Fast X (2023)

MAY 17, 2023


NOTE: No, this isn’t a horror movie, but I have a weird affinity for these movies IN PART because of their Saw-like continuity and tendency to retcon previous films, so it's like an adjacent kinda thing? But also I just have nowhere else to ramble about them outside of Facebook or whatever. And it’s my site and I can do what I want! That said: I'm assuming anyone reading is a fan of these things, so if you're not well versed in Fast and/or Furious lore (i.e. who the characters are), don't bother since a lot of this won't make much sense.

One of the ways my OCD manifests is a need to complete/finish things, even if I’m not enjoying it. This happens a lot with video games, particularly open world types: I finish the main campaign, but then feel like I *have* to go around and find all the collectibles or do all the side missions I skipped along the way. Sometimes I find it enjoyable (weirdly, the Mad Max game was a total delight for me, though it was not a particularly well received game at all), others not, but either way I usually have this feeling of “It’s over, why am I still here?” but keep going anyway. And that same feeling is what I have gotten from all the Fast & Furious movies since the end of Furious 7, where Paul Walker’s character literally drove off into the sunset. The real life reason for this send off was of course, tragic and awful, but as no one involved could bring themselves to kill Brian off (especially considering how Walker's real life death was, alas, in the same kind of car crash his character routinely walked away from) or recast him, this was the best way to end things. It’s a perfect finale, and I’ve sobbed at it more than once.

But money! So they kept making them anyway, and each film has to struggle to explain Brian's absence. It hasn't been the most gracious workaround, but I’m happy to report that of the three films since (not counting Hobbs & Shaw, in which none of the other “family” members appear anyway) Fast X has the most plausible explanation for his absence. Sure, the villain (Jason Momoa) has a specific beef with Dom AND Brian because he’s the son of the warlord guy they killed at the end of Fast Five, but after a quick action scene with Jordana Brewster’s Mia, she joins Brian and their children in hiding, and Momoa’s Dante is seen more than once intercepting their calls and blocking communication, so it’s a (movie, specifically a Fast movie) plausible enough explanation – they can’t get a hold of him, he's not going to give his position away, and Momoa’s too busy with the main target (Dom, of course) to worry about it, I guess. In the previous film, Mia joined along the whole time while her and Dom’s brother (John Cena) tried to kill them, so it was odd that Dom’s surrogate brother (and now actual brother in law) wouldn’t at least make a phone call. And the one before that made even less sense, as Dom was seemingly evil and they were trying to understand why… without the aid of the guy who knew him best? I mean it’s still a little weird, but it works better than anything else they’ve tried, so I’ll give it a pass.

That’s not to say I didn’t miss the character, and the film is still lesser because of the hole he leaves in the ensemble. But this time around they engineered a narrative that didn’t have me questioning his absence nearly as often. Part of that is because Dom barely interacts with any of the family, again – as with the previous two films, the plot seems written around the fact that Diesel is a jerk who no one wants to work with. After the obligatory barbecue scene at the beginning, I don’t think he has a single scene with any other family member besides Michelle Rodriguez’ Letty, and even that is brief. But they wisely scatter ALL of the family this time around, so while it’s kind of an episodic structure that ends up feeling like a lot of wheel spinning prologue for the next two films (this is said to be the first part of a trilogy that will be the series’ finale), at least it manages to escape the shadow of the behind the scenes issues that plagued Fate and F9 (and even F7, though at least the excuse there was more valid than someone being a diva). Like, yeah, Brian isn’t around – but John Cena doesn’t have a single scene with Dom either, and Letty never really interacts with anyone after the first 15 minutes, and there’s still no explanation for where Hobbs is, so now it’s more like par for the course as opposed to an outlier.

Also, unlike the ridiculous idea that Dom would ever ring Roman up for help (seriously, the two characters have never directly interacted in a single one of these movies), this time around Roman is trying to lead his own op to prove he can be a leader, so there's a built-in excuse why he wouldn't have called Brian AND there's no actual point where Dom seemingly specifically wants him around. So Roman enlists Tej, Ramsey, and Han to secure some whatevers from whoevers (it’s purposely vague because it’s all a setup anyway, so whatever), leaving Dom and Letty at home to do whatever it is they do when they're not traveling the globe and destroying things. But Cipher shows up at their door and tells them about Dante, and before long they realize Roman and the others are in danger, so they hop on a jet I guess (they seemingly get there roughly five minutes later) to try to stop them from taking part in their setup heist. But they're too late, the op is already underway when Tej and Ramsey realize that someone has set them up, and their would be heist is actually having them inadvertently delivering a bomb to the Vatican (!). Dom arrives in time to manage to prevent that much of course, but the bomb still destroys some other stuff, and the Agency (Kurt Russell’s black ops company, now led by a new guy since Russell’s character is still MIA for whatever reason) turns on him and the rest of the family, arresting Letty while the others manage to escape. So everyone is scattered – you got Roman and the others trying to make their way to the group’s safehouse, Dom tracking down Dante, Letty in the Agency’s jail with Cipher (who is now – sigh – an uneasy ally as Momoa left her for dead and stole her army), and Jakob (Cena) also trying to get to the safehouse, with Dom’s son in tow.

The movie basically takes turns with these four groups (plus checking in with Momoa whenever he’s not with Dom), giving some characters a chance to interact in new ways (this is the first time Cipher has had a scene with anyone else besides Dom, and her fight with Letty is one of the movie’s highlights – took three movies but they finally did something with Furiosa besides have her glower at monitors) and moving fast enough to hopefully not ever think too much about where, say, Luke Hobbs is, or why Helen Mirren keeps showing up for single scenes with Diesel. But there are simply too many characters at this point; Jason Statham eventually shows up for a few minutes to provide Roman and the others with some weapons and cars (his promised face off with Han is a big wet fart though; we’ve pretty much seen the extent of it – and his entire performance, in fact – in the trailer), and we even meet Elena’s sister, because why not? It wasn’t even until the movie was over that I remembered Michael Rooker was supposed to be in it again, not sure what happened there.

In fact, in a weird way it’s almost a relief that a couple of cast members are MIA for whatever reason, because the biggest hurdle for the movie has been this series absolute refusal to kill anyone off permanently (minor spoiler – there’s another resurrection in this one, and even Dante is said to have died for two minutes during Fast Five’s finale, as he is retconned into one of the guys in the cars that got destroyed during the bridge sequence). Yes, we love all these characters and don’t necessarily want them to die, nor be asking where they are during the increasingly silly and personal stakes that each film establishes, but I couldn’t help but think of Avengers: Infinity War a lot during this one, where even with a bloated runtime they still barely managed to find anything to do for major players. Remember the first time you saw Infinity War and thought “Why is any random Thanos monster in this movie more than Black Panther?” You might end up feeling that way here; in fact I think Momoa actually has the most screentime of any other actor, including Diesel. Since there are like five threads running through it including his, any time you cut away from someone you know it’ll be 20 minutes before you see them again, reducing most of the cast to cameos (there are three “withs” and two “ands” in the cast credits). And I haven’t even mentioned new additions like Brie Larson (as Mr Nobody’s daughter) and the return of Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), who jumps out of an exploding car and the rest of the movie entirely after one action sequence. Even Diesel seems to be in it less than usual; it's 140 minutes long, but there’s no time for anyone.

Except Momoa. And honestly, I think 90% of my affinity for the film is thanks to him. This series has had few memorable villains in retrospect, since so many of them end up being allies (Cipher makes the FOURTH antagonist from one movie to join up with them in a future one, or five if you count Owen Shaw since he helped out in Fate), making rewatches a little awkward when you’re reminded of how many terrible things they did before their change of heart (Cena in particular doesn’t even seem like the same character he played last time). But Momoa is having an absolute blast, preening and practically dancing around the sets during his scenes, almost like a Nic Cage type go for broke performance. One has to assume there’s no way he can be retconned into another sidekick, but as stupid as that would be it’s almost a shame, since it’d be wonderful to see him bouncing off the others. Again due to the episodic structure of the story, he never interacts with any of the other regular cast members besides Dom and (briefly) Cipher; he keeps talking about breaking Dom’s “family” but if he ever even shares the screen with all those other people on the poster I must have missed it. Oh wait, he grabs a doohickey from Brie Larson, so there’s something.

The other thing I liked about this one, oddly enough, was that the action was less insane. Fate had the “zombie car” sequence, and in the last one they went to space (and honestly that wasn’t even the silliest moment). But here, the most mega part is probably the first big one, where the out of control bomb (a giant rolling boulder-type one) smashes through Rome on its way to the Vatican. The rest is, relative to this series, grounded, back to the levels of (appropriately) Fast Five and Furious 6. This allows them to do more things practically again (kind of hard to avoid CGI when flying a rocket car in space) but also keep the absolute nonsense to a minimum, because we’re already accepting enough of it with regards to the plot and the insanely large cast, so it’s almost a relief when you see an action scene that almost stays within the realm of the earth’s laws of gravity and physics, or at least meeting us halfway. Speaking of physics, Dom pulls off a targeting maneuver with the bomb that even Bullseye from the Marvel comics might be impressed by (never play pool against this dude), but there are only two other moments as ridiculous in the film, and they’re both in the trailer (Dom sandwiching the two choppers together, and driving down the side of an exploding dam). It’s the most expensive movie in the series by far, but it seems most of it went to the multiple locations and paying everyone’s salaries, instead of concerning themselves with topping the previous entry's spectacle, which is - to the series' detriment - been the MO for over a decade now. Is this a good movie? In the traditional sense, no. It’s convoluted in ways that aren’t always fun (there’s a double cross near the end of the movie that renders the character’s actions in the previous hour completely pointless) and focuses on a revenge mission where the villain – fun as he is – never seems to be able to accomplish anything (even the lone death that matters in the film was a character’s self-sacrifice, not a direct result of Dante’s bloodthirst). And even knowing it’s the first part of a two (now three, apparently) finale, the ending is pretty abrupt and unsatisfying. But it’s a lot of fun to watch all the same, and – more importantly, at least to me – it rises above the last two movies to get within spitting distance of ridding me of that “playing a video game after I finished the campaign” feeling. Or I’m just more used to it, now that it’s the third (or fourth, with H&S) entry that’s been operating under those circumstances, where the movies are designed around the death of one lead and the polarizing nature of the other. Plus, if you’ve heard the news about the film’s final tease, you know it sends you off an exciting high, which – especially after the “wait, that’s it?”ness of the actual ending – is always a good thing. That said, I hope they just wrap it up with one movie instead of two, because I can’t see their luck extending that far.

What say you?

P.S. Since it seems necessary: 5, 6, 7, 1 / 4, Tokyo, X, Fate, 9, 2, Hobbs


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