Monday, March 4, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Fast X’ Is All About Family and Cars Going Brrrr

Director: Louis Leterrier

Writers: Dan Mazeau and Justin Lin

Stars: Vin Diesel, Jason Momoa, Michelle Rodriguez, John Cena

Synopsis: Dom Toretto and his family are targeted by the vengeful son of drug kingpin Hernan Reyes.

The end is here, with Fast X, the first part of an allegedly three-installment finale that will finally see The Fast Family reach…the end of the road. Aside from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, and The Fate of the Furious, each installment of The Fast Saga has been amazingly entertaining and furiously (no pun intended) over the top. The franchise is at its best when it doesn’t take itself seriously and fully knows that you will be dead instantly if you ever attempt the minimum of what Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew do in this film. 

This film opens with a nearly twenty-minute-long car chase in the streets of Rome, where Tej Parker (Ludacris), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), Han Lue (Sung Kang), Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) and Dom try to intercept a huge bomb rolling down the street before it explodes near the Vatican. The pair were set up by Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), son of drug lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), who was the main target of Fast Five and died during the events of that film. Of course, in true Fast fashion, we have never seen Dante in Fast Five, nor know that he even existed, just like Dom’s brother Jakob (John Cena), who never existed before the ninth film. 

But who cares? The bomb literally catches fire (!!!) while Dom and Letty try to intercept it. And by some God-like miracle (I won’t spoil how they pull it off because it’s truly a glorious feat that must be seen to be believed), the bomb goes into the river before it blows up. However, the gang has been blamed for the attack and are branded as terrorists. They are now forced to split up and meet up with Dom at a rendezvous point in Portugal. Letty gets arrested by The Agency and is sent to a black site prison with Cipher (Charlize Theron). Meanwhile, The Agency’s new leader, Aimes (Alan Ritchson), attempts to track down Jakob, Mia (Jordana Brewster), and Brian (Leo Abelo Perry) as a means to get to Dom. 

A lot happens in this first part, which is very much a part one, meaning that most of the film is exposition and breadcrumb-setting for the next two installments. Some characters, such as Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), Queenie Shaw (Helen Mirren), Mia, and a few more surprises, show up for merely extended cameos to tease their roles in the future films for the “grand finale.” New characters are also introduced, including Isabel Neves (Daniela Melchior), sister of Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky), and Tess (Brie Larson), daughter of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who don’t do much aside from hinting that their roles will be bigger and chapter eleven and twelve (and Russell is likely going to show up in one or both of those films). 

It’s essentially a 141-minute-long commercial for the sequel that goes, “You liked this? Are you enjoying the ride? Well, I’ve got news for you! We’re making two more of these! Come back for the next one!” Usually, you would see me write a large review that vehemently tells studios to stop making part ones because they are mostly unnecessary cash grabs and don’t do anything aside from being a clunky mess filled with endless expository dialogue. Of course, Fast X’s non-action scenes are fairly clunky and even clunkier when you’ve got Vin Diesel mumbling through every slurred line of dialogue like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. It’s incredible how he gets worse with each installment, phoning in every aspect of his portrayal of Dom and sleepwalking through any ounce of chemistry he has with his son. 

On the other hand, you’ve got Jason Momoa, who seems to base his villainous portrayal of Dante as a hybrid of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, Jared Leto’s Joker, Matt Smith’s Milo from Morbius and…Aquaman. As ridiculous as it is, and you can tell how much fun Momoa has, it simply doesn’t work. His performance is so at odds with the movie’s tone, which seems serious even if the action sequences aren’t. The stakes are bigger than ever because Dante is going after everyone who helped the Fast Family. However, Dante seems too goofy to be taken seriously as a legitimate threat, as calculating and psychotic as he is. 

All these elements could technically produce a bad film, but are you watching the tenth (!!!) installment of The Fast and the Furious for the plot? Who cares about the plot! I  just want to see cars go brrrrrrr while our God Dominic Toretto survives the improbable yet again. If the action is well-crafted and executed, that’s the only thing keeping me going. I couldn’t care less about the half-baked espionage intrigue, poorly-written and performed villain, and endless exposition dumps. Maybe this one is more “grounded” since they’re not sending cars to space (that was a very dumb idea), but it’s perhaps one of the most technically proficient Fast and Furious films to date. 

Justin Lin did a great job directing tight and vivid action in F9. However, replacement Louis Leterrier takes it to another level in Fast X. Leterrier is a big fan of drones and essentially laid out his aesthetic footprints in his last movie, The Takedown. He and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon craft action that is not only clear to follow but superbly choreographed and paced. The Rome chase is the perfect example of this, but the action only grows more elaborate from there: there’s a terrific bridge gunfight in Rio de Janeiro, an actual race with some legitimate stakes between Dante and Dom, some cool one-on-one fights, including the highly marketed brawl between Letty and Cipher. 

Every action scene has an insane amount of weight and planning to them and are an absolute visual feast to watch on an IMAX screen. The climax is a specific highlight, with a dam blowing up, causing Dom to do a quasi-Demon Slayer breathing to glide the car onto a safe location. Again, they’re Gods. They’re not real people. Fast & Furious does not take place in an alternate Earth. Once you suspend your disbelief, the ride is much easier that way. The Fast & Furious franchise seems more in line with anime than anything else: dead characters frequently come back in painfully elaborate ways, previously unheard relatives show up and become the new “villain” our team of car Gods has to defeat through the power of Family. This is essentially every anime ever but with cars. 

Yes, Fast X has many inconsistencies. It has plenty of mediocre performances and egregious attempts at fan service, too. But it doesn’t matter. No one who pays money to see the TENTH installment in The Fast and the Furious watches the film for these reasons. It’s all about how the filmmakers do cool things with cars. If they nail that, simultaneously having each character utter the word “family” in every sentence, you have a great movie on your hands. And Fast X is a banger. Cars go brrrrrr and fly in nearly-indestructible fashion, it puts the F in Family, and Leterrier shows the world how skillful of a filmmaker he is behind the camera (and with drones!). What more could you ask for?

Grade: A-

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