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‘Fast X’ review: The franchise gets a boost to the finish line

By May 17, 2023No Comments6 min read
(from left) Dom (Vin Diesel) and Isabel (Daniela Melchior) in Fast X, directed by Louis Leterrier.

Fast X, or Fast & Furious 10, gives the expanded car-loving spy family a glimpse of the end and their best villain yet in Jason Momoa.

The Fast & Furious saga has taken its diverse cast of former street racers turned tight-nit international spies to almost every location imaginable. If they can drive a car there, they’ve driven a car there at some point. In fact, even if they can’t drive a car there, like when they actually went to space in F9, the gurus behind the wheel of this franchise have found a way to make these movies run. They’ve utilized all forms of camp, goodwill, and promises of a barbecue finale to keep audiences coming back for one more ride. Which is why Fast X marks a true first for this saga, in that it actually teases a satisfying exit ramp.

Now sure, there will be spin-offs galore after the mainline franchise wraps things up with its supposed Avengers: Endgame two-part follow-up starting in 2025. But that indeed makes Fast X this series’ Infinity War, especially in how it delivers a villain who is more compelling and fun to watch than any of the protagonists.

Vin Diesel returns, naturally, as Dominic Toretto, the man who can do anything with a car, and in this movie, even just a car door, holding it up like Captain America’s shield at one point. Now firmly a family man with a young son (Leo Abelo Perry) and loving wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), he has more to lose than ever. A point the film goes out of its way to heartstring pluck when the late Paul Walker’s send-off song from Furious 7 sprinkles into the background. Dom doesn’t care if he dies as long as he can protect his family. But what if he can’t even do that?

Jason Momoa as Dante in Fast X, directed by Louis Leterrier.

“The end of the road begins.”

Enter the answer to Dom’s nightmares and the true MVP of Fast X, Jason Momoa as Dante Reyes, son of the Brazilian baddie in Fast Five. The film actually opens with a re-contextualized “previously on” scene straight from that 2011 installment, considered by many to be the outright best film in this franchise.

This time, we see one of the saga’s most iconic set pieces through Dante’s perspective, who was definitely there the whole time. He’s spent the years since that incident studying Dom and his Family, concocting a convoluted, world-spanning plan of suffering for these characters that would make the Joker blush. Which is probably why Momoa practically inhabits a take on Heath Ledger’s Joker performance from 2008 and makes it a gender-bending force of nature into its own.

The established camp and insanity of the Fast Saga is what makes his derivative Jack Sparrow Joker persona work far more than it should. Maybe because it’s simply nice to see villains in movies having fun being bad again, even when their motivations are about as flimsy as it gets.

Returning villains-turned-frenemies (and outright friends) certainly squeeze into the frame as well. John Cena is back as Dom’s still unexplainably Nordic estranged brother turned “fun uncle” as he escorts his nephew to safety when the Agency comes after the Family on a worldwide manhunt. Charlize Theron gets paired up with Michelle Rodriguez after she gets burned by the villain who makes a devil like her look like, well not an angel, but let’s just say a slightly less maniacal devil. And Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Sung Kang have their own sideline misadventure trying to recruit other ghosts of franchise past with limited resources and patience for Roman’s antics.

It’s hard to know when you’re laughing at this movie or with it.

So it’s odd and actually a bit refreshing to see Dom mostly on his own. He has more interactions with Dante than his own crew, a brilliant decision in how it chips at the seemingly invulnerable mythology around the patriarch who truly does rely a great deal on the people closest to him. We’ve seen other villains exploit this weakness, sure, but Fast X is the first one to really deliver that punch in a way that stings.

FAST X, directed by Louis Leterrier

Dante doesn’t just understand and prey on Dom’s insecurities, he seems to relish in isolating the man from opportunities to be the hero, a humbling meta-criticism on the franchise thus far. This is Louis Leterrier’s first time directing a Fast movie — with franchise regular Justin Lin handling a co-scripting credit with Dan Mazeau — but you can tell he truly gets what makes this series click for so many people. And he elevates and innovates upon that formula without overstating or over-relying on cheap self-awareness bits, at least too often.

In fact, this meta-lampshading goes to even nicely comical heights when the new Agency head, Aimes (Alan Ritchson) confronts Mr. Nobody’s daughter, Tess (Brie Larson) about how nonsensical the Family‘s journey over ten movies has been. We got a little of this “what a long, strange journey it’s been” grandstanding in F9, but it’s just more fulfilling to see the guy from Jack Reacher explaining in great detail why the Family is bad, actually. Imagine a video essay explaining why Johnny Lawrence is the real protagonist of The Karate Kid, and you get the gist.

The bottom line.

The normal issues with the Fast Saga are all here, of course, and most of them are as easy to gloss over if you’re already belted in. The editing and dialogue continue to be wildly uneven and absurd, sometimes effectively and sometimes not. It’s honestly hard to know if you’re laughing at the movie or with it about half the time. At 141 minutes, this is a pretty long installment that somewhat peaks in terms of massive set pieces early on with a Rome sequence that does its job and then some, but then leaves a lot of the rest of the movie to settle for close-up fistfights and visual gags. Though one great exception is a street race from hell, and every single one of these movies deserves and should demand a true racing sequence. It’s called honoring your ancestors.

And, as mentioned, the movie is a lot of set up without payoff, unless you count surprise cameos you’ll see coming hours away as payoff. The gang is either all here or about to be here, and not everything on display is at the same level in terms of smart writing and propulsive storytelling. There’s no way to know yet if the true ending they have in mind will fulfill all the promises made in Fast X. But isn’t that what these movies are really after? Not just a race, but the human race and all that. The friends we made along the road, etc.

Fast X opens nationwide in theaters starting May 19. Watch the trailer here.

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures.

  • FAST X - 7.5/10
Jon Negroni

Jon is one of the co-founders of InBetweenDrafts and our resident film editor. He also hosts the podcasts Cinemaholics, Mad Men Men, and Rookie Pirate Radio. He doesn't sleep, essentially.

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