Review: For Its Tenth Film, the Fast & Furious Franchise Mostly Retreads Old Vendettas (and Car Chases)
The Fast & Furious movies have now entered their third decade as a franchise, and we still have one or two of these monsters left (depending on who you listen to). They revisit the past and bring back supposedly dead characters more often than Marvel movies do, and they bend and break the laws of physics with so much wild abandon, it’s hard not to give yourself over to it and just let it happen. As jokey as things can get with some of the characters, there’s also a self-seriousness to these films that is almost difficult to watch because these characters are clearly the only ones treating these stories as anything other than live-action cartoons. As with any franchise that is 10 chapters in, some movies are better than others (although no one seems to agree about which are the best). I can say without reservation that Fast X is the most of everything I’ve just said and then some, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
In order to come up with a new villain that still somehow fits into the F&F universe, we jump back in time to Fast Five (2011), when Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian (the late Paul Walker, who I’m uncomfortable still seeing in the movies, pretending he’s still alive) stole a massive vault from drug kingpin Hernan Reyes in Rio De Janeiro. Although we didn’t see it in that film, it turns out Reyes was running his empire along with his son Dante (Aquaman’s Jason Momoa), who saw his father die in front of him and has been plotting full-throated revenge for the last 12 years by targeting everyone in Dom’s real and extended family of criminals-turned-government contractors.
Since we’re allegedly winding things down with these movies, the filmmakers have seen the need to bring just about everyone back—living and dead—who has ever been in these movies. I won’t ruin any of the surprises that come in the last minutes of Fast X, but among the new characters introduced in this installment we have Brie Larson as Tess, the daughter of Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody (who is Mr. Not In the Movie this time around); Rita Moreno as Dom and sister Mia’s (Jordana Brewster) grandmother; Daniela Melchior (The Suicide Squad), playing a Brazilian street racer with close ties to Dom’s past; and just for good measure Alan Richtson (Reacher) as Aimes, the new head of the agency who doesn’t really give a crap about Dom’s rich tradition of racing and thieving, and even more shocking, isn’t related to anyone from a previous film.
Directed by new-to-the-franchise Louis Leterrier (The Transporter 1 & 2, The Incredible Hulk, Now You See Me) and written by Dan Mazeau and the best director the series has ever had, Justin Lin, Fast X is a ridiculous cat-and-mouse game with Dom and his team—Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Sung Kang—chasing after Dante or him chasing after them. They’re trying to stop him from killing other members of the team or people close to them, most especially Dom’s 8-year-old son, Little Brian (Leo Abelo Perry), because Dante doesn’t want to kill Dom right away; he wants him to suffer first. For those keeping score, this film also sees the return of Jason Statham as Shaw, Helen Mirren as Shaw’s scheming mother, John Cena as Dom’s brother, and Charlize Theron as Cypher, who, like most F&F villains, is now working with Dom & Co. against the much tougher bad guy.
Again, like the Marvel movies, the F&F entries are only as good as their villains. Theron was a great nemesis in previous movies, but all she did was sit in a room and react to things going on in other places. How you cast the star of Mad Max: Fury Road and not put her in a car is beyond me. In Fast X, she at least gets to interact more with other characters, mostly Rodriguez’s Letty, including engaging in a fantastic one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat sequence that is beyond brutal.
But let’s talk about Dante. If you’re looking for a drinking game to play while watching this film, try taking a shot every time Momoa stretches his arms out in a Jesus Christ-like pose like he’s celebrating a victory he hasn’t actually won yet. Take another shot every time he puts on feminine airs, thinking he’s making everyone uncomfortable. I’ve been genuinely shocked to see the positive reaction to Momoa’s Dante performance. He’s in no way threatening or smart or witty; he’s just annoying, and maybe that’s this goal. I guess it’s interesting that he’s at least trying for a different tone than the F&F villains of the past, but what he’s doing is so obvious and dull, I couldn’t wait for him to leave the screen. He’s acting sociopathic without being sociopathic, and there are few things worse than seeing someone try so hard and achieve nothing.
I didn’t put a stopwatch to it, but Fast X also seems to have fewer car chases than any of the other films (if you don’t count the car chases that are replayed from previous films), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the face-to-face fight scenes and foot chases are actually pretty spectacular. And the movie does its fair share of globe trotting, from Los Angeles and London to the streets and catacombs of Rome and back to Rio, with brief stops in Portugal and even the Antarctic. And all along the way, Dante just threatens to kill a new vital member of Dom’s “family,” and Dom races to save them knowing full well he’s walking into a trap. And perhaps even bolder than some of the surprises at the end of the film, Fast X actually does something I don’t think has been done before in a F&F movie: it ends on a cliffhanger, one where it appears many of our favorite characters are either dead or about to be.
Fast X is a retread in many ways, not just because it rewinds the story to five movies earlier. I miss the days when the team had an actual mission that didn’t involve some personal vendetta against them. As much as they try, these movies have never done well conveying emotions (except when Walker died, which they didn’t actually acknowledge with his Brian character). Constantly threatening Dom’s people has gotten old and only really results in Diesel scowling his familiar scowl every time. There are a handful of Oscar winners in this franchise’s regular rotation, so let them act, for Christ’s sake.
All that being said, I’m genuinely curious to see how they wrap this series up in two years (or whenever), because I suspect they’re going to go for broke as far as the insane stunts. A guy can dream. As long as you keep your expectations low with Fast X, you won’t come out as disappointed as I was with this fairly crowded and standard-issue entry.
The film is now playing in theaters.
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