“Everyone becomes family. It’s like a cult with cars.” That line from Alan Ritchson’s extremely-tan Aimes comes during the character’s Fast X introduction, a scene that essentially acts as a recap of the Fast & Furious franchise. While this might be seen as an olive branch to the uninitiated, Fast X is best viewed as a ride for just the existing family who have already formed their own very big Fast cult—and that’s OK.
Much has been made of how far Fast has strayed from the original film, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, in which a couple of amateur street racers stole DVD players—and the climactic scene was a quarter-mile race in Los Angeles. Fast-forward two decades, and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and company have flown cars (multiple times), jumped buildings, raced a submarine, and soared into space. Fast X director Louis Leterrier, who took over Fast when veteran Justin Lin suddenly departed the project, is a full-fledged member of the Fast fan cult. He promised a return to the early days of the franchise, and, specifically, street racing. Unfortunately, when your characters have suddenly become a mix of James Bond, Ethan Hunt, and the Incredible Hulk, the stakes have been raised to such a heightened level that a gritty, old-school race feels out of place.
But the Fast installment that X is most easily compared to isn’t The Fast and the Furious, but rather Fast Five. It probably isn’t the shadow you want to live in, considering Lin’s 2011 masterpiece is the consensus high point of the franchise, and one of the best action films of its time. With a script co-written by Lin, X opens by showing Five’s infamous safe heist through the streets of Rio de Janeiro via a new perspective: Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), the son of Five big bad Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). As seen in Five, Papa Reyes is killed. Dante is retconned into Fast and onto that bridge in Rio, as he barely survives. Jumping ahead 10 years, “the devil,” as he’s described by fellow villain Cipher (Charlize Theron), Dante lures Dom and the family to Rome to begin his vengeance tour. “Never accept death when suffering is owed,” he constantly declares.
There are at least five different movies going on within Fast X: reformed villain Jakob (John Cena) is now-jolly and fun-loving, and on a road trip with his nephew. Cipher and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are forced into a reluctant partnership (give us this spinoff!). Han (Sung Kang), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) are just kind of hanging out. For some reason, The Agency gets a full-blown expansion, featuring Aimes, Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), and Tess (Brie Larson). Then, by far, the most entertaining film-within-an-overstuffed film, is the cat-and-mouse game between Dom and Dante. There’s plenty of fun to be had in Fast X, whether it be Cipher and Letty’s brutal fight, or a never-ending pursuit of a bomb through Rome. While Fast X is far from reaching the heights of Fast Five, or one of the other top-tier Fasts, it does have something that the previous films can’t compete with: MOMOA.
[Jason Momoa’s Dante] paints the toenails of dead men, licks a hostage, and calls Dom a butthole.
Having now seen the film twice, it’s still hard to believe that Momoa’s hilariously weird and insane performance was allowed in a reported $340 million blockbuster. Here’s just a small list of things that Dante does in Fast X: he curtsies and says “enchanté” when he first meets Dom, paints the toenails of dead men, licks a hostage, and calls Dom a butthole. Still, that’s not even doing it justice. Momoa is the definition of going for it—and the Aquaman star being turned up to 100 is worth the price of admission alone.
Fast X is (allegedly) the penultimate installment of the series, and the first in a two-part grand finale. Leterrier isn’t afraid to fall back on using the earlier films as references and Easter eggs; diehards might not even catch the shoutout to Los Bandoleros, a 2009 short film written and directed by Diesel that served as a Fast 4 prequel. Some might think that it’s bad business to make a movie that might require homework or a working knowledge of the Fast Universe, but Fast X is the 10th film in a franchise that has raked in more than $6 billion around the globe—there’s an existing audience that has been locked in for 20 years. It’s unlikely that newcomers will finally give Fast a chance because, say, Rita Moreno is joining the family as Dom’s abuela. So you might as well appeal directly to those who have traveled from the streets of Los Angeles all the way to space.
That said, in comparison to the last film, F9, Fast X is an improvement. When positioned as a sequel to Fast Five, asking for judgement alongside that level of perfection, X falls short. Fast Five was a heist film that felt like a big departure from Fast 1, but it still had some of the same ingredients and heart. It worked because of the impressive, but practical, action set pieces and the beloved family all being together. (Plus Dwayne Johnson’s unforgettable Fast debut.) Meanwhile, X tries to recapture some of the Five magic, but with too much going on and the characters completely separated.
Then, suddenly, X remembers that it’s supposed to be the Infinity War to Fast X Part II’s Endgame, concluding with, at minimum, four major cliffhangers. The instinct is to leave the theater annoyed that you’ll be waiting two years for resolution, especially considering the obvious: the characters whose fates are left up in the air will survive. And yet, two shocking tags will have real fans buzzing on their way out. So, even if Fast X largely gives you the sense that the end of the road should be imminent, Part II is set up to be an epic swan song.
And yes, I can’t quit this cult.