How do you know too much is finally enough? You make and release Fast X. The series excess – which started with the bombastic finale of the franchise-reviving Fast Five – has finally become more of a hindrance than an attraction. In the hands of journeyman director Louis Leterrier, this excess has become a dulled machete blade repeatedly brought down upon the audiences’ heads, bashing and bashing away without making a solid, lasting cut.
The difference between this and the post-Fast Five installments was the level of involvement that directors Justin Lin, James Wan, and F. Gary Gray gave to theatergoers. Action scenes and dramatics alike were used to reach into the theater and make the audience actually care about the wanton destruction and the astounding, laws-of-physics-destroying car stunt sequences while emotionally grounding us beside the underdog Toretto gang. Well, as emotionally-grounding as one can get with this series; starting with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, it seemed that for every step forward, a member of the gang was culled from the proceedings, the ultimate consequence for their transgressions.
And with Fast Five, the focus on “FAMILY!” in all caps became more of a series trope, a touchstone that would grow to be its trademark theme. Bearing members both borne of blood and battle, Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) family has grown large, with squabbling brothers (Dom and Brian, Tej and Roman), sage sisters (the figurative in Letty and Ramsey, the literal in Mia), and the ones who just like to get the job done (slickster Han, law enforcement hulk Hobbs, ex-Mossad agent Gisele, ex-British special forces ghoul Shaw) all mixed up to inflict their own brand of maximum carnage upon whatever villain crosses their path.
Yet Leterrier, having rewritten the script by former Fast X director Justin Lin (who departed after a week’s worth of filming) and Dan Mazeau, doesn’t seem to know what to do with any of them, let alone know what made them special in the first place. Sure, little nods to the kinds of people they were before are dropped in for reacquaintance’s sake – Roman (Tyrese Gibson) is a wannabe leader and notorious cheapskate, Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are the tech wizards, Shaw (Jason Statham) remains as dangerous as he’s ever been, and so forth and so on.
But none of that matters. The only thing driving Fast X is new villain Dante (Jason Momoa), a psychopath on a wicked revenge mission with only one purpose: to make Dom suffer. No, not to kill him, as Dante’s late father Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) believes that killing an adversary is merely showing mercy to them. Dante’s got his own family – a team of mercenaries he’s bent to his will by threatening their wives and children – and he’s out to make Team Toretto’s lives a living hell.
Family here, family there, family everywhere. Dante is the complete opposite of Dom in every way: willing to hurt women and children, using tech and his team for absolute evil, and exceptionally garish in behavior, contrasting Dom’s cool and stalwart manner. Owing his outlandish style to the two minutes he was dead (you’ll see how this fits into established canon before the title card), Dante is a hard bird to pin down. One minute, he’s a raving lunatic, preening comedically and skipping around like an excited schoolgirl; the next, he’s a cold-blooded machine with murder on his mind.
Momoa looks like he’s having the time of his life in this role, and it’s hard not to like what he’s doing. But it’s conversely hard to like what he’s doing, because there’s no rhyme or reason to the way he does things. Both Momoa and Dante are a weird combination of magnetic, enigmatic, and astoundingly head-scratching, a truly wild horse in an overfull stable. Dante is one of the most colorful, live-out-loud characters in the entire franchise, but – like everything else in this movie – it’s a lot to handle.
Unfortunately, Leterrier can’t handle it. Action sequences and dramatic scenes alike only move to move, not to involve, and that’s where Leterrier’s directorial prowess fails this installment. Everything rests on the surface, with the script only serving as interference to jackhammer the stakes of each car chase or gunfight into our heads. The adage “less is more” doesn’t seem to have had any effect on what Leterrier has wrought into existence; everything has to be explained, overexplained, and – just when they think we’ve clearly understood what’s going on – explained again. This might just be the worst-written installment of any of the Fast & Furious films, and that’s including The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift.
What’s missing is the respect for the canon and its inhabitants. Even though Dom gets to be the same old Dom, he isn’t; the self-possessed wisdom earned from numerous jobs and a lifetime of scores is gone, replaced by someone who looks like Dom, but doesn’t seem to carry the weight he used to guide his decisions and his punches. All that’s left is someone who can’t stop talking about family and maintaining a square jaw while Dante rips his family apart. Leterrier doesn’t take the time to fully seat us alongside our heroes while explosions go off around them; instead, all he wants to do is get us from A to B to Z to keep our eyes moving, lest our brains catch up and refute the dizzying nature of this collection of disparate scenes strung together to make a semi-coherent film. Characters appear and disappear at the script’s whims, which makes Fast X feel like hasty fan service than a movie with a plot and structure.
This is the first of what could potentially be a three-part series finale (it was originally supposed to be two, but series gatekeeper Vin Diesel has gone on record as wanting to push it to a third), and we’re already crying “Uncle.” While the familiar Fast & Furious mayhem is enough to buoy the audience’s love for the series – and believe me, I live for these movies – it’s not enough to overcome its scattered nature. No one’s asking for a retread, and it’s understandable that Team Toretto is split into fragments, especially with Dante pulling the strings. However, what Leterrier doesn’t do is play to the characters’ or the series’ strengths, reducing everyone who’s not named Dominic Toretto to caricatures and making them play side quests while Dante executes his cruel plan. Fast X entertains with gusto, but only on a superficial level; they’d better turn it up to eleven for the next one.
If you want to see what we thought about Fast Five and everything after, here you go (all links open in new tabs):
Fast Five: Fast Five : Movie Review
Furious 6: Mike’s review – Fast & Furious 6
Furious 6: Eddie’s review – Furious 6
Furious Seven: Mike’s review – Furious 7 – Mike’s Review
Furious Seven: Furious Seven – Eddie’s Review
The Fate of the Furious: Mike’s Review – The Fate of the Furious : Michael’s Review
The Fate of the Furious: Eddie’s Review – The Fate of the Furious
Hobbs & Shaw: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – Movie Review
F9: The Fast Saga – F9 – The Fast Saga : Movie Review
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