‘Fast X’ review: The ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise may be running on fumes, but Jason Momoa makes it a fun ride
At one point during Fast X, a mysterious government agent played by Alan Ritchson tells street racer-turned-crime fighter Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), “The days when one man behind the wheel of a car made a difference are over.” That’s a pretty potent statement for a franchise that has long tested the limits of what one man can do behind the wheel of a car, especially when that man is Vin Diesel.
For instance: can a car fall backwards out of an airborne plane, crash land on two other moving vehicles, and continue speeding down the highway completely intact? Probably not. But then again I’ve never attempted anything quite so daring in my Volkswagen Jetta, so who am I to say? But there are a lot of things that cars do in this movie that defy the logic of physics, as they do in every Fast & Furious film (remember the space-bound vehicle in F9?). Yet the magic trick of this franchise – which Diesel promises is coming to an end with a three part finale – has been convincing serious-minded moviegoers to check their brains at the door and… well… go along for the ride.
The Fast & Furious franchise is so sprawling that you almost need a TV-style “previously on” to catch you up when the new entry begins. Fast X begins with a prologue set 10 years in the past, placing us at the end of Fast Five (still the best of the series). That film, you’ll recall, found Dom Toretto and his makeshift family pulling off a heist against Brazilian drug lord Hernan Reyes. Turns out Reyes had a son, Dante (Jason Momoa), who has spent the last decade hatching an elaborate scheme to avenge his father’s death.
The plot, in broad strokes, involves Dante going after the one thing Dom loves more than souped-up muscle cars: his family. Through a series of Rube Goldberg-ian machinations, he lures Dom, his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and their pals Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Han (Sung Kang), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) to Rome, where a bomb goes off right outside the Vatican. The explosion gets pinned on the gang, forcing them to split up and go into hiding. Meanwhile, Dante has his eyes set on Dom and Letty’s son, Little Brian (Leo Abelo Perry), who goes on the run with his Uncle Jakob (John Cena).
The crew has few friends left in the government, since Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) has gone missing and his replacement, Aimes (Ritchson), isn’t too fond of them. (You’d think after 10 movies worth of crime fighting the government would give them the benefit of the doubt, but that’s bureaucracy for you.) They do have one new ally in the form of Mr. Nobody’s daughter, Tess (Brie Larson), who rightly suspects this was a setup. She conspires to spring Letty from a blacksite prison, where she’s being held alongside none other than cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron, the villain of Fate of the Furious). Letty and Cipher will have to work together to get out, but not until they’ve worked out their longstanding feud with some ass-kicking.
There are a lot of old grudges that need to get hammered out in this film. With little money and few resources, Tej, Roman, Ramsey, and Han travel to London and seek the help of their old nemesis, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Deckard and Han go one-on-one out before they have to duke it out with the agents who are tracking them. You’d think with the government hot on their tails these folks would set their beefs aside and focus on their common foe, but then again this franchise wasn’t exactly built on logic.
It was built on fast cars going “vroom vroom,” explosions going “boom boom,” and fists going “pow pow,” which Fast X delivers with aplomb. I must admit, I have a soft spot for movies like this. Generally speaking, I look at things like character development, plot construction, and execution of themes when assessing a film’s quality. Yet the Fast & Furious films have defied those metrics through sheer force of their entertainment value alone.
The villains have always been hit-or-miss in this series, and you can place Momoa’s Dante squarely in the hit column. Momoa delivers a full ham sandwich of a performance as a sociopathic daddy’s boy, preening around in colorful outfits and painted nails. His flamboyant androgyny is a breath of fresh air in a franchise that’s become so identifiable with machismo. He’s at his best when gleefully tormenting his opponents, whether challenging Dom to a bomb-rigged street race in Rio or turning Cipher’s own men against her by holding their loved ones hostage. Momoa always finds the right balance between cartoonish sniveling and actual menace, no small feat for a film this outlandish.
Fast X isn’t without its flaws. Since this is the first part of a planned trilogy, its plot functions almost like a first act, with new characters and exposition introduced throughout its 141 minute runtime (EGOT Rita Moreno and The Suicide Squad star Daniela Melchior join the ever-expanding family as Dom’s Abuelita Toretto and Brazilian street racer Isabela, respectively). As such, there are more scenes than usual of the gang setting up what they have to do through explanatory dialogue, which was never this series’ strong suit. With the weight of so much set-up, the pacing can feel sluggish at times, as we’re constantly waiting for the action to kick back into high gear.
Yet when the cars are speeding and the one-liners are flying, we’re reminded of why we keep returning to this makeshift family, and why we’ll be so sad to see them ride into the sunset. For a franchise whose best days appear to be in the rearview mirror, the film proves there’s still a little bit of gas left in the tank.
Universal Pictures will release Fast X only in theaters on May 19.
Photo: Peter Mountain / Universal Pictures