Fast X is the first installment of a two-part finale for the original decades-spanning Fast and the Furious franchise. While it tries to operate as an homage to the series, the film can’t outrun the fact that it exists only as exposition for the series’ conclusion.
All good things must come to an end. Or at least start to come to an end. Fast X was originally supposed to be the final entry into the series, but to make more money and prevent audiences from having to sit through a 5-hour movie, they decided to break the final film into two parts. Part 2 is expected to be released in 2025. Of course there will be more spin-offs, reboots, etc. So, this really isn’t the end, but for all intents and purposes we’re supposed to treat it that way. Fast X is meant as a conclusion to the story of the main characters in the franchise, or at least the prelude to that ending.
Directed By: Louis Leterrier
Written By: Dan Mazeau, Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Momoa, John Cena
Release Date: May 19, 2023
The Fast and the Furious franchise is among the most fascinating in all of cinema. It reinvented itself several times along the way before landing on a formula that made big bucks and big waves in pop culture. By all accounts it should have died on the vine back in the early 2000’s, but by doubling down on brash car-fueled action set pieces and never really taking itself too seriously, it survived. Unlike the action-packed competition in Star Wars, the MCU, James Bond, or even Mission: Impossible, the F&F franchise prides itself on being mindless entertainment first and foremost. It’s an archaic type of cinematic pleasure that has not really worked out in today’s cinematic landscape as often as it had in the past.
With all that in mind, Fast X feels akin to a fumble on the goal line. It has several factors working against it which the previous films did not have to deal with, and in the face of those pressures it struggles. All of the series’ hallmarks are here; villains becoming allies and vice-versa, retconning the storylines of previous films to create new twists, underqualified street racers being tasked with matters of global security, and of course big dumb action sequences stubbornly based on cars. But none of this feels organic or as breezy as it did in the past. Fast X goes through the motions of the franchise in an effort solely to pay homage to the past, rather than for the thrill of it.
You can tell right from the opening of the film. Rather than seeing our heroes caught up in a new and exciting mission, it shows us something we’ve already seen before; a flashback to a heist sequence from a film that was released 12 years ago. Heist victim and drug lord Herman Reyes may have died in Fast Five, but he has a son (Dante – Jason Momoa) who has sworn revenge on Dom and his team. His retribution is to inflict maximum pain and suffering, not just kill Don, and so he makes an effort to track down Dom’s family and friends. With a well-funded and sophisticated plan, he sets a number of traps and double crosses to force Dom, his team, and his family to run for their lives.
In the process of trying to track down Dante while simultaneously escaping to safety, Dom’s team must split up into (literally) all corners of the globe. Clearly the filmmakers are trying to stretch out the story and give all of the major characters their own minute to shine, but the problem with this approach is the film ends up with a scatterbrained narrative. The audience gets whiplash from the way the film jumps between storylines to show us one tiny scene at a time. It isn’t difficult to follow, but becomes taxing and saps any emotion out of what could have been a thrilling globe-hopping fight for survival.
Fast X is so focused on setting up the next installment that it seemingly forgets how to have fun. I am aware that 75% of the previous films spent their time setting up the franchise’s trademark hairbrained action sequences like Michael Bay-inspired games of chess, but this is different. As much as you could level fair criticism against the franchise’s harebrained writing, you couldn’t deny the freewheeling appeal and effortless way it embraced what it was. Fast X is trying too hard to inject emotion and stakes into a franchise where that was never really a concern in the first place.
For as often as Dom preached his value of family above all else, he was never shy to put them in catastrophic situations that could have easily been avoided. This was like an inside joke that allowed the franchise to be propelled to preposterous new heights. But suddenly with Fast X family matters more than it did before. It’s like the series has thrived so long being tongue-in-cheek that it can’t really operate with tongue out of cheek. Which is strange because other creative choices suggest the franchise is trying to go in the opposite direction. Caught in the middle of the inconsistent writing and tone is the audience who isn’t sure if we’re supposed to cheer, cry, or laugh.
The conflict of interest includes the action set pieces, which have been the main draw to Fast and Furious films for at least the last decade. They are as physics-defying, car-crazed, and ridiculous as ever, but they come across as more mute in comparison to what the franchise has done before (with the possible exception of an early sequence in Rome). Part of the problem is the way the franchise has had to out-do its increasingly insane stunts for each successive film. At some point there is an inflection point of diminishing returns where we become immune to the excessiveness. In maintaining the film’s role as epitaph of the series, it simultaneously tries to create sequences which echo the highlights of the previous films. The issue is we’ve seen those already, and seeing something a second time will never be as exciting as the first. Which means somehow the action sequences in Fast X are both pushing too far and holding something back.
I expect that is because we’re going to see some very crazy things in the finale. But speaking of crazy, we need to talk about Jason Momoa. In Fast X he portrays Dante Reyes as a psychopathic, sometimes macho, sometimes effeminate, scene-chewing mastermind. I’ve seen apt comparisons to The Joker or some of John Malkovich’s more flamboyant turns at antagonists. Point is, this is the first performance in the series that somehow matches the franchise’s silliness. While everyone else (maybe except for The Rock/Dwayne Johnson) plays their character with a straight face, Mamoa is openly embracing the ridiculousness that is a Fast and Furious movie.
Does it work? Maybe. I am caught on the fence. Certainly Dante is different from any antagonist we have seen in the franchise so far, and he is by far the most entertaining aspect of Fast X. But with this performance the franchise might cross the line to becoming a parody of itself. By leaning hard into the nonsense rather than just glossing over it, Fast X feels inconsistent. Not only contrasting with the previous films against which it is supposed to honor, but also within the high-stakes emotional tone the film is trying to create. Not that previous Fast & Furious movies specifically took themselves seriously, but if the franchise were to become comedy it would lose the so-bad-it’s-good appeal.
By walking a fine line in so many areas, Fast X seems to tempt the wind which has filled the franchise’s sails for so long. It seems risky to try this now, in the penultimate chapter. It wasn’t like the franchise was struggling by essentially repeating its beats over and over for the last decade. But at the same time I realize Fast X is only half of the story. It could all make sense in the final chapter, and so I am willing to cut it some slack in that regard for now. Still, I have to render my verdict looking at what is available to me at this time, and unfortunately Fast X just isn’t as cohesive, well-written, or exciting as it should have been.