The series leans ever harder into goofy maximalism with bigger stunts, an overwhelmingly huge cast, and Jason Momoa having the time of his life.
Let’s face it: At this point, you’re either in for the overamped, Saturday-morning-cartoon lunacy of a Fast and Furious movie or you’re not. Building from its humble roots as a 2001 street-racing Point Break riff to the gargantuan action tentpole it’s after a whopping ten movies (eleven if you count Hobbs & Shaw), the series has built quite the convoluted lore over the decades. There are dead characters who come back to life (Sung Kang‘s Han), living characters who can never come back because their actors are no longer with us (see: Paul Walker’s Brian), sworn enemies who join the familiar just one film later. It’s dudebro soap opera, fueled by nitrous oxide and every weird, bonkers thing the filmmakers can think to do with a car.
But every road (even the 28-mile runway the crew race down at the end of 6) has to reach its end, and Fast X begins to tease the final miles of Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) adventures. And it’s a ludicrously good time for the faithful, even as the wheels threaten to come off with every new twist, cameo, or winking nod to the series’ complicated history and well-trod narrative rhythms.
It’s the latter that provides X‘s basic plot framework: Flashing back to the thrilling safe-dragging climax of Fast Five (universally considered the point at which the series morphed into its current crowd-pleasing self), we learn that this triumphant moment for the series may have ushered in its eventual downfall. You see, the villain from the last one had a son, Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), now awkwardly pasted into the proceedings as if he were there the whole time. Seeing Dom kill his dad has set him off on a decade-long campaign of revenge, and the chickens are finally coming home to roost. Luring Dom and his team into a trap, Dante sends them all scattered across the globe, as they alternatingly flee from Dante’s forces and a now-antagonistic Agency (the group that hired them for international spy stuff the last few movies; I told you this was convoluted) who’s tired of covering for a group of grease monkeys with car-based superpowers.
If that sounds like a lot to take in, you’d be right; Fast X is meant to be the first in a now three-part finale for the series. This means star-producer Diesel and Now You See Me director Louis Leterrier (taking the wheel from franchise stalwart Justin Lin, who left the series just a couple weeks into filming after some alleged beef with Diesel) pull out all the stops, and by that I mean all of them. Old characters return for quick cameos, even ones you didn’t care about in the first place (remember Scott Eastwood from number 8? He’s back too, kinda!); a bevy of new characters assist the gang in their various corners of the globe; villains from the last several movies find themselves teamed up with side members of the gang for their own journeys; and the car-based mayhem is bigger and blow-ey-up-ey-er than ever.
At any one point, there are four or five major subplots to cut between, which leaves Fast X feeling more than a little scattered. Some are better than others — John Cena, the film’s previous villain, returns as a wisecracking uncle in a cute little double-act with Dom’s young son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry), which is adorable as long as you forget the Jakob of Fast X is a completely different, lighter character than his glowering turn in F9. The rest are varying shades of place-setting: Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) plans a jailbreak from an Agency black site with the help of Agency turncoat Tess (Brie Larson) another previous villain, Cipher (Charlize Theron), and the rest of the Scooby Gang (Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kang) go on the run to London, bickering and running into yet more previous villains meant to kick off further adventures in Fasts 11 and 12.
It’s all pretty leaden, leaving you feeling like the franchise is finally running out of gas, especially in its turgid first couple of acts. Sure, there are a few high-concept setpieces to keep you entertained: one of Dante’s first salvos against the crew happens in Rome, leaving them desperately racing to chase a giant rolling neutron-bomb down the Spanish Steps before it can blow up the Vatican. It’s accented by the usual CG plasticity, of course, but director Leterrier does his level best to keep things nice and snappy and accentuate the practical stunts that are there. (The final chase, a big bazooka dustup along desert roads with Cena’s “cannon car” pulling off all kinds of Looney-Tunes physics, is a hoot.)
But the bloated roster of characters means very few of them get all that much to do — least of all Diesel, whose idea of an aging, wisened Dom just means a few more wrinkles in his brow and a quieter, more wistful utterance of “family.” And apart from a half-hearted throughline about Roman questioning his leadership abilities for the B-team, everyone else is just pieces on a chessboard, waiting for their moment to pop up, do their thing, and get out again.
The sole (and vital) exception to this is Momoa, who’s having the absolute time of his life and wallpapers over much of the script’s weaknesses. It’s the first time a Furious villain actually seems like he’s having fun; with his skull rings, genderbending lavender blouses, and all-around peacocking attitude, Momoa’s Dante skips through this thing with all the chaotic glee of the Joker. (Ledger comparisons abound in other takes on this, but really, he’s more like Cesar Romero from the ’60s.) He cackles and grins maniacally through his shaggy goatee, and his verbal spars with the stone-faced Diesel almost feel like flirtation. Who knew that femme-coding one of the butchest action stars around would lead to such giddy results?
And yet, it’s hard not to feel like the franchise is losing its mojo in its final laps. Maybe that’s Lin’s absence; few directors, outside James Wan in Furious 7, have managed to recapture the high-gear joys of that glorious middle chapter in the franchise. As the stunts, the spectacle, and the family have all grown, so too have their ambitions, and the many plates they have to spin while still worshipping at the altar of Dominic Toretto. And here, especially as it revs up to a cliffhanger that will leave us all holding our breath until the next installment. It’s hard to gauge how well this will work in the grand scheme of things; that’ll have to wait till the whole trilogy is done. Until then, we’ve got to hope and pray that Diesel, Momoa, and the rest of the family get back in gear before the whole thing is done.
Fast X revs up its engines to crash into theaters May 19th.