"Fast X" stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, John Cena, Jason Momoa, Brie Larson, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, and Charlize Theron. Released on May 19, 2023, the film has Dominic Toretto and his crew battling a ruthless revenge-seeking foe from their past.
The film is directed by Louis Leterrier, who also directed films such as "The Transporter", "Unleashed", "The Incredible Hulk", "Now You See Me", and "The Takedown". It is the eleventh film in the "Fast & Furious" franchise. It's been said that all roads lead somewhere, but some roads lead to the end. This weekend sees the Fast family taking the latter as we're nearing the conclusion of the absurd and action-packed saga that started two decades ago. Yes, we've been down this path for the past couple of installments, but then Hollywood said otherwise. However, it looks like they're taking this phrase seriously this time, with the franchise's tenth film promising us that the end of the road begins now. But, of course, from what we've learned from these types of movies, nothing screams "the end of a saga" without a massive threat looking to destroy its cast of characters, possibly for good. From the looks of the marketing, the film definitely has that "nearing the end of the franchise" vibe despite the plot being similar to the previous installments. But does it have enough mileage to continue the film series' final legs? Let's rev up our engines and find out.
The story continues the high-octane adventures of Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his family, including his wife, Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez), and son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry). Their latest mission pits the team against a ruthless, dangerous foe, Dante Reyes (Momoa). Dante is seeking revenge for the loss of his family's fortunes that Toretto's crew stole in Rio de Janeiro years ago. He's also the son of drug lord Hernan Reyes. Dante's sadistic personality and path of revenge put the entire world and Dom's family in jeopardy, forcing them to go on the run. Even worse is that their old enemy, Cipher (Theron), suddenly returns. Dom must now rely on some new and familiar faces, like Deckard Shaw (Statham) and Mr. Nobody's daughter Tess (Larson), to protect his family and prevent Dante from hurting the ones closest to him.
It's no secret that "Fast & Furious" has been undeniably ridiculous and irresistibly entertaining since "Fast Five" changed the franchise's game for the better. After ditching the car racing elements to put more emphasis on the action and globe-trotting lunacy, the franchise had quickly become an insane roller coaster full of silliness and family melodrama that we can't help but love. They even took the Fast family into outer space in the previous installment. Yes, you read that right, outer flipping space. If that isn't enough to convince you how far this series has come in breaking the laws of realism and physics, then you haven't watched enough movies. Sure, the physics-defying stunts may have become too absurd for those already tired of the franchise. However, they usually have enough gas in their tank to give fans fun and thrilling theatrical experiences free from real-life problems. That's part of the reason why I enjoyed "F9", even though it didn't beat out "Furious 7" as my favorite installment.
If you've watched the previous "Fast & Furious" installments, including "F9", you'll quickly understand that "Fast X" has a similar goal in mind. That goal, in particular, is to provide a ludicrously insane and entertaining ride involving Vin Diesel battling a bomb as massive as the boulder from "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Unsurprisingly, "Fast X" accomplishes this goal easily, for better or worse. Was it an action classic like "John Wick"? Nope, not even close. Was it one of the better theatrical experiences of 2023? Absolutely. Like the previous installments, "Fast X" delivers on the ridiculousness of its stunts and action set pieces, but it also maintains the fun and hilarity of watching the fireworks fly. By "fireworks", I mean gunfire, cars crashing, and explosions big enough to make Michael Bay pleasure himself with glee. More importantly, it still contains the self-awareness of how far the franchise has come, which is enough to balance the melodrama between the action. If that's your thing, you might be pleased with this latest installment in the self-titled "Fast Saga".
It's easy to say that "Fast X" checks off the list of how to provide audiences with a thrilling and satisfyingly fun experience, even if it's far from perfect. However, I would also add that the film is a major step up from "F9". One reason is the story's bold direction for the franchise's formula. The last couple of movies after "Furious 7" offer plots involving Dom's family at risk of being broken by their villainous foes, including Cipher and Jakob from "F9", forcing themselves to challenge their beliefs. While these challenges made these movies entertaining and sometimes heartfelt, they don't have as much momentum in their storytelling to be as mind-blowing as the stunts. Fortunately, "Fast X" corrected this mistake by providing a refreshing take on the franchise's usual narrative that's convincing enough to be surprising. It features an antagonist that poses an actual threat to Dom and his crew compared to Cipher and an ending that's genuinely fitting for its self-awareness.
One of the best parts of the film's direction is Dom. We've seen Dom facing the sins of his actions in the last few installments, which created a few of his enemies. "Fast X" expands on that, with Dom further questioning his belief in faith while struggling to protect his family from Dante. He's put into a position where he might not be able to save everyone, forcing himself to face his fear of losing someone he cares about again. Dom may be a superhuman who can survive almost everything, but when it comes to protecting his loved ones, he's a vulnerable family man stuck in a complicated position. The vulnerability makes Dom a relatable and caring character for me, and Vin Diesel cares enough to represent that side of Dom regarding his performance.
As for how the screenplay turned out, it has moments of familiar melodrama and silly dialogue, which is far from a surprise. However, it was balanced well with the film's ability to provide heart, charisma, and even some high stakes and surprises. Unfortunately, the only minor issue I had was the pacing. Despite being close to two and a half hours long, the movie zoomed by like it was twenty minutes less. On the one hand, it helps keep the audience entertained without getting bored by its exposition. But, on the other hand, it can also be understandably exhausting since the action leaves little room for the dialogue scenes to breathe as much as they want. It didn't bother me as much as the pacing in "Super Mario Bros", but I can admit that it could've left a little more breathing room without expanding its runtime.
One of the things I love about the franchise is the cast. They always provide a shining moment or two regarding their performances and irresistible chemistry, whether during an action scene or a comical moment. They're like an actual family, but they're not blood-related. Additionally, the franchise never fails to expand this family further as it progresses. "Fast X" is no different, although it does feel a bit overstuffed compared to its predecessors. As mentioned earlier, Vin Diesel did a good job portraying Dom's vulnerability amid his loyalty to family and faith. Tyrese Gibson still delivered the chuckles as Roman Pearce, who's facing the dilemma of being a leader. I also enjoyed John Cena as Jakob and his cute moments with Brian, even if they take up some of the film's runtime. Charlize Theron also continued to deliver the goods as Cipher, who's promoted to a kick-ass yet devious terrorist instead of a mastermind who sits on the sidelines.
But what about the film's antagonist Dante, played by Mr. Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa? I've heard from other people that he's the best part of the film, and after watching his performance unfold, I would have to agree. As much as I enjoyed Momoa playing serious and macho characters, it was refreshing to see the actor spread his wings and have fun playing a sadistic bad guy. Like the movie, Momoa embraces the villain's lunacy and charismatic energy in his delightful performance. In addition to Momoa's sublime performance, the film made Dante feel like a force to be reckoned with compared to the other "Fast & Furious" villains, who were more down-to-Earth. I won't tell you exactly why without spoiling anything, but I will say that he does many horrible things that'll make you both love and hate him.
However, despite its impressive lineup, some of its supporting members were surprisingly underused. One example is Brie Larson as Tess, the daughter of Mr. Nobody who allies with Dom and his family. She's only in a few scenes, including the ones where she helped Dom and Letty, and that's it. Larson was tolerable in the role, but none of her moments shined as much as the main cast. Since this is only part one of the franchise's three-part finale, I'm withholding my full judgment until I see whether she'll return in future installments.
Finally, there's the action sequences. "Fast X" is another undeniable box of physics-defying stunts that'll make the "Mythbusters" hosts sweat bullets and leave scientists baffled. It's crazy, it's dumb, and it's satisfyingly glorious. It maintains the intensity of the stunts and violence but doesn't force itself to go big on the action set pieces like "F9" did. Trust me, going into space should remain the last thing the franchise can do regarding its ridiculousness meter. But how did Louis Leterrier handle the action scenes? Well, he has made enough decent movies in the past, including "The Transporter", for me to have some confidence in him taking over the franchise for Justin Lin. While his direction for the action wasn't as unique as James Wan's take in "Furious 7" regarding its close-up shots and CGI effects, it impressed me to the point where I was okay with Leterrier directing the next one.
Overall, "Fast X" kicks off the franchise's final race with a constantly thrilling and satisfyingly ludicrous installment that shifts its "high stakes" gear up to "drive". It has a couple of speed bumps that'll turn away people who are already done with the franchise, such as the pacing, the absurd stunts, and some underused supporting characters. However, they barely make a scratch on this vehicle, as it provided a chapter that genuinely felt like the end of the road has begun but also provided some bold choices that'll likely come into play in future movies. Because of this, along with its cast, Leterrier's direction, fun action scenes, and some shocking surprises, "Fast X" marks a significant improvement over "The Fate of the Furious" and "F9". However, it doesn't top "Furious 7" as the best in the franchise in my book, but it came close. As I said before, fans of the franchise will likely have a great time with this as much as I did despite its flaws. If not, then there's not much besides its bold story choices to make them want to get back in this car again.