Movie Review: “Fast X”

There are two distinct reviews one could write of “Fast X,” the newest entry in the “Fast & Furious” franchise. Neither review would be untrue, but they still would seemingly be at odds with one another.

The first of the reviews would explain how the plot doesn’t make any sense. It would describe a series of story threads that are left dangling, perhaps for the sequel or perhaps simply forgotten. It would explain the inane physics on display in the movie. It would even go into the fact that director Louis Leterrier—in his first time helming a movie in the series—sometimes loses jokes or great action moments in an effort to keep the momentum going, that some of the best bits don’t hit as hard as they might because he simply does not (cannot?) stop the film in order to let them. That review may even go as far as to state that the franchise’s center, Vin Diesel, proves himself to be the weakest point of the whole endeavor, the one person in the cast who doesn’t seem to get it; that the movie might be better without Dominic Toretto.

The other review would say that “Fast X” shows a 20-year-old franchise that is still at the top of its game. It would go into the completely wonderful, over-the-top set pieces that are both hugely funny and pulse-pounding. It would say that most of the cast does some of their best work in the franchise here, that they look at their most comfortable, their most self-aware; that they show that they truly understand what this franchise is. That review would go on to talk about the impressively backtracking nature of the franchise, the continual retconning it goes through so as to find new villains and new stories. It would also say that the baddie this time out, Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), is one of the best the franchise has ever sported.

So, which is it? Which of the above takes is right?

Well, what is it that you want from the film? Are you looking for a grounded story that is about family (as the series so often claims) and the dark lengths one man will go to in order to protect all that he holds dear? Or, are you looking for an insanely large cast of famous faces, fancy cars, and stunts that will have you ducking for cover while sitting in the theater? “Fast X” delivers the latter and does so in spades – if you want to go to theater, suspend disbelief, and have your mind blown as you head into the summer, this is the way to do it.

As may be evident, this reviewer leans towards the second take, the positive take. Every criticism that exists within the negative take is correct, it’s just that most of them matter less. The crucial ones, the ones that are important, include: 1) not everything lands as well as it might due to the propulsive nature of “Fast X,” and 2) Diesel largely feels to be in an entirely different movie than everyone else, to have a completely different understanding of what is going on.

For a long time I have wondered just how seriously these movies are meant to be taken. That is, even if the action is over the top, with Dom at the center there is an attempted heft to them, one that (maybe) has only grown through the years. The larger Dom’s family gets, the more he seems determined to cling to them and fear their loss. With a cast that includes Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Michelle Rodriguez, John Cena, Jason Statham, Rita Moreno, Brie Larson, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Nathalie Emmanuel, Alan Ritchson, Scott Eastwood, Daniela Melchior, Sung Kang, and Leo Abelo Perry, well, that’s a lot of potential scowling from Dom. And, largely, that is all Dom does – scowl and sneer and get angry behind the wheel of a car.

If Dom is the heavy nucleus of the film, everyone else in the cast are the weightless electrons, flitting about happily, one moment here, the next there. You can guess where they might be at any one second and what they might be doing, but by the time you focus on them, they’re gone, somewhere else in the world, somewhere else in their probability cloud.

“Fast X” careens all over the globe and through time. It reimagines moments from the past—Dante is the son of Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) and was present at some of the moments in “Fast Five,” the movie where Hernan was the villain—hits no fewer than four continents, and splits Dom’s family into several groups with the stories intersecting but largely separate. It is dizzying and it works.

An early on piece in Rome may be the highlight of the movie, with a large spherical bomb careening through the city as our heroes try to save lives and the historic area. While Dante describes it as an homage to the safe sequence from “Fast Five,” it feels more like a real-life version of “Marble Madness” playing out across the city, with various people trying to influence the motion of the bomb in multiple ways. If you watch the climax of the sequence laughing out loud and smiling with joy, you subscribe to the above positive review, if not, the negative.

And herein lies one of the reasons that the negative version may be wrong – Diesel, while he has the ability to suck out all the oxygen from a non-action scene, is fantastic when he’s driving fast and furious. He is no small part of the game of “Marble Madness” and it is better for his presence.

With much talk of an end to the series in the not-too-distant future, “Fast X” may cause the minds behind the franchise to reconsider. It is incredibly enjoyable, and somehow, it’s insanely convoluted (if we’re being generous) mythology works only to its advantage. The continual retconning of the history is insane, but so is everything these people do with cars (and planes and motorcycles and…).

I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.

photo credit: Universal Studios

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