'Fast X': A Middling, Overstuffed Sequel
Although the Fast & Furious franchise began with a simple film about street racing and carjacking, it has only become bigger and more ridiculous with each subsequent film. The longevity of the franchise is surprising given that the first film came out in 2001, but not so surprising given how profitable it has become. The Fast movies are a global phenomenon, and while they aren't exactly cinematic masterpieces, there's no denying how exciting and fun they are generally speaking. Sure, there have been some misfires, but there is something I can't help but admire about the franchise as a whole. The way it has ballooned over the years and fully committed to being wild and borderline camp has only hooked me further. When it was announced that the franchise would be winding down, I became very curious as to how the series would end. With Fast X, we get the beginning of the end, almost literally, as the majority of the film feels like set-up for what's to come in future installments. The charm of the franchise is still here, but more often than not, it gets buried under exposition and plot points that are quite convoluted, even for these films.
Dom Torretto (Vin Diesel) and his family have gone on many missions and encountered many dangerous foes over the years, but they soon find themselves facing their most deadly adversary yet. When Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), the son of a drug lord that was killed during one of their heists resurfaces, he is out for blood and seeks to destroy Dom and his family. This scatters Dom and the team all over the globe as they try to find a way to take down Dante, and keep the family safe.
I am of the firm belief that the Fast movies are only as good as whoever is in the driver's seat (i.e. the director), and that only one director has truly figured out the alchemy that makes these movies great. That director is Justin Lin, who has directed the majority of the films in the franchise, and who was set to direct this film before he dropped out over creative differences. Instead, this film is directed by Louis Leterrier, who is best known for directing the first two Transporter movies and the 2008 Incredible Hulk film. Leterrier isn't half bad when it comes to smaller setpieces, but he feels ill-equipped to handle something as massive as a Fast & Furious film. That said, he some how manages to bungle some of the more small-scale action sequences, mainly due to the manic editing that makes some of these moments almost incomprehensible. The bigger setpieces are hit or miss, with some of them being quite thrilling, and some of them feeling inert. Even in the film's more exciting moments, it feels like Leterrier doesn't have the juice to pull them off like some of the franchise's previous directors were able to.
It doesn't help that this is part one of the conclusion of the franchise, as there is so much exposition that this film has to get through. With how big the series has become, as well as the sheer amount of characters that have come into the fold over the years, there are moments where Fast X seems to buckle under its own weight. The more expository moments grind the film to a screeching halt, and cause it to drag significantly. It's clear that the film wants to give everyone equal time and send them off on a good note, but it just feels extraneous at certain points. When the film focuses on its core conflict, I enjoyed it, but several of the other plot threads took me out of the film a little. I specifically didn't care much for the stuff involving The Agency, as it is kind of boring compared to the rest of the film. These scenes are not all bad, but they are certainly the weakest of the film. It doesn't help that most of the film is just setting up the next one, as if we are watching a nearly two-and-a-half hour first act of a Fast movie. The last ten minutes are especially frustrating, as it throws in some twists at the last second, only to end on a massive cliffhanger. I'll admit that it does have me curious where the next film will go, but the ending still left a sour taste in my mouth.
In terms of spectacle, the film has quite a bit to spare, but again, the bigger moments don't hit like they normally do. Some of this is due to Leterrier's direction, but a lot of it is due to how subpar the editing and some of the VFX are. As mentioned above, the manic editing makes some of the smaller scale action scenes hard to discern, but they also affect the larger ones as well. The quick cuts match the energy better here, but it does give them a slightly scrambled feel in certain moments. Obviously with how wild the Fast movies can get, it's perfectly understandable that they would utilize CGI. However, some of the digital effects feel a bit cheap in this film, which is surprising given the massive budget it had. These aren't the worst VFX I've ever seen by any stretch, but I couldn't help but notice some of the more obvious uses of CGI as they made the film feel more artificial.
If there is anything that the film truly has going for it, it's the cast. Sure, they may not be giving any Oscar-worthy performances, but I can't help but enjoy seeing these actors playing these roles. Vin Diesel has found his groove as Dom, and feels more in the pocket with what the Fast films and is so comfortable with the character. One could argue that he might be resting on his laurels a little, but I think there's a big difference between him phoning it in and him doing what he does in these films. It's an action hero performance that might not have too much depth, but it is still somewhat compelling. Some of the other seasoned cast members in the series are in a similar boat, but the film squanders them a bit. Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathalie Emmanuel are all great, but the material they're working with is a bit lackluster. There are also numerous cameos throughout the film from both familiar faces and newcomers, which play to varying degrees of success.
As for the newcomers to the main cast, most of them do a decent job. Brie Larson is given a weak character, but she makes the most of it. Her general screen presence does a lot of the heavy lifting, and elevates the character ever so slightly. Alan Ritchson isn't half bad as well, but again, his character is kind of bland. I did enjoy John Cena's performance in this film, as his section of the film comes close to the goofy energy of the past few Fast films. His performance and these scenes in the film are some of the better moments of it, and I wish some of the other storylines had a similar tone.
However, the MVP of the whole film is none other than Jason Momoa. The villains in the Fast & Furious movies aren't always super memorable, but you would be hard pressed to forget Momoa's character Dante after watching this film. He is by far the most outlandish character that Dom and the family have come across, and Momoa relishes in playing up the flamboyant traits of the character. He truly goes for broke here, and it is glorious. He is also such a great foil to Vin Diesel as Dom, as their personalities complement each other so well. Momoa's performance is undoubtedly the best part of this film, and I am looking forward to seeing what else he does with this role in the next Fast movie.
Fast X is a bit of a let-down, but it isn't an alright disaster. It tries to cram a lot of exposition and story into one film, which drags it down significantly. It has moments where it captures the wild, ridiculous energy of the previous entries in the franchise, but it gets bogged down by all of the table setting it does. It is possible that all of this set-up will pay off in the next film, but as it stands, it is easily one of the weaker films in the series. It is far too messy and crowded to fully work, but I can't deny that some moments are quite entertaining. I have hope that the next film will be better, but Fast X is definitely a low point for the franchise.