A Great Villain, an Okay Movie

Fast X

It's really hard to know what to expect from a The Fast and the FuriousStarted as a film about undercover policing in the illegal street-racing community, this series has grown to encompass a number of different genres and become one of the most bankable franchises in the world. film at this point. It's not just that the series has drifted far from its roots of street racing (it did that many movies ago at this point), but it's the fact that anything that kept the films grounded in reality has long since been ditched as the series constantly chases bigger thrills and more outlandish ideas. There is no reality at this point in the series, it's just a bunch of live-action cartoons with a glossy, motor-tuning vibe.

That's something you have to say to yourself when watching Fast X, the latest in the stalwart franchise that started all the way back with the very different (but still goofy) The Fast and the Furious. The franchise has seen highs (Fast Five, Furious 7) and lows (2 Fast 2 Furious, F9: The Fast Saga) but about the only thing truly consistent about the franchise is just how inconsistently the films are named.

These films aren't meant to reflect reality at this point. They aren't street racing films with a bit of spy thriller mixed in. No, at this point the franchise has grown into a cross between the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. and Mission: ImpossibleIntroduced in 1966, the original Mission: Impossible featured a team of agents (with varying skills) heading out into the field to solve puzzle-box like cases on a weekly basis. This simple concept spawned a long-running series, a second series in the 1980s, and a hugely successful movie franchise starring Tom Cruise that continues today.. Hell, they have a nuclear sub at their disposal when the entire world is watched by a hyper-intelligent A.I. called "God's Eye". Any sense that these films took place in the real world really was abandoned four movies ago (at least). You have to go in knowing you're getting an AvengersMarvel's answer to DC's Justice League, this team features many of Marvel's biggest superheroes working together to protect the world and avenge its evils.-level event as that's what these films are designed for now: massive spectacle that wraps up a long running franchise.

Does it work? Well, that is certainly going to be a matter of opinion. On the spectacle side of things, this tenth mainline entry (and eleventh overall, including Hobbs & Shaw) goes big on the action and special effects (most of which, sadly at this point, are done with CGI). It delivers the thrills fans want, the cartoonish stunts and actions that people have come to know from the franchise. It doesn't feel grounded as you watch Dom (Vin Diesel) push a massive rolling bomb through the streets of Rome, or when he brings down two helicopters with just his muscle car. But then, it hasn't felt grounded in years and people still go to these things so it's hard to knock Fast X for that. People want what they want, and this film does deliver that.

It does feel overstuffed, though. The franchise at this point has an absolutely massive cast of characters -- Diesel's Dominick Toretto joined by Michelle Rodriguez as Letty Ortiz, John Cena as Jakob Toretto, Jordana Brewster as Mia Toretto, Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce, Ludacris as Tej Parker, Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey, Sung Kang as Han Lue, Scott Eastwood as Little Nobody, Charlize Theron as Cipher, and Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw, not to mention new characters added in for this film including Daniela Melchior as Isabel Neves, Alan Ritchson as Aimes, Brie Larson as Tess -- all of whom feature here in larger and smaller parts as the film struggles to give every character some moment, some bit of screen time, in this two-hour-plus "epic". Most of them barely get enough time in the film to justify their inclusion, but all of them are here because there were in previous films, or are related to people in previous films, or are taking on the role of some other character from a previous film. These movies have such deep continuity not that you have to have a flow chart to keep up with it all. All for a dumb film based on The Fast and the Furious.

That's not to knock this franchise; I absolutely adore the stupid heights this franchise as gone to. Fast Five is legitimately one of my favorite action movies of all time. But the last few films, and this tenth main entry in particular, have struggled with what I tend to think of as "Avengers syndrome". You have so many characters with so many storylines, and you're trying to cram all of them together into one massive crossover film that the movie groans under its own weight. I liked Avengers: Endgame but do I think it's as good as The Avengers with that film's smaller cast and tighter plotting? Probably not, and the same holds true here with Fast X, especially when there are very few (just one) side story to let the series breathe on smaller adventures between the big crossovers.

The main story of Fast X frankly could have been it's own, smaller, side-film: Toretto: A Fast Film. The story summary is that Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa) -- the son of the villain of Fast Five, Hernan Reyes -- has come for revenge against Dom and he promises "to destroy your whole family." That's a solid villain plan considering Dom prizes his whole extended family above all else. I buy that, and I think that's something that has weight in this franchise, certainly more so than this villain or that villain causing world-ending carnage. It works better.

And the villain is great, make no mistake. Momoa brings all his charismatic charm to the villain, and he clearly relishes being able to play the heavy. He also got to heavily customize the character, bringing in a lot of his thoughts (right down to the costuming), creating the most colorful and effective villain the franchise has ever seen. Every time Momoa is on screen the film absolutely comes alive, all thanks to the glee that Momoa brings to the role. He makes the film his own, wearing it around him in a way that even Diesel hasn't done with the franchise in some time.

If, say, the film were focused on the dynamic of Reyes and Toretto, I think it really could have worked. Set aside all the side characters (which, frankly, the film does for huge stretches of the film) and just play it as Dante, the perfect foil for Dom, chasing our hero around the world, slowly cutting away all of his family members until it's just the two of them, mano-a-mano. That could lead to quite the thrilling conclusion. And I think you don't kill Dante there. You have him flee the confrontation with the promise of his return down the road. Then you lead into a big Fast and Furious film where Dante can return to take on the whole team at a larger scale.

I think that really would work better, not just because it would ground the fight specifically between Dom and Dante, but also because it would let some of the side characters (who didn't get much screen) have more time to breathe. Dom's sister, Mia, is here for all of one scene where, arguably, she should have had a bigger focus. Jacob, the villain turned hero, is here, and he gets a ton of screen time, but I think his entire story could have been handled by Mia and it would have made more sense in the context of the film. She's been with the series this whole time, so why is Jacob getting all this screen time and having a strong connection to his brother? That should be Mia's job, or at least she should share duties this time around.

But then, Mia is done dirty in a number of ways by this film. I recognize that, due to the death of Paul Walker, her husband, Brian O'Conner, has been sidelined from the series since the end of Furious 7, so any time Mia appears the film has to explain away where her husband is at. That can create some awkward story machinations. And if Mia were to charge off into battle, wouldn't Brian come along? Hell, she has two kids with the guy but she spends her whole scene either playing Mario Kart with her nephew or fighting off bad guys. Where are her kids? Where's Brian? She seems unconcerned but it was all I could think about.

Speaking of Dom's family, due to plat machinations his wife, Letty Ortiz, is sidelined for the whole film, off at a black site prison where the film largely forgets about her for huge stretches of the run time. For a plot all about Dom and his family she really needed to be involved in the story more directly. The fact that the film shoves her off to the side and forgets about her really makes me question what the heck the writers, Dan Mazeau and Justin Lin, were thinking. I get that there are a ton of characters so some of them need to be shoved off to the side so other can shine, but Letty is so key to Dom's actual family that not having her around feels like a waste of her character.

On the flip side, there are so many characters that are in this film who didn't need to be. Yes, Roman, Tej, Ramsey, and Han are key players in the series, but their entire storyline is incidental to the film. They get shoved off to the side in Rome, and then spend the rest of the film wandering around, trying to catch back up with Dom before eventually having their plane blow up off screen. I'm sure they survive that explosion -- no one in these films actually dies at this point, include Letty, Han, or even Gal Gadot's Gisele Yashar -- but the fact that they're dangled around for most of the film without anything of substance to do speaks to how little the film needed them. The same can be said for Deckard Shaw, who only shows up for one scene. Or Cipher, who gets maybe two. And the newly introduced Isabel, sister of previous character Elena, who adds nothing to the story. Why are they even here?

Of curse, they're here because they were in all the previous films, or they're the sibling of some character that was killed in such a definitive way they can't be brought back but their legacy can live on. The films struggle with letting go, is the point, and now, with this huge cast of characters that won't go away, this film is left feeling over-stuffed. It didn't need to be; Hobbs and Shaw proved you could one of these films with a smaller cast of leads, but this was a mainline Fast film. The whole gang had to come back, apparently.

These are big, dumb, Avengers-level events with street-racing superheroes, and I get that. The film series is wrapping up with one (or two) more films after this (and not just because this film basically lost money, "only" making $719.1 Mil against its absolutely stupid $340 Mil production budget), so it's hard to complain about the franchise enjoying one last big hurrah. But it would be nice if the films could find a way to go with "slightly less is more" as its philosophy.

There's a thread of a good movie somewhere in this mess, with Dom taking on the ghost of his past (while referencing one of the best films in the series). What is on screen is watchable enough, and maybe even enjoyable. But as a sequel to Fast Five, and a culmination of all that came before up to this point, Fast X is an overstuffed, bloated mess. It has its charms, but it doesn't change the fact that this series has been on a down turn ever since The Fate of the Furious.