The 10th Fast and Furious is an onslaught of motion, color, and sound. It perfectly exemplifies the “Theme Park” movie that Martin Scorsese brought up a few years ago. It has no adherence to real-world logic, but there is a way to view these movies that makes them easier to understand. The ENTIRE MOVIE makes a lot more sense if you go in with this belief: the car has powers. That’s it – we don’t know where it received the powers, but there’s no other explanation for all the nonsense that goes on if the car isn’t sentient and has magical abilities. As a result, you’ll be able to understand how Vin Diesel and John Cena use their vehicles like a boomerang, getting them to go exactly where they want to even in mid-air. If we can pretend that Spider-Man’s web is actually hitting anything at all, we can accept this charade also.
New movie means new baddie, and Jason Mamoa bursts on the scene, ready to seemingly take over the entire franchise. He stars as Dante Reyes (LOL!), the son of Fast Five (2011) villain Hernan Reyes. Dante wants revenge on Dominic Toretto (Diesel) for the demise of his father, but Dante also has something that separates him from the franchise’s past villains. He’s a bit of a Dom fanboy, which means he knows all the tricks and tendencies of the Automotive Superfriends. Dante uses that intimate knowledge to attack the group at their most vulnerable moments, ambushing them on multiple occasions as well as targeting the loved ones the heroes hold most dear. He even attacks the characters’ ego. Dom heads to a street race, because the movie remembers it hasn’t had the mandatory Ass & Titties™ scene yet, but Dante giddily crashes the party to see his “idol” in person. He’s not just motivated to harm Dom and his familia, but he wants it to be a slow, humiliating process for Corona Beer’s #1 fan.
Mamoa is having more fun here than maybe any actor in the history of human civilization. His on-screen persona seems like a mix of Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man and Nicolas Cage in Face/Off, while possessing more burlesque characteristics than either. He’s cartoonishly expressive and childish while sporting an assembly line of flamboyant attire. If you told me he was wearing a thong underneath those clothes, I wouldn’t be surprised. His burly screen presence adds to the confidence in his effeminate tendencies while valuing his masculinity in equal measure with his baroque persona. This makes him and the stoic Dom polar opposites in terms of demeanor; the Joker and Batman of this silly tale. Just like the Joker, Mamoa steals the movie from his counterpoint, causing his appearances to become more eagerly anticipated as the film goes along.
Louis Letterier is a veteran filmmaker, but he’s new to the Fast universe. Despite his previous credits (Unleashed, The Incredible Hulk) being relatively slower paced action movies, he’s acclimated seamlessly to the Fast franchise’s breakneck speed and intensity. Some of the setpieces here are among the best in the series, including a motorcycle chase and a symphony of destruction in Rome, Italy. One of these moments includes Dom narrowly escaping an explosion by the car’s sheer force of will (add “Super Human Strength” to its list of powers). Later, we see Dom and his brother Jakob (Cena) displaying otherworldly power, such as lifting a car with one arm or sending a guy through several flights of plywood. Dom’s arch-enemy, Cipher (Charlize Theron), even gets in on the eye-rolling feats of strength. While warning Dom of Dante’s impending assault, she includes details of facing off against about 20 of her own men, laying the smackdown on each of them like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie:
The scene is hilariously over the top and dramatic, yet really has nothing to do with what she’s trying to communicate with Dom about Dante. This leads me to believe she made it up – maybe she had to take on 2-4 guys by herself, which eventually evolved into her fighting the entire Crazy 88 by the time this story got to Dom. When she eventually tells this tale at the barbecue, it’ll transform into “So there was 40 of them, and they each had machetes, so I just started blasting…,” while Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) gives her the side-eye.
However, all these absurdist feats from the characters are easier to accept because the movie mostly resists the temptation to ruin the joke with commentary, while it also helps that the bonds between the characters are emphasized and deepened. This is what makes Fast X an improvement over lousy recent entries, that being Fate of the Furious & F9. The former strayed too far from the characterizations we had come to expect from the series, while the latter dove deep into the waters of meta lampshading to mediocre results. It’s not much fun seeing Roman (Tyrese) attempt to make poorly written jokes about how the characters are invincible. Thankfully, that’s toned down here, and we get back to seeing Roman and Tej (Ludacris) get back to the brotherly shit talking the duo is known for.
Roman, Tej, & Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) occupy much of the B plot, but their scenes don’t slow the movie down. They are actually some of the funniest moments of the film while not forgetting to display why this is considered a ‘family’ – memes and all. Meanwhile, the meta commentary has been migrated to a couple of special agents (Brie Larson, Alan Ritchson) who are tracking the whereabouts of the Tank Top Avengers, and are understandably perplexed by how these clowns started out stealing bootleg DVDs, and are now diffusing bomb threats at the Kremlin. This is a better use of the franchise’s satire – it puts new characters in the role of audience surrogates, who get to point out all the lunacy of the events in front of us, all while not calling too much attention to the light 4th wall breaking. It’s less funny seeing the actual protagonists with plot armor comment on their own plot armor.
What brings this movie to its center is a contrast of family dynamics, driven by the relationship between Dom and his son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry). Admittedly, it took me a moment to get invested in this storyline, as I was a bit distracted by the aggressive amount of bronzer worn by Vin Diesel. What shade is he even wearing, Lava? He’s almost as orange as mid-80s Hulk Hogan – achieving one of the worst tans anyone has accomplished outside the state of Florida. It’s as if he’s preparing to star in a gender-flipped Cleopatra.
Nonetheless, this movie shows Dom taking on the responsibility to prepare the next generation. This includes training Brian in the religious practice of Car-Fu, but the young lad has some growing pains to go through before he can become a master of death-defying stunts while refusing to use a turn signal. This is juxtaposed with Dante, whose revenge quest seems to be built more on petulant pride, rather than love, as he still holds resentment towards his father. Perhaps the elder Reyes just didn’t love Dante enough, and all those colorful fits are a cry out for attention. Contrast that with Dom, who repeatedly states that Brian will be better than he is. Better at what exactly, I’m guessing he means breaking traffic laws and driving off bridges with nary a plan but a “FUCK IT, WE’LL DO IT LIVE!” enthusiasm.
Good family values are still good family values, even if it requires you to become a felon before your first kiss. Speaking of those values, in what will likely be a fan-favorite pairing, the young Toretto also makes a formidable duo with his uncle Jakob. Cena embodies the most exuberant example of the “fun uncle” trope, capitalizing on his real-life equity as an icon for kids all over the globe, corny jokes included. The level of star power on display, in which the movie can go from scene to scene featuring a new heavy hitter, is palpable. Somehow, Letty seems underutilized even as she’s featured in multiple strong setpieces. There’s just so many stars to juggle here; it’s like The Expendables, except everyone on the call sheet still have their original hips.
By the time we reach our destination, it’s clear this saga still has a lot more chapters before its actual conclusion. This won’t be the best action movie of the year; it might not even be the best 2023 movie starring these various cast members. But for long-time fans of the series, Fast X has more in common with the irreverently fun high watermarks of the franchise, as opposed to the slogs we’ve sat through since the credits closed on Furious 7 (2015). Some franchises are judged on how they evolve, but Fast X’s modus operandi is to play the hits. “The Hits” in question is that of a hyperactive anime that somehow fused with a telenovela. That makes Dominic Toretto part superhero, part abuelita, as he speechifies about family and takes off his cross-necklace to make a point. Will Fast X make you believe in the power of family? Probably. Will it make you believe a car can fly? Absolutely not, but it’s still a beautiful sight.