Every race needs a finish line, right?
Recall a generation ago when The Fast and the Furious was based on a Vibe magazine article, with Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner going undercover as a cop to catch a group of street racers/thieves led by Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto. Things were much more rudimentary back then. And inevitably, several sequels and spinoffs spawned in its success, bringing something of value to a car-racing, stylistic franchise.
Cut to twenty-two years later, and everything has been freed of constraints in operating behind the wheel. Defy gravity? Check. Have a backup plan for every unmitigated disaster? Check. Try to pretend some characters passed away, but they’re back because the studio loves entertaining the masses? Check, check, check!
Oh, wait, what about family? If you don’t preach those words like Dominic Toretto does with his modernized Tin Lizzie gearhead philosophy, you must be living under a rock and are not succumbing to his squinting eyes and sideways smile as he stands hellbent on standing with the family. Thus, Fast X is Toretto’s ultimate test in protecting the family from a foe that seeks revenge for the game-changing heist performed in Fast Five, where they lost their father, Hernan Reyes, and all the money stashed in the vault. That foe is Jason Momoa’s Dante Reyes, a diabolical psychopath that wants Dom and his crew to suffer. Dante roars on the spot with flamboyant colors, coming out of a Las Vegas magician show that had direct inspiration from Heath Ledger’s Joker and Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber (and a dose of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow).
While there are a bunch of questions to address, let’s jump over to the other side elements of the plot, where we meet the usual gang of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Han (Sung Kang). Each is split into groups, with Letty arrested from the first act incident and heading to an off-site prison to entangle with familiar foe Cipher (Charlize Theron). Simultaneously, Mia (Jordana Brewster) encounters her reconciled brother Jakob (John Cena) and passes Dom’s son (Leo Abelo Perry) to him for protection and to get him back to Dom.
Let’s see, Roman, Tej, Ramsey, and Han go undercover and meet familiar not-to-be-trusted associate Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Oh, and we get some glorified cameos of Helen Mirren’s Queenie Shaw, Scott Eastwood’s Little Nobody, and Rita Moreno as the grandmother of the Toretto family. Fatiguingly on top of that are new characters alongside villainous Dante, which are Brie Larson’s rogue daughter Tess (of Mr. Nobody), Alan Ritchson’s agency director Aimes, and Daniela Melchior’s Isabel, a racer that has an interconnected history with Dom’s past. Plus, some glorified cameos and one not-so-spoiler intervention (due to Internet revelations) that sees Dwayne Johnson’s return as Luke Hobbs in the post-credits, even though Johnson adamantly wanted to never return due to a blood-fueled feud with Diesel and other cast members. (Maybe we can get a definitive answer at some point.)
Anyway, while some may be thrilled for an optimistic future after announcing two more sequels following this one, we must cut to the chase (or race in this scenario), folks: Fast X is not that great of a motion picture.
For such a gargantuan-budgeted film with a primitive premise, there are excessively convoluted plot threads, bathetic editing choices, and a runtime that felt less paramount and more strenuous to ride through. The twists and turns that unfold feel as irritating as they are arbitrary. Yes, there is an agglomeration of cartoonish action sequences that attest to how self-aware the feature is, and indeed one could argue it shoots the adrenaline up if willing to digest. But, much like how Justin Lin stepped out of the director’s chair after one week of filming and got replaced by Louis Leterrier, the behind-the-scenes tumultuous turn of events becomes very evident onscreen. What accentuates this further is the cast is very scattered throughout, with some folks showing up because of their paycheck and some playing the monotonous beats we’ve already witnessed in their development in a twenty-year-plus franchise. Sadly, Vin Diesel takes a heavy backseat and was making better expressions as Groot in the recently emotional Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Brewster and Statham make glorified cameos (for some innominate reason), and Gibson’s little onscreen budding rivalry/friendship with Ludacris is a bit wearisome.
The flashbacks for previous films are “fine.” Still, Leterrier might’ve been better shaving some of them out, as it feels more like a homework assignment (synonymous with Marvel and Star Wars films) to comprehend the backstories fully.
Kudos to the production team for letting Momoa go all out in this mediocre outing; his childish, sadistic demeanor makes the most of how modern F&F films perceive themselves, and he oozes humor and charisma while he sets out to become an intriguing foil to Dom’s character. His performance (almost) single-handedly makes this tenth installment a must-watch. The other individual that made a substantive mark was Cena, who juices up his scenes with some fun comedy and chemistry with Perry, making this subplot enjoyable. Even more fascinating is his estranged brother’s villainous character looked like a drab outlier in F9. However, integrating the “uncle protector role” here and letting him loosen up with his best perks allowed him to shine exceptionally in this overstuffed feature. This other positive note is minor, but the Fast series has also excelled at bringing in a myriad of locations to shed light on different cultures and vibrance.
Overall, the movie feels much like an Avengers: Infinity War-redux, trying to produce a fantastic villain and ending with a cliffhanger to keep us on our toes till the next installment. While it succeeds for the most part at those elements, it doesn’t come close to the Marvel blockbuster because it seems to jumble its lore and treat its characters with such ridicule as it flies at a blistering pace. And the kick of emotions we’re supposed to radiate with becomes extinct as the movie soars with preposterous visuals and exorbitant sharp-cutting transitions. Folks may clamor that they’ll be dropping tears, but given this franchise’s track record of reviving characters out of the blue, it washes away all manifestations of stakes and tensions. (Yes, even one of the film’s last shots exemplifies this cruel act.)
While commendable for its ambition and energy, alongside Momoa’s and Cena’s performances, Fast X underwhelms and will sit in a holding pattern until the next installment (or twenty) asks us to rev our engines to head back to the theater forcefully. Hollywood may enjoy the madness of this over-the-top franchise, but it was a bit reckless to give the green light for a messy blockbuster.