There’s something heart-warming about the sheer ridiculousness of the Fast & Furious franchise, which has evolved to exist outside the laws of physics and general reality. Its well-established characters leap cars across skyscrapers, go to outer space and single-handedly thwart bombs from destroying the Vatican—all while staying true to their family. If you have no idea what’s going on in a given film, now packed with cameos and long-lost relatives, that’s okay: You’re not here for the story. You’re here because the action is good, the dialogue is entertaining and these high-budget blockbusters bring audiences together in a way that can’t be underestimated.
FAST X ★★★1/2 (3.5/4 stars)
The most recent edition to the franchise, Fast X, continues to rev up all of these elements. The movie, helmed by Louis Leterrier, who nails the tone, brings us back to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his LA crew. Once street racers, the gang now works for the Agency, a covert organization that Dom has been entangled with for several movies. Although they seem to have settled into a reasonably happy life, with Dom contentedly raising his son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry) alongside his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), a former foe quickly resurfaces.
The script, written by Dan Mazeau and previous Fast saga director Justin Lin, retcons the events of Fast Five, which saw Dom and Brian heist $100 million from drug lord Hernan Reyes in Rio. The opening sequence of Fast X revisits the climatic theft, inserting new characters and scenes to allow Hernan’s son Dante (Jason Momoa) to be involved in the chase. Dante almost dies after plummeting off the bridge and it’s only now, years later, that he’s emerged to seek revenge on Dom. He’s going to make Dom suffer, he says, because death would be too easy.
After Dante ensnares the crew into a high-speed chase through the streets of Rome (sorry about any summer vacation plans, Rome is destroyed now), everyone is forced to go on the run. Letty is captured by the Agency and taken to a black site prison, while Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Han (Sung Kang) make their way to London in search of help. Back home in LA, Dom’s son is in danger, so he enlists Jakob (John Cena) to get him to safety. Meanwhile, there’s trouble in the Agency. A beefy guy named Aimes (Alan Ritchson) is running things now and he believes Dom’s a criminal despite the best efforts of Tess (Brie Larson), the daughter of Mr. Nobody. There are also sub-plots with Cipher (Charlize Theron) and a Brazilian street racer named Isabel (Daniela Melchior), who—you guessed it—has ties to Dom’s past.
None of that really matters, though. The highlight of Fast X is not the plot, which requires a cheat sheet to follow. It’s the action, which Leterrier handles with real flair. The car chases are exciting, of course, especially when they defy physics and gravity. Some moments are so ludicrous that you can’t help but laugh. Why wouldn’t a car be able to drive out of a flying airplane directly onto a highway without crashing? The fight scenes, which are doled out equally between the male and female characters to the film’s credit, are the best of the franchise so far. Rodriguez and Theron, in particular, hurl themselves into a knock-down fight that could propel its own movie.
And then there’s Momoa, the MVP of Fast X. Momoa transforms Dante, who could have been a rote villain, into an ostentatious psychopath with real motivation. The character, his hair tied up in scrunchies, is smart and undeterred but he also has a quippy, whimsical side that Momoa leans into with delight. It’s a relief, especially against Diesel, an actor who could stand to take things a little less seriously. By the end you’re almost rooting for Dante because he’s not grimacing and talking about family all the time. And since Fast X ends on a massive cliffhanger, it looks like we may have more Dante in our future.
It would be easy to dismiss Fast X as another disposable sequel. And in some ways, it is. But for the past few movies, the producers and filmmakers have really tapped into what makes this franchise work. It’s that sense of ridiculousness that makes these movies so compelling. Fast X is an outlandish movie. Literally nothing in this movie could really happen, but isn’t that why we watch films in the first place? The imagined world of the Fast & Furious saga is exciting and that’s enough. Are there too many characters now? Yes. Do you always know what’s going on? No. But you’ll laugh, you’ll cheer and you’ll feel, for a few hours, like part of a family.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.