, and does her part for Team Family. She makes for a positive addition to the team and the film, though at this point, it feels like the Fast X series needs to dramatically scale back the character count and re-focus on the core group.
Of course, Fast X is just part one of an announced two-part finale to the Fast and the Furious franchise (Diesel recently stated it was the first of a trilogy), so audiences won’t be surprised that it ends on a metaphorical, possibly literal cliffhanger as Dom and his crew find themselves in varying levels of peril and/or danger, several missing or even presumed dead (dead is never dead in the Fast and Furious universe, regardless of whether you've seen a corpse onscreen or not), and Dante enjoying all of the havoc he’s unleashed on Dom's world over the preceding two hours and twenty minutes.
While character surprises or face-heel turns hit rock bottom the 10th time around, the addition of Dante as Team Family’s Blofeld-like antagonist makes up for the over-familiarity (Roman and Tej’s tired shtick, for example, could and should be tabled going forward), his fey, flamboyant mannerisms, constant monologuing, and sheer, chaotic joy at the chaos more than compensate for Fast X’s typically forgettable story, flaccid character interactions, and over-indulgent running time.
As usual too, the best-money-can-buy set pieces rarely disappoint and more often have the opposite result, delivering just the right amount of awe, wonder, and humor at the utter and complete absurdity of it all.
Fast X opens Friday, May 19, only in movie theaters, via Universal Pictures.
- Louis Leterrier
- Dan Mazeau
- Justin Lin
- Gary Scott Thompson
- Vin Diesel
- Jordana Brewster
- Tyrese Gibson