Fast X review

Fast X is like professional wrestling, but exhausting

2 out of 5 stars

Unlike most billion-dollar franchises currently dominating your every trip to the multiplex, the Fast series didn’t necessarily see its fate written in the stars from day one. The first few films were seen as aimed towards suburban douchebags and gearheads; it’s only by the fourth film that audiences started to pick up on its maximalist, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink leanings. Over the course of the next few films, they morphed into the v-neck t-shirt version of a James Bond movie, all globetrotting intrigue, flying cars and platitudes about family. Extended universe shenanigans and complex world-building were never really built into the franchise, but grafted on, which means that this is almost certainly the only long-running film series currently out there that can (could) be enjoyed without necessarily having done oodles of prep work.

Consequently, everyone has a different history with the Fast films. Mine has always been one of bemused acceptance. I have not seen them all, and even to this day, it remains somewhat unclear to me which ones I have seen. I mainly enjoyed the experience, but I can’t really call it a memorable one. (Case in point: if I’d truly enjoyed them, I’d probably be able to tell them apart.) All this to say that I’m not certain who the intended audience of these things is anymore. They’re wildly popular with an audience that has more or less decided to tag along for the constant ridiculous raising of stakes more than for the complex character relationships and poignant messages about family and… well… most of it is about family. At this point, there are so many self-serious moving parts existing alongside grandiloquent uppings of the ante that Fast X feels more like a frenzied hot-dog eating contest than an indulgence.

Fast X

As is usually the case with these movies now, Fast X centres around a bunch of retconned fuckery in which the drug lord character played by Joaquim de Almeida in the fifth film actually had a son named Dante (Jason Momoa) who has spent the last 10 years fermenting a cockamamie plan to get revenge on Dominic Toretto and his extended family, which now contains a complex web of A-list actors — and also Tyrese and Ludacris, unkillable mainstays who are given the unenviable task of providing nearly all of the comic relief in a film that sees them mostly isolated from the rest of the cast. 

The family gets split up into four or five convenient parallel subplots as Momoa (dressed almost entirely in purple silk and hamming it up like he’s the sixth cast member of Queer Eye whose speciality is murder) chases them across the globe. A giant round bomb tears through streets, a submarine bursts out of the Arctic, the Hoover Dam is turned into a volcano, there are several planes involved, characters resurrect from the dead, three separate characters are used to fill the expository void left by the absence of Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody and so on and such forth for 140 calorically-dense minutes.

Though these movies now feature death-defying, gravity-defying stunts by the truckload, they are at least mostly devoid of the mumbo-jumbo we’ve come to associate with superhero movies. Instead, Fast X treats us to an insanely complicated family tree in which every single new character is revealed to be a relative of a character who died four movies ago or in cahoots with another character since the very beginning. No one really dies in this world, and no bad guy can truly remain bad, which means that the character list has ballooned into an unwieldy mess that one movie cannot contain. It’s difficult to follow and, frankly, probably relies quite a bit on the fact that audiences may have forgotten what was going on before. (John Cena’s character, once intense and stoic, has now just fully morphed into the comic persona that Cena has affected in such classics as Vacation Friends and Playing With Fire.)

Jason Momoa in Fast X

As headache-inducing as all this might be, no one comes to these movies because they care about estranged brothers coming together to soup up an engine and patch up their childhood trauma as they ride the car into the middle of a nuclear bomb — they care about the car and maybe the bomb. In that sense, Fast X is fairly satisfactory. It ramps up the constant carnage incessantly; the entire 2 hours and 20 minutes feel like the first 15 minutes of a movie, which probably says more about the franchise’s refusal to go out guns blazing (X being the first in a planned trilogy) than anything about the craft displayed here. Director Louis Leterrier throws his camera every which way at actors that have been smoothed out and slicked up by digital technology and instructed to give their one patented emotion whenever necessary. 

I couldn’t help thinking about professional wrestling while watching Fast X. Both feature slickly muscular men and women who cannot truly die and who spend years and years forming alliances and turning on each other. Everyone is related and, if someone’s gimmick no longer works, you can just switch the gimmick over and let kayfabe do the rest. The advantage that professional wrestling has over Fast X is that it happens continuously, week after week. Wrestling fans take it in slowly but surely, whereas there’s something quasi-Olympic about the Fast movies. Imagine if all of pro wrestling was eradicated and instead relegated to a massive showstopping event every two years. Imagine how exhausting that would be.

That’s Fast X. ■

Fast X (directed Louis Leterrier)

Fast X opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, May 19.

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