Fast X has two sequences explaining the motivations of Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), the franchise’s new uber-villain. The first is an extended flashback inserting him into the events of Fast Five, when Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his partner, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), drove a vault through the streets of Rio de Janeiro like a wrecking ball — a setpiece so awesome it wrote a check its sequels continue to cash 10 years later. During the flashback, we learn Dante is a psychopathic monster and that his father, Hernan (Joaquim de Almeida), has shuffled him in and out of different institutions in the face of his wanton bloodlust.
Later, after Dante has started ripping Dom’s family apart, Dom heads to Rio to investigate this new foe — and ultimately finds a satchel of files that helpfully explain Dante is a psychopathic monster, whose father, Hernan, shuffled him in and out of different institutions in the face of his wanton bloodlust.
It’s this kind of saggy writing that really defines Fast X, a film with no story of which to speak. Even The Fate of the Furious and F9: The Fast Saga had some sense of what they were about besides ridiculous car-based action sequences and likable characters being funny together. Gone is any semblance of deep continuity, stakes or tactile physical reality. Everything about Fast X is shallow, ceaseless and clearly written on the fly for a schedule that had already been established before director Louis Leterrier was brought on board. I guess, in the parlance of the youths, Fast X is just vibes.
And I felt them.
I’m admittedly a fan of the entire Fast saga, even the entries made after Walker died back in 2013. It’s notable how Diesel stopped giving a shit about interacting with his co-stars after that; this is the third adventure in a row where Dom runs off on his own story while everyone else deals with side quests or supporting action. For a second there, it seemed Dwayne Johnson was going to usurp him as the face of the franchise, but somehow Diesel has nipped that in the bud through sheer force of ego (helped by the fact that Johnson’s spinoff, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, while fun, didn’t hold a candle to the other Fast films). Even as the ideas get more outlandish and the characters become pastiches of their earlier selves, I can’t help but love the escalating ridiculousness of each successive entry.
So I loved Fast X, too, and in some ways, the slapdash nature of its execution only makes it more endearing. Franchise favorites like Han (Sung Kang), Tej (Ludacris), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) all get moments to shine, both comedically and violently. Newcomers like Tess (Brie Larson) and Aimes (Alan Ritchson, of Reacher fame) establish their bona-fides by beating up random goobers. I liked Aimes a lot, both because I enjoy Ritchson’s other work and because he describes himself as a man who could make a “freight train take a dirt road,” which is just about the only dialogue flourish in the entire film. The whole cast is thrown around the world on an incoherent adventure without a clear objective, but their time together is fun. It’s like a hangout film with characters who stopped evolving three movies ago, but you enjoy seeing them every few years all the same.
Of course, there’s the Dom of it all. Diesel gets to spent more time with Tess and Aimes than he does his old friends, as he goes on a solo hunt for Dante. It doesn’t really make much sense that he’d put himself in the line of fire, but whatever. Diesel is a man who believes himself to be a movie star and, by sheer force of will and bizarre charisma, has managed to make himself one. I’ll never get tired of the way he yearns for these films to be about more than just loud engines and gun smoke, how every film seems to have a lesson. Last time, it was about listening to your heart and learning to forgive. This one is about fear of loss. It’s wholesome, in a dumb way.
It’s all dumb, and nothing more exemplifies the total ridiculousness of Fast X than Dante, the Joker to Dom’s dork knight. Every time the film starts to suffer from the weight of being written on the fly, here comes Momoa to liven things up. He has all the hallmarks of a classic Bond villain — oddly effeminate, grandiose in his mannerisms and capable of great acts of planning that defy any shred of logic. Momoa carries the film. He may well be the best foe in the entire franchise. Just a joy to watch.
Another standout is John Cena as Jakob Toretto, seemingly no relation to the Jakob we saw in F9. Oh, well. This one is an upgrade and a role that plays into Cena’s comedic talents. He’s a very welcome addition to the overall ensemble, and I hope we see more of him in the next few films.
At this stage in the game, it’s pretty clear whether you’re in the tank for these Fast movies or not. Although Fast X sets a new low bar for writing, it still delivers some great action moments, some enjoyable characters and an energy that feels comforting and familiar. If you like the Fast movies, you’ll find much to enjoy here; if not, why are you seeing the 10th movie in a series that has been waning for over a decade? That’s not a question I can answer, I guess, but rest assured fans will be happy with this one, and everyone else can take a hike.