The Pitch: When last we left la familia, the sprawling multiracial ensemble that bops in and out of the Fast and the Furious franchise, things were relatively calm, with most of them on good terms with the law (despite their occasional extra-legal operations) and wealthy (thanks to said extra-legal operations). Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are even talking about the possibility of a potential younger sibling for their son Little B (Leo Abelo Perry). Then, of course, a bloody Cipher (Charlize Theron) shows up on their doorstep with a warning: Someone arguably even more evil than her is coming for them.
That someone is Dante (Jason Momoa), the flamboyantly-dressed son of Hernan Reyes, who Fast scholars will recall was the drug lord from whom the gang stole that big-ass safe in Fast Five. Dante’s out not just for blood, but for the complete ruination of the entire family, setting up the team as terrorists in the world’s eye and threatening everyone they love. Split up around the world and on the run, it’ll take a pack of unexpected allies to help them survive Dante’s plan, though even that might not be enough…
Take Your Fast Car and Keep on Driving: At this point, every new installment of the Fast saga feels less like an actual film and more like an episode of a TV show — a TV show with at least eight series regulars, and countless recurring stars as well. And as sprawling as that cast already is, the film adds even more newcomers to the mix, like Daniela Melchior as a young street racer from Brazil and Brie Larson as the daughter of the long-missing Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell).
While Dante’s revenge quest at least keeps everyone on the same page narratively, the team is split up across multiple storylines, with Dom largely on his own as he jets around the world trying to stop Dante, and the film’s focus taking a slapdash approach to checking in on him as well as other big and small players from the franchise’s history.
This devotion to franchise continuity might be fan-pleasing, but it also means that Fast X never really coalesces as a stand-alone film, even before ending on an epic cliffhanger. Director Louis Leterrier steps in here for Justin Lin, who abruptly left the production last year after two weeks of filming, and does a commendable job of mimicking what’s come before. He does such a good job, in fact, that it ends up feeling like just more of the same, even while trying to top the spectacle of the previous films. It’s all competently done, but fails to feel fresh.
The Gang’s All Here: So Jason Momoa has never been accused of giving a subtle performance, but he’s perhaps his most unhinged yet here, literally twirling and jetee-ing through the carnage he causes around the world. Some might argue that “genderqueer Bugs Bunny” is redundant, but it’s a combination of words that got stuck in my head during his time on screen, aided and abetted by his gleeful sartorial choices and delicious scene-chewing. It’s honestly just nice to see someone having fun in these movies, which are otherwise a masterclass in deadpan asides and grumbling monologues.
Meanwhile, Diesel rarely gives the sort of performance that leads to full-on praise — however, to his credit, there are a few moments of real acting to be found here. In fact, there’s a whole essay to be written about how as hypermasculine as the character might be painted, Diesel brings a shocking amount of vulnerability into it, letting genuine fear show on his face during key moments of peril.
As for the rest of the ensemble, the new girls on the block once again showcase the franchise’s ever-improving gender diversity — neither Larson or Melchior get much to work with, but they’re having a good time, and Larson in particular seems to be enjoying the trappings of playing a super-spy. Tyrese Gibson, the unexpected comic relief of the franchise, gets some solid moments as he grapples with leadership of a team, while everyone else feels like they’re… well, supporting players on a TV procedural, contributing to the story without having any real story of their own.
Painfully underused, meanwhile, is Rita Moreno making her debut as Dom’s abulita — let her drive, already!
Ghosts of the Past: Fast X may prove to be the breaking point for many when it comes to the sad case of Brian’s existence within the franchise: After Paul Walker’s passing around midway through the filming of Furious 7, the character has continued to be referenced as alive and well, despite always being off-screen. (In F9, he literally stays behind to babysit the kids while wife Mia, played by Jordana Brewster, gets to participate in the international spy-jinks.)
The character’s off-screen existence persists here, making it all the more clear that at this point, these movies are either delaying the inevitable death of the character, or are fully committed to leaving Brian forever in off-screen limbo. Either way, it’s awkward, and arguably unfair to a fandom that already had to grieve Walker’s passing once, and may have to do so again in the future.
But Brian still being alive is just a part of the magic of the Fast franchise, where people never really stay dead, no matter how much they might explode. It’s a universe with its own magical guiding principles and physics, one in which Dom is always gonna be able to save the day and drink a Corona.
The Verdict: As teased in multiple trailers, an early set-piece in Fast X involves a giant metal sphere (tiny spoiler alert — it’s also a bomb) bouncing through the streets of Rome, causing massive destruction as it does. Afterwards, Dante literally calls this out as an homage to Dom and Brian’s own rampage through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, during which they dragged the Reyes family safe behind their cars.
It’s a meta moment that also speaks to the current state of the franchise, which hasn’t quite yet run out of ways to combine cars, guns, planes, and explosions… but perhaps it’s good that there are maybe only two films left until the franchise officially “ends.” Fast X, when it comes to the stunts and cars, delivers to some degree, but definitely seems to be feeling the strain of striving for the next jaw-dropping moment, to the point where it all just blends together. Only thanks to Momoa does it feel at all memorable.
Where to Watch: Fast X revs its way into theaters on May 19th.