Warning: Spoilers follow for Fast X.
Before I get started, I want it known that I really dig the Fast and Furious franchise, no matter what this headline says. There’s a bonkers standard to which a franchise that sent its characters to space in a Pontiac should be held. That being said, it’s with a healthy dose of tough love that I say Fast X messed up bad. The film neglects the only thing that’s ever been integral to the franchise’s success: a mostly practical approach to car chases.
Is this the worst Fast movie? It’s entirely possible, but that’s also not entirely fair. The Fast Saga famously shifted gears with Fast 5’s physics-defying Rio heist and has not looked back. While this movie may not even be as good as 2 Fast 2 Furious, the franchise is such a different beast now that the only way to accurately measure its failure is against the back half of the franchise. By that metric, this movie is an enormously disappointing entry in a series of otherwise bananas-fun action.
There’s Too Much CGI
At the risk of sounding like an old man shaking his fist at clouds of smoke coming off a drag racer’s tires, the real allure of the Fast franchise has always been the practical stunts mixed with the physics-defying CGI. Visual effects are of course a necessary part of the franchise, but there’s a noticeable difference when something is shot for real. It’s that real that’s necessary to sell the fake that’s around it. While I don’t need to believe a car can fly between buildings in Dubai in real life, I do need to believe the characters on screen can pull it off, and that’s where Fast X comes up frustratingly short.
Where the franchise has always excelled in this particular quarter mile is choosing the right time and place to employ CG. The sequence in Fast X where Jason Momoa’s Dante Reyes rolls a bomb through the ancient streets of Rome is a prime example. Yes, there was a real giant metal ball that was built and rolled down the street for some of it. The point at which it becomes bad form for a Fast film is a bit where they drive down a set of stairs that’s done completely digitally. The bomb is on fire, Dom’s car is spinning wildly, but at the end of the day, it’s a car driving down a set of stairs, which is the absolute bare minimum for this franchise, even acknowledging that it’s an iconic set of Roman stairs.
This is a franchise that literally drops cars out of the sky to suspend our collective disbelief, and they’ve traditionally done it by shooting the important bits – the front-and-center, A-list actor bits – practically, while layering the necessary CG on top and around them.
Another side point here: This is the first film in the franchise that I’ve really felt an overuse of the quick cut inserts to gear shifting and pedal stomping. In the past, that was a great trick to cut away from a CG shot, and stitch the practical stuff back in. By and large in this movie, those insert shots were sandwiched between two other digital elements, making them feel like a tired editing mechanic rather than an effective transitional device. I walked away thinking about how many times they might have reused a shot of Dom’s shoe more than just about anything else.
Everything That Makes Them Cheesy, But Nothing That Makes Them Good
The relentless refrain around “family” in these movies is a calling card as much as the physically impossible car chases, as is the Toretto clan’s insistence on speaking in moral-laden riddles. It’s charming and hokey in all the right ways though. The addition of Rita Moreno as the Torettos’ grandmother has that base more than covered and the entire cast is as committed to the theme as they’ve ever been. The cheese factor is there and very well tended.
But where is the iconic action set piece? Fast and Furious movies are riddled with wonderful holy-shit moments to the point where a lot of the conversations I have around the franchise include questions like “Which one was the submarine one?!?” and “Which one had The Rock flexing his way out of a cast?” Nothing in Fast X adds to that conversation.
To be fair, Jason Mamoa’s scenery-chewing Joker impression, which was in my opinion pretty fantastic, may be that one thing for Fast X. The issue there is that he’s set up to be in the next film (or three films or however many Vin Diesel decides are left), so his impact in one movie in particular will be diminished by the time the race is run. The point here is, the one thing that every entry into this franchise needs is missing: a truly iconic car chase moment.
Final tangent to this point: There are fewer car chases in the film than there are fight scenes. One of the car chases is literally just revisiting a chunk of Fast 5, so essentially there are only two new car-based set pieces in the whole film and four extended fight sequences. In defense of the fight choreography, it’s quite good. The Letty and Cipher fight is, I think the industry term is, “pretty boss,” and it’s great to see the women of the family flex their action muscles too. But for this to be a proper Fast film, I’d rather see them flex behind the wheel.
You Can’t Just Play the Hits
For a moment, consider a restaurant with a menu that’s too big. If you make a great pizza, figure out how to make your great pizza better instead of also offering ramen. There are other movies *coughs* John Wick *coughs* that do fight scenes and have nailed the formula of escalating from entry to entry. Until Fast X, Fast and Furious did car chases like nobody else, and now they’ve expanded the menu to include a jet glider failing to be as cool as the one we saw in No Time to Die. But it’s not just the fight sequences and Bond borrowing that fail to elevate the franchise.
I’ve already mentioned how the cold open of the film is just a few minutes cut directly out of Fast 5. Momoa’s Dante even explicitly calls out that his bomb-through-Rome hijinx was an homage to the bank vault that became his origin story. Even the roads and terrain of the climactic chase just kinda look like the highways from the tank chase sequence in Fast 7. There’s a Jason Statham punching bag joke that goes so thoroughly unexplained, I’d argue it’s proof the franchise requires an entire watch-through to fully pick up what Fast X is laying down. And that’s a bad place to be for a series where each film should give you something you’ve never seen before.
As an exercise, let’s think about John Cena’s cannon car, which was truly an attempt to give the franchise a fun new toy. It’s set up with the proper amount of awe and anticipation, and I was legitimately excited to see the pairing of Jakob and Little B go to town on Dante’s goons.
And then he only fires it twice…
Now think about how long they dragged that bank vault around Rio, how many different ways it destroyed cars, crumbled buildings and scattered pedestrians. Think about the magnets in F9 and all the creative nonsense they chucked into the path of their pursuers. Fast X gave us the potential for a truly memorable sequence, but instead the cannon car gets jammed almost immediately. The franchise is about escalation. It’s zombie cars and a submarine in a frozen lake and it’s every movie picking a memorable device, ramping it up to a big explosive beat and moving on before it overstays its welcome.
Speaking of Overstaying Your Welcome…
The caveat to all of this is that none of it should be surprising for a film that lost its director after they’d already begun filming. I don’t want to dig in to any sort of he-said-movie-star-said conjecture, but suffice to say all the reporting on Justin Lin’s exit from the film referenced creative differences with Vin Diesel. All I can say is that after seeing the film, whoever won that argument was wrong.
Every Major Fast and Furious Character
Now there are two ways to look at Justin Lin’s responsibility for the film, because he still has two very big writing credits front and center, with his name in the “story by” and “screenplay by” blocks. The arbitration process for writing credits can be a little wonky sometimes, but if Lin’s name is still in both those places, his version of the story is still largely represented on screen. If there are sequences that don’t make sense and consequences from one scene not acknowledged in the next, that’s largely on Lin.
But as Dom himself likes to say, “The only thing that matters is who’s behind the wheel.”
Louis Leterrier, like nearly any director who’s ever yelled action, has done some great work and some properly mediocre stuff, and having little to no prep time and being thrown into a difficult situation can account for a lot of the above griping. I have to think, given the track record of Lin with this franchise, even a poorly written Fast and Furious sequence would’ve been more compelling on screen with Lin behind the camera. He’s a veteran of the franchise who re-wrote the formula both narratively on screen and with a behind-the-scenes focus on practical effects. He also would’ve had the benefit of a proper amount of prep to pull off the kind of insanity we expect from the franchise.
Bottom line: This is a very disappointing movie that I went into expecting not to be disappointed because I’d already heard how disappointing it was, and I’m as confused by this sentence as anybody. That’s a feat that defies the natural order like Dodge Charger rope-swinging off a cliff. It’s also the only thing by which I’ll be remembering Fast X.
For even more on the film, check out our Fast X post-credits and ending explained, every Fast and Furious character you should care about, and how to watch the Fast and Furious movies in chronological order.