Fast X review – stupidly entertaining sequel offers more of the same
Vin Diesel et al return for an overstuffed Fast and Furious chapter that delivers giddily effective action but an outsized and silly villain
The Fast & Furious franchise reached the ideal level of sublime ridiculousness with Fast Five, which brought Dom Toretto, Brian O’Conner and four films’ worth of gearhead rogues together for a compact heist thriller that’s basically Ocean’s Eleven with cars. It peaks with the ultimate smash-and-grab job, as Dom and Brian attach a giant bank vault to their Dodge Chargers and drag it through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, occasionally thwacking their pursuers like an improvised wrecking ball. The films that followed have tried nobly to top the simple, lizard-brain pleasure of this moment – the skydiving cars in Furious 7 come the closest – but recent entries have started to grind like metal-on-metal, scrambling to figure out how to top itself.
Fast X seems to recognize Fast Five as the top of the franchise bell curve, because it starts there, by retconning a super-villain out of a previous villain’s son. (It turns out there are unforeseen consequences for killing a crime boss with a flying bank vault.) By flashing back to the heist sequence, the film also announces itself as a return to the giddy excesses of the series’ best moments, embracing high camp and cartoonishly destructive violence while leaving behind the glum tone of entries like The Fate of the Furious. It may be dumb as a box of rocks, but there’s still something irresistibly vulgar about a film that nearly blows up the Vatican as a throat-clearing exercise.
After yadda-yadda-ing through an eye-rolling paean to “family”, which have become as obligatory to the series as James Bond’s martini order, Fast X works quickly to set up a multi-film arc around Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), the vengeful son of Rio kingpin Herman Reyes. With a nasty sadistic streak and his father’s incalculable wealth at his disposal, Dante doesn’t seek merely to kill Dom, but make him and his associates suffer for his own personal amusement. He doesn’t mind an entire city suffering, too: after luring the team on a fake agency mission to Rome, he activates a bomb in a massive circular casing that rolls down the street like the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark, leaving a trial of destruction across the ancient city. It’s only through Dom and company’s heroics that we still have a pope.
From there, Fast X labors to assemble a cast of characters that’s swollen like a wasp bite over 10 films, in part because the series is so notoriously reluctant to kill any of them off – at least permanently. So new-ish additions like Charlize Theron as cyberterrorist Cipher, John Cena as Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob, Scott Eastwood as beefy law enforcement agent Little Nobody, and Helen Mirren as Queenie Shaw, the militia-woman mother of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), are all back, and more familiar faces are added, like Brie Larson as Mr Nobody’s daughter and Rita Moreno in the purely ceremonial role of a Toretto “abuelita”. That’s a lot of narrative mouths to feed, on top of the legacy characters and the film’s solution is to cut frantically through half a dozen subplots at once.
Director Louis Leterrier has a long track record of mediocre blockbusters to his credit, including the Edward Norton version of The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans and Now You See Me, but in taking the reins from Justin Lin, Leterrier adopts a tone closer to his Transporter 2, which remains one of Statham’s better vehicles. His camera pirouettes wildly around the action – Leterrier is as addicted to drunk aerial shots as Max Ophüls was to dolly tracks – and he leans into the comic absurdity as much as possible, leaving the physics of suspense to the Mission: Impossible franchise. Dom and his friends treat missions like arcade games where they have all the cheat codes.
The anything-goes mentality that drives Fast X backfires a little with Momoa, whose conception of Dante as a mincing, androgynous chaos demon owes a debt to Nicolas Cage in Face/Off and Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, but leans uncomfortably into the gay killer archetype. In a series that celebrates tough-guy bravado, Dante represents a feminized reactionary threat, though the bigger problem here is that Momoa isn’t as gifted as Cage or Depp at devouring the scenery. He’s not as dull as Theron’s whispery Lecter-isms in the previous two entries, but he lurches in the opposite direction, plotting the apocalypse in pigtails, nail polish and an array of half-buttoned satin shirts.
Still, there’s no better approach to a franchise this creatively exhausted than to stab it and steer. Like every Fast & Furious movie, Fast X wedges in a street race with sleek muscle cars and low-angle shots of hot spectators, but these films have long since ballooned into the über-action blockbuster series, a junk-food binge of world-saving, city-razing international spy missions never imagines a crash that can’t be survived or a dilemma that a nitro-boost can’t solve. It’s the type of bone-stupid enterprise where locations are established first by characters saying they’re going to Rome, then by helicopter shots of the Colosseum and other major landmarks and then by the title “ROME” in giant, screen-filling letters. Fast X has enough joyful self-awareness that resistance becomes futile. At a certain point, it feels better to give in and smile.