Fast X (2023)
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenwriters: Dan Mazeau, Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Alan Ritchson, Brie Larson, Jason Momoa
The Fast and Furious franchise has never remained stagnant. The films began with a cop infiltrating a gang and then becoming friends with them, and generally stuck to crime and tuner culture around the world before becoming a new beast with Fast Five. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s first installment took the action-oriented franchise to a new level of absurdity, making the films about stars, stunts, and family (/Vin Diesel’s ultra-serious performances that make for excellent memes). Furious 7 went to another level of crazy, not to mention its need to serve as a tribute to Paul Walker, and subsequent films have attempted to either maintain or top what fans now expect from the franchise.
Fast X is the first film that really lives up to the legacy created by Five and 7, and features perhaps the greatest performance in the series.
Fast X follows Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family as they face Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), the son of Fast Five’s antagonist (Joaquim de Almeida). The opening sequence follows Five’s climax through a new set of eyes to introduce Jason Momoa as Reyes, and to show how he became the character he is in the present day. The Toretto family has to overcome separation and strife as they fight to reunite against this formidable foe.
Jason Momoa doesn’t only stand out amongst the performers and characters in the film, he stands out from the entire franchise. Contrasted with the stony seriousness of Vin Diesel and Jason Statham, Momoa’s flamboyant, Joker-esque villain strays from the franchise’s traditional portrayal of masculinity, and he’s a joy to watch. In an early scene, Dante uses a computer to remote control vehicles, and Momoa manages to make mostly standing still entertaining with his grand motions and flair as the conductor of chaos. His outfits, nails, accessories and purple muscle cars make for a unique villain within the franchise, but they do prompt the question of what it means for the brunt of the franchise’s male queer-coded characterization to be embodied in a villain.
As for the family, their performances and arcs match expectations, and set things up for the series’ next two films. Vin Diesel is doing Shakespeare with cars, and while his arc is similar to what occurs in Fate of the Furious (2017), his relative isolation makes more sense from a character perspective in X. Roman, Tej, Ramsey and Han remain together through the story with their comic exploits and thrilling action moments, but the best moments follow Little Brian Toretto, who is surely being set up to be the protagonist of a legacy series once this saga comes to a close. Young Leo Abelo Perry fits right in, and shows strong chemistry with his adult co-stars.
But people aren’t coming to Fast and Furious movies for the acting, they’re coming to see the action. And the action delivers.
Director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, The Takedown) brought plenty of action experience to the table, and there is hardly a moment where the film lets up, minimizing plot and exposition overall. This film was always a “part one” of a finale, but it’s no Breaking Dawn, Mockingjay, or Deathly Hallows. It delivers a full film experience instead of preparation and wandering with a couple of token “exciting” scenes before allowing part 2 to deliver what people really want. There’s a traditional racing scene that honors the roots of the series, and giant, ridiculous set pieces that show cars doing things they can only do in the Fast and Furious movies. There’s nothing more fans could ask for, unless one is interested in continuing the ultra insanity of flying cars into space…
Things remain at least somewhat grounded in comparison to that, but contributing to the over-the-top nature of Fast X are intertextual inserts of the previous films. How do the Agency or the bad guys have footage from the earlier movies to play on loop in their base? Some may call it dumb, but it’s a filmmaking tool that reinforces the absurdity of the entire work.
This is a solid entry into the franchise, and what makes it so is its exploration of the series’ ethos. Fast X seems to question its predecessor’s lack of thought for collateral damage, and addresses this in its own way by having Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto saving people from fire by driving a car over them, or saving dogs by diverting incoming danger with his Charger (also, this film seems to confirm that Dom has a Charger in every country on Earth, just in case). It’s a more subtle version of what Zack Snyder attempted to do by emptying a metro area for Batman and Superman to fight in after receiving criticism for Superman’s mass destruction in Man of Steel, and it’s more impressive because Fast and Furious answered their questions without outside influence. Vin Diesel and (to an extent) the production crew are the only people who really take these films seriously, so the fact that Fast X addresses what it means for Dom to save someone, how he decides to, and why he even has that power, defies expectations in the best way possible. It’s like when the MCU asked questions in Civil War or Far from Home, but it seems the self-critical themes of this film may actually carry over into the sequels.
Fast X is like many other Fast and Furious movies, but it’s also a majestic beast in its own right. The franchise is filling the void of cinematic Star Wars with its exciting action, futuristic tech, and big star features, and Fast X ultimately shows how the franchise is willing to continually change and evolve to meet the desires of modern audiences. Whether or not you like it may depend on your willingness to suspend disbelief and join the cult with cars, but there’s no doubt this film is an improvement on its most recent predecessors. No other action film series is so unabashedly fun, thrilling, and self-aware, and Fast X accomplishes exactly what is needed to continue that.