Fast X, 2023.
Directed by Louis Leterrier.
Starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jason Momoa, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, John Cena, Jason Statham, Sung Kang, Alan Ritchson, Daniela Melchior, Scott Eastwood, Helen Mirren, Charlize Theron, Brie Larson, Rita Moreno, Leo A. Perry, Luis Da Silva Jr., Michael Rooker, Don Omar, Tego Calderon, and Pete Davidson.
Over many missions and against impossible odds, Dom Toretto and his family have outsmarted, out-nerved, and outdriven every foe in their path. Now, they confront the most lethal opponent they’ve ever faced: A terrifying threat emerging from the shadows of the past fueled by blood revenge and who is determined to shatter this family and destroy everything—and everyone—that Dom loves, forever.
It would be unfair to say that the cast and crew of these Fast and Furious movies have no self-awareness of how preposterous and physics/gravity-defying the elaborate, extended, explosive set pieces have become, but Fast X (directed by series newcomer Louis Leterrier and from a screenplay by Dan Mazeau and saga regular Justin Lin) goes a quarter-mile further, with one character going on a hilariously confounded rant about how every opponent Dominic Toronto (Vin Diesel) and his family come across eventually somehow becomes indoctrinated into prioritizing family. There’s a blueprint to these movies, but also one for how they continue; villains become heroes, and the cycle restarts.
Fast X knows that formula has become something to mock, so while it’s admirable that the filmmakers are in on the joke, they also have a better idea in introducing a morally irredeemable antagonist, even for this series. Enter Jason Momoa’s Dante, the sociopathic son of Fast Five‘s drug lord Herman Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), seeking revenge for the death of his father by punishing anyone associated with Dominic’s family and anyone who has ever helped them, with the alarming eccentricities, mischievous planning, and mentally unstable behavior as Joker from Batman lore.
The character doesn’t just sport purple at one point (which feels like a nod to what the filmmakers are going for with this dastardly maniac) but even has similarly odd quirks, such as having conversations with a pair of dead henchmen stuck with a smiling facial expression. Also, remember that punishment doesn’t mean death but watching people suffer in disturbing ways or forcing Dom to make unthinkable choices, challenging his ability to do what matters to him most; protect the ones he cares about.
Dante’s grand plan involves lulling the family into a trap in Rome, cutting Dom off from his family, including his current love Letty (a returning Michelle Rodriguez). They are warned of what’s coming by an unlikely associate, albeit too late, meaning that Dante successfully unleashes a gigantic bomb that rolls down the streets of Rome. Aside from serving as a callback to the bank vault heist in Fast Five, it also allows for an early action-packed sequence that shows yet another switch in directors is harmless and that there is no cause for concern. It’s also simply a ridiculously fun segment that practically operates on video game logic and physics, with characters driving their cars into the ball of death to knock it away and save civilians.
From there, Fast X falls into a bit of a trap where roughly the next 90 minutes are setting up the next major vehicular mayhem sequence and high stakes that, unfortunately, feel hollow, considering characters in this saga come back from the dead all the time and continue to do so here. The bummer is that Fast X rotates between its seemingly endless supply of side characters, each with a small mission; John Cena’s Jakob is tasked with protecting Dom’s young son, Brie Larson is introduced as the daughter of Mr. Nobody and doesn’t really get much time to make a notable impression, Letty is locked away and finds an unlikely ally in breaking out, and the rest of the crew (Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Sung Kang, Nathalie Emmanuel) bicker and banter like usual while searching for a way to rendezvous with Dom.
These situations are filled with action beats, mostly one-on-one fights that, while well-shot, solidly choreographed, and visceral, also feel meaningless and like the filmmakers are killing time as they insist this chapter must be a trilogy. The best among these sequences sees Jakob take on a small army of huntsmen inside a home, with John Cena channeling his inner WWE superstar and delivering an Attitude Adjustment from the top story and through multiple floors. His role as protector also allows him to express his sillier, more family-friendly comedic side as he tries to live up to the standards of Dom and come out of his brother’s shadow.
The family also receives a noteworthy extension with Rita Moreno’s Abuela Toretto, who also preaches the importance of family. There’s also some faith-based material here, but much like the never-ending speeches about family, there’s sincerity through every word, no matter how nonsensical the story action becomes, that keeps these elements endearing where so many other films would end up annoying.
Once Fast X sets up its extravagant final action sequence set in Portugal, it certainly delivers in unabashed chaos, and while cliffhanger endings are not inherently bad, it’s difficult to say that these filmmakers have justified this installment to be two films, let alone a supposed trilogy. The beginning of the end of the road is bumpy for sure, but there is no denying that the big set pieces here are absolutely ludicrous and thrilling to watch. Jason Momoa is such a refreshing breath of fresh air as a villain so nasty that it’s impossible to see the character becoming anything else or finding redemption, and he is having such a blast being so despicable that he does make up for some of the above questionable choices, but not enough.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com