While delighting in Fast X like a kid with a giant bucket of popcorn and Milk Duds, I remarked to my friend and colleague Jen Chaney that the moment this franchise broke free from the shackles of logic was in Fast Five. You probably know the scene, too, when Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and the fam raced away with an entire stolen vault of money from Brazilian crime kingpin Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Ironic, because that moment was the catalyst for everything that happens in this latest film, the tenth in the epic 22-year race and (for now) the penultimate chapter. From that scene on, these movies have never cared one wit about what makes sense, and it’s to their credit that we as its fans no longer care, either. Cars in outer space? Sure. Former garage mechanics manning nuclear submarines? Okay, whatever. People coming back from the dead? We’re down for any and all of it.
Now, imagine that this franchise, with all of the ludicrous shit it’s done over the years, only has two movies to cram as much ludicrosity (That’s not a word but I’m running with it.) as possible. That’s basically what Fast X is, as not a lot makes any kind of sense but you won’t care because it’s all too Goddamned fun and exciting to deny. There’s bombastic and then there’s this, with so many car crashes and explosions per-minute they make Michael Bay feel woefully inadequate. In numerous ways this is to be expected. For the first time in a long time, these movies have a legit action filmmaker in Louis Leterrier. This guy doesn’t do anything else well other than craft ridiculous set pieces (he directed Now You See Me and Incredible Hulk) and make muscular bald-headed dudes look like gods (and also Transporter 2), so he’s right in the proverbial wheelhouse.
The story is absurd and demands that you be an expert at the Fast & Furious trivia game to understand what the Hell is going on. Even those of us who have studied these movies ad nauseum can get knocked loopy by some of it, while convenient editing of footage attempts to make it all seamless. Picking up from those events in Fast Five, the death of Reyes leads to the emergence of his vengeful son, Dante, played by Jason Momoa doing what I can only describe as the RuPaul’s Drag Race version of Jared Leto’s Joker. I’m pretty sure they gave Momoa zero notes on this performance. Dante is both menacing and fabulous, the first truly unique character to hit these movies in ages. He makes a statement by putting a hurt on the villainous Cipher (Charlize Theron) so bad that she comes running to archnemesis Dom for help. He’s skeptical, given that she murdered his ex-wife and mother to his son Brian Marcos (Leo Abelo Perry), but soon it becomes clear that Cipher is telling the truth.
Dom has a lot more to worry about this time, and you can probably guess what this is in a single word: FAMILY. Yes, “family”, literally mentioned in various languages no less than 17 times and possibly more since I gave up counting near the end. With Dom’s son growing up, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) by his side, sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) off doing who knows what with her husband Brian O’Connor eternally out getting groceries (They should’ve killed Brian off years ago, sorry to say. His absence is just weird.), newly rehabilitated little bro Jakob (John Cena), and now grandmother Abuelita (Rita Moreno) saying grace over the dinner table, the Toretto clan could now field a baseball team if it wanted to. A lot of narrative cartwheels are done to connect these characters together by blood, and that includes the infamous Shaw family (Jason Statham, Helen Mirren), all of which find themselves at odds with Dante, who seeks revenge for his own family. Having been retroactively added to past footage, Dante now has years of pent-up rage to unleash and a lot of psychopathic urges to indulge.
Fast & Furious once had a gritty, street-level nobility that drove (no pun intended) the first few movies to varying degrees of success. That’s long gone, replaced by what is essentially Mission: Impossible on four wheels, with ever-escalating spectacle in the place of storyline cohesion. In this case, one of the huge sequences finds Dom and his team chasing down a flaming bomb as it hurtles towards the Vatican, unleashed by Dante in an effort to wipe out Han (Sung Kang), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson), who has deluded himself into thinking he can lead this mission with any degree of success.
After so long, you sorta forget just how many characters are part of this universe, until Fast X slaps you over the head and reminds you of each and every one of them. Even a side character like Kurt Russell’s clandestine Mr. Nobody has spawned a little mini-universe of his own. Brie Larson turns up the star power for a glorified bit role as Tess, Mr. Nobody’s daughter who also works for the mysterious Agency, while Scott Eastwood is “Little Nobody”, a sort of generic functionary only notable because he’s played by Eastwood. There’s also refrigerator-sized Jack Reacher star Alan Ritchson as Aimes, who has taken control over the Agency and turned its considerable resources against Dom, making life even more difficult.
It used to be that critics would say “If you like one you’ll like them all’ when it came to these movies, but Fate of the Furious was so terrible it put an end to that lazy analysis that too was guilty of. While F9 reached a farcical apex with a literal trip into outer space, Fast X is comparatively grounded in terms of stakes. This isn’t a case of the entire world being in jeopardy, although the world is nonetheless scarred by billions of dollars in property damage. The story here is a deeply personal one that strikes at the movies’ core theme. Family has its benefits, but also its share of pain. One consistent narrative is that every character that enters Dom’s orbit becomes a part of that family, but there has to be a breaking point. Not everyone can have the family’s best interests at heart, and what happens when that is someone close to Dom’s inner circle? The script, crafted together by Dan Mazeau and previous director Justin Lin, is arguably the worst and most expository yet. But it doesn’t really have much choice in being that way, and at this point lousy writing is part of the charm. You don’t even really notice it until you get legends like Moreno and Mirren spouting nonsense.
There are too many guest stars to list, and some shock twists that will have longtime fans literally screaming in their seats. I know, because I did at least twice. Whether Fast X is the start of a two-part finale or the first leg of a new trilogy, we don’t know, but this film is everything you’ve come to love and hate about Fast & Furious all condensed and powered by rocket fuel. My suggestion is that you see it with others who also live their lives a quarter mile at a time, and who pray at the altar of Dom’s indestructible Dodge Charger. Fast X is overstuffed and over-the-top fan service, and after more than two decades this franchise knows how to keep its fans on the edge of their seats.
Fast X hits theaters on May 19th.