Five Lessons Learned From The ‘Fast X’ Theatrical Run

Fast X, the tenth installment of the Fast & Furious saga, has run its course theatrically and is settling in at homesteads on VOD. One of the most ambitious and costliest projects in film history made its mark and showcased multiple points about what direction the “end of the road” is heading. Some people enjoy the unabashed fun and ludicrous car stunts pulled, while others plead for a more realistic direction since the days of the first feature back in ’01. However, since it’s become one of this franchise’s quiddities to become as ridiculous as possible in the confines of an automobile, the point is relatively straightforward: if you know what to expect, you know what you’ll receive.

The latest chapter will slither around F9‘s worldwide gross of $726.2 million, the predecessor that was released during the height of COVID times back in 2021, yet still held up during the summertime alongside A Quiet Place Part II and Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi. That might be good news any other day, but there’s more to the story for why this film is a sensational box-office disappointment and a pellucid example of “bigger doesn’t translate to better.” And subjectively, that may not be the case as the film did admirably while trying out some new elements with a flamboyant villain (compared to past FF standards) and ending on an “intriguing” cliffhanger instead of the methodical “we saved the world again, time to barbecue with the family.”

Objectively, there’s much to unravel under the hood and become cognizant of regarding an over-the-top blockbuster and its priorities. Still, yours indeed can’t quite comprehend them because its anarchic nature pummels the laws of physics with such egregiousness and baffling character traits. So, let’s investigate some of the essential elements taught by this “beginning of the end of the road” chapter.

(***Caution: Plot spoilers will be ahead, so read at your discretion.***)

All Photos Courtesy of Universal Pictures

1. Oversized budgets do not guarantee a hit in today’s climate, nor does a chaotic, gargantuan plot.

$340 million for a film budget is stupendously high for any blockbuster. Still, a massive budget is warranted if a blockbuster knows it’ll deliver in tandem with audience desire or vigorous pop culture influence (such as an Avengers or Star Wars film). The issue as of recently (much like with The Flash, Elemental, and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts) is that studios/shareholders try to settle on another product of the IP and hope it’ll draw massive numbers. Yet, audiences didn’t seem keen on another DC outing due to the mediocre subset under Warner Brothers or a Pixar film when Disney has been training audiences since the pandemic to watch the brand on their streaming service. If we do the math, this film had to gross at least $800 million to combat the high budget fees, but also additional measures due to post-COVID issues, marketing, and a change of directors (once Justin Lin pulled out due to reported clashes with Vin Diesel).

Now, Fast X might not fit this bill regarding audience interest, but ever since the passing of the late Paul Walker, the series has been doing everything in its willpower to pull incredible (albeit convoluted) tricks out of its pockets to maintain fan attentiveness. We had the “turn Dom against his family” quality idea in The Fate of the Furious and the “Oh, Han’s still alive” flummoxing selling point in F9. The sincerest fault of this tenth motion picture is it’s too big for its own aspirations. Fast X starts off with a promising premise of a psychopath losing everything (from the events of Fast Five) and seeking ultimate revenge against the Dom Toretto family but gets carried away with excessive narrative threads and exorbitant editing choices. Yes, there is fun to have with the Dom vs. Dante stuff and the chemistry between John Cena’s uncle-protector Jakob and Dom’s son Brian. Sadly, the subplot with Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty and Charlize Theron’s Cipher is all noise, no core. Coupled with Tyrese Gibson’s Roman, Ludacris’s Tej, Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey, and Sung Kang’s Han not doing anything meaningful except become relevant once they either meet up with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw or the ending where their plane gets shot down, and their fates are left unknown. And lastly, a sprawled-out mess of new and recurring characters popping in (for less than three minutes of screentime) to maintain their relevance, including Jordana Brewster’s Mia Toretto, Helen Mirren’s Queenie Shaw, Scott Eastwood’s Little Nobody, and Rita Moreno’s Abuelita.

It’s an Avengers: Infinity War-redux, but it genuinely lacks the respectable stakes and emotional core of that vast superhero crossover feature. There’s no pace, as everything screams action or some (juvenile) commentary from Jason Momoa’s villainous character. Therefore, Fast X epitomizes self-parody with an arbitrary plot and lack of centralized purpose.

2. No matter how much audiences embrace the Toretto pop culture, the Fast Saga is built for overseas’ numbers.

Since Fast Five, Universal has prided itself on giving something fun and exuberant to the fans. That comes with the measure of box office numbers, solidifying this series’ need to succeed in international territories. Without those impressive statistics, the FF franchise would’ve died out long ago, and we would’ve never seen the seventh and eighth installments pass the $1 billion benchmark without a shot of adrenaline from overseas.

Here are some statistics to consider: 66.4% of Fast Five‘s international box office accounted for its total, 69.7% for Fast & Furious 6, 76.7% for Furious 7, 81.7% for Fate of the Furious, 77.1% for Hobbs & Shaw, 76.1% for F9, and (roughly) 80% for Fast X. Also, except for Furious 7, none of the other films have broken $250 million domestically. That indicates A) they don’t have the willpower to compete across North America with Star Wars, superheroes, or even the Avatar IP, and B) it verifies the franchise’s increased impact with diversity and massive appeal across multiple cultures/demographics.

Domestic numbers have been on a downward spiral since their peak in 2015 (due to the sorrowful passing of Mr. Walker), and it’s doubtful they could reach that height again. Fast X‘s domestic numbers stress this circumstance as they were the lowest since the 4th installment in ’09.

3. Jason Momoa might be the show-stealer, but his much-maligned character traits are somewhat preposterous in a film series overflowing with them.

Everyone who witnessed the latest installment knows that Momoa injects much-needed flamboyance and charisma into this franchise that methodically preaches family. Props also to John Cena for utilizing his comedic routes with his uncle-protector role, and the stunts pulled are still as frenetic to expect.

Nonetheless, yours indeed started realizing that Momoa’s character doesn’t seem to know where to remain consistent, much like the legacy of this franchise as a whole. YouTube channel Filmento wonderfully explains how the series has gotten away with “exaggerated characters” but that Dante becomes almost a juxtaposition of himself at crucial moments. To escape the silent-brooding villain tone, the production team lets Momoa go too far with the clown-esque pageantry that clashes with his dark core of loss and revenge. Yet, he still dances around, blows raspberries, and showcases his cash dough like none of the past matters.

Dante’s philosophy of wanting to “punish the world” works momentarily, but it becomes baffling if he drives around and acts like a kid that wants to be highly derivative of Heath Ledger’s Joker. The other thing Momoa’s performance indirectly critically impacts is much of the cast themselves, who seem more interested in mailing in their performances than bringing anything new of substance. While that might be subjective, who can say anyone stood out in this mess besides Momoa (and Cena)?

4. Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot’s return not only strikes the franchise’s weaknesses but also does not guarantee a better outcome for the subsequent installments.

The Fast Saga has this asinine obsession of not wanting to let go of characters and then muddying an explanation for them to return convolutedly. To reiterate about spoilers, the third act has a (supposed) sacrifice from Jakob, Dom’s team getting shot out of the sky and their plane crashes, and bombs set off in the dam while Dom is stranded with his son from below. But given the track record of this series, does anyone honestly believe this will all carry over to the next installment?

As I said earlier, Fast X is an Infinity War-redux. The coveted Avengers film ended on a cliffhanger that was heartbreaking as it was consequential because the villain succeeded in wiping out half of all life and escaping to a distant planet to watch the sun rise “on a grateful universe.” That gave audiences a wave of emotions and desperation to get a resolution once Endgame made its way to screens a year later. On the other hand, the cliffhanger in Fast X is arbitrary and undoubtedly inconsequential when we’ve had characters come back out of the blue. Don’t believe that’s the case? Gal Gadot’s Gisele appears in the film’s last scene, rescuing Letty and Cipher from Antarctica, demonstrating that her sacrifice in Fast & Furious 6 is futile. What’s even the point of trying to wring out drama when it’s shot down a few years later? They pulled the same strings with Letty and Han (and Owen Shaw), and it deprioritizes any further rational storytelling, so now we’ll have to get some farcical explanation as to how Gisele is still alive.

Moving onto Dwayne Johnson’s return, it’s more reasonable to say that he had to return due to the recent catastrophes of Black Adam‘s financial woes and the XFL reportedly losing $60 million (and not returning to professional wrestling). So much for a star that refused to work with Vin Diesel again and stood hardened by that belief for over six years. Nitpicking aside, bringing him back into the fold is incredible, but it does not ensure the franchise will heat back up for its last few chapters. Johnson’s star power has been dwindling for the past few years; legend has it that playing the same role in every film doesn’t lure in new crowds. Even if he might pull higher numbers for his inclusion in the next ones, will it repeat history?

More to the point, where else can the franchise go from here? Will we see a big, world-ending battle once it’s time for the ending?

5. Thus, the Fast & Furious series is slowly running out of mileage.

Unless someone comes in to reinvigorate the series (like it once did with Fast Five), the Fast series should end with one last film. Yet, Universal stretched it out for another two features, plus a second spinoff for Johnson. This is no longer franchise fun; this is exhaustion from spinning wheels until we close the hood. Heck, even utilizing CGI to bring back Paul Walker’s character might (arguably) not be an earned storytelling tidbit.

From an audience perspective, it’s understandable that Universal is priding itself on this street racing IP for a few more years because they have burnt out fuel on the Jurassic Park domain and will only drop a fourth Despicable Me film next year (along with Kung Fu Panda 4 and another Jordan Peele feature), and it remains their highest-grossing film series. In practicality, there’s not much gasoline left in the tank to keep audiences intrigued.

It’s time to end the story, Universal. The series could’ve ended at the fifth one. The series should’ve ended at the seventh one. Now, we’re plodding onto the last two main installments and another spinoff. If Wesley Morris claims, “they are basically a prolonged party for a ring of street-racing urban car thieves,” that element of prolonging has long become a reality.

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