Whenever the Fast and Furious film franchise found itself at a crossroads, it reinvented itself by subverting subgenres and twisting continuity to keep the race going. So even though it started out as a cult classic commentary on the street racing culture, it has since become an action-packed genre-hopping phenomenon going into overdrive. And despite all the crazed stunts involving wild bank heists, cars racing submarines, and taking a car into space, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) never forgot about his family. So it only makes sense that the franchise switches things up once more for “Fast X,” the tenth installment of the Fast and Furious franchise in its 20-plus year run.
Justin Lin is partially responsible for taking the Fast and Furious franchise to where it is today, directing nearly half of the entries. So even if he took a step back from directing “Fast X” because of creative differences, he is still a part of the film in spirit. So many of those themes we are familiar with, and the witty banter is still there. Tej and Roman are still at each other’s throats, Dom delivers corny wisdom without breaking a sweat, and Han is still snacking – although one would make us take another look at muffins. And while family serves as the beating heart of the latest entry, director Louis Leterrier punches up the action by grounding the crew to where it all started while continuing to defy the laws of gravity and god.
And with each new installment that has come out in the past 20-plus years, there has been an expectation that the stunt work must be bigger and better than the previous ones. But, of course, that is nearly impossible to do since “F9” took Dom and the family to the stars. This is after pulling a vault out of a wall, racing on an endless runway, and battling a submarine. Anything less than going up into space seems less than anything the franchise has already pulled off. Yet, Lin, Dan Mazeau, and Zach Dean’s script remind us there is no limit to what this family can do while recognizing the absurdity of what’s going on through meta-comedy and some one-line zingers. Then, of course, things start to get serious when the unstoppable force known as Dom meets the immovable sociopathic Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), the son of drug lord Hernan Reyes, seeking revenge against Dom and his crew for losing his family’s fortune during the events of Fast Five.
“Fast X” opens with a flashback toward the end of “Fast Five,” where Dom and his crew are pulling off a bank heist in Rio de Janeiro. While most would know of Dom’s success in pulling out a vault from a wall and dragging it through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, what they didn’t see is how Dante failed to protect his father and his inheritance to a drug empire. With much of what happened out-of-sight coming to light, the extra scenes help shape the film’s story and give Dante the necessary motivation to break Dom’s family into pieces.
Flash forward to today, Dom is passing off his knowledge of cars and racing to Little Dom (Leo Abelo Perry) by doing donuts just outside of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Though this seems like a warm family moment, Brian still has a lot to learn about the art of racing and that there’s nothing wrong with being afraid. Though things seem quiet at the moment, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Han (Sung Kang) are about to head off on a mission to Rome using intel from the agency. Little do they know it is a trap set by Dante, who has successfully heisted Cipher’s (Charlize Theron) team by holding their family members hostage. The man is just as unhinged as he is flashy, killing off Cipher’s henchmen with a killer sense of style and flair and having no qualms about the body count he racks up. He even has fun toying with their lives and reducing the hacker/terrorist into nothing. But that is merely part one of his overly complicated but ingenious, in his mind, plan. Cipher warns Dom of Dante’s plans to get revenge, so he and Letty fly off to Rome to save Tej, Roman, Ramsey, and Han.
From there, it gets convoluted, with Dante trying to keep Dom separated from his family as much as possible to make him choose who to save. While Dante may be ahead of his enemy, Dom has certain contingencies to keep little Brian safe. That includes having Jakob come to the rescue to protect little Brian and Mia. Meanwhile, Dom gets an unexpected assist from Tess (Brie Larson), a spymaster and the daughter of Mr. Nobody. Also there to help is Isabel, a Rio de Janeiro street racer with powerful ties to Dom’s past.
There is a sense of separation anxiety that starts to kick in during “Fast X.” Though we’ve seen them split into different groups in other films, we get to see how strong of a unit they are when Dom isn’t around to protect them. In addition, the split allows for more redemptive moments for some formally unredeemable characters. For Jakob, he comes to little Brian’s rescue by fighting Agency agents in Dom’s home. And Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) reconnects with the fan-favorite snack-eating Han even though they hate each other.
Much of the film requires its audience to keep up with the zany pacing that comes with the intense globetrotting and crazy action sequences. With Dante keeping as many parties separated, it’s almost impossible to make sense of what’s going on, much less link everything together in chronological order or something that resembles it. Then again, trying to find the logic of it all is futile. It’s not going to matter anyway because the story is a non-factor. The film would rather rush into the next brawl or car chase. But, of course, even the best car chases and stunts can’t hold a candle to Dante’s robust and colorful posturing.
Dante is unhinged at best, with a sense of style that is as bright as his homicidal personality. Unfortunately, the film reveals much of that sociopathic nature comes from a spoiled upbringing and his dad having to bail him out of detention centers. It’s not as though he is ungrateful, though. On the contrary, Dante would do anything to protect his father, which makes his vengeance all the more justified. And as wild and unpredictable as he is, he makes for a fascinating new entry to a franchise that needed a breath of fresh air. How he dispenses with his enemies easily and flair is quite fun to watch. And how he toys around with those who outlived their usefulness is equally twisted but humorous. He treats bodies as toys by painting their nails with lavender nail polish and soldiers as if there were his playthings. The way he even caresses guns is off-kilter. But it plays up to the cheesy villain role.
The whole idea revolves around seeking revenge for losing his family’s fortune from the heist in Rio de Janeiro. He knows everyone involved and will do anything to break Dom and his family apart. While Dom is usually the calm and more collected patriarch, Dante is the eccentric and flashy disgraced heir with a vendetta. It’s the perfect foil. And for a film that has built its entire franchise on the back of one character, to have a villain steal the show in such a way is exactly what this tired franchise needed.
“Fast X” wants us to be even more invested in Dom’s family as the franchise races to the end. This latest installment of the Fast and Furious franchise has a sense of finality even though it serves as a full circle moment for “Fast Five” and part one of a larger story. Lin’s script assures us that Dom’s story is nearing its end by bringing as much of the gang back together as possible while also keeping them apart. Unfortunately, that separation does hurt the flow of the film and the screen time for some of the other characters. Still, they do the best with what they’ve got. Michelle Rodriguez still looks cool playing the hero as she rides on a motorcycle to stop a rolling bomb from exploding. Unfortunately, it’s an extended and overly excessive sequence that keeps going without any sign of stopping. Cena is unquestionably funnier this time around, playing as the fun uncle. With Little Brian as his passenger, Cena shows his nephew that there is more to life than fast cars. He drops a few life lessons about when it’s okay to drop an F-bomb and how cassette mixtapes are still cool. He even gets his nephew in on the action as they take out the enemy in their discount Mad Max car that fires explosive shells.
For a franchise that has built its entire legacy on raising expectations and making the stunts crazier than the next, “Fast X” takes a very grounded approach to the action and emotion. In a way, it’s a back-to-basics story that doesn’t forget that it’s all about family but still has plenty of fun with the stunts. We can see the obligatory street races, but now there’s more emotion to it because there’s something at stake. And Lin’s humor tends to sneak its way into the action.
After a few wacky and hair-brained installments that saw Dom and his family steal bank vaults, fight submarines, and go to space, “Fast X” returns to familiar ground. But it is still trying to be as excessive as possible with its action sequences, even outside its vehicular set pieces. We see Dom lift a car upright on his own, using only his willpower, as Dante’s soldiers lay a barrage of gunfire upon him. Then there’s Jakob tearing up Dom’s LA home as he slams one Agency agent through the floor. These films as chaos personified. Nothing makes sense. There’s no self-restraint. It’s all or nothing. But that makes these films such an absolute blast to watch on the big screen. It’s pure popcorn fun, even if there’s no logic to it.
Fast X in theaters May 19, 2023