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Fast X (2023) review: The most “grounded” Fast yet

Fast X

Dominic Toretto and his ever-growing family are back at it once again in Fast X, the eleventh installment in the increasingly bombastic, and confusingly named, franchise. Folks love to ridicule the two-decade-old franchise for being an unbelievable spectacle, and I tend to agree. However, I think that there is a place in pop culture for turn-your-brain-off spectacle that the Fast and Furious franchise has filled for a while now, but even with that in mind, I feel that Fast X misses the mark.

It’s been pointed out time and time again that the franchise has perhaps gotten too big and too dumb — nuclear submarines and space cars, anyone? — but, according to last-minute director Louis Leterrier to Esquire, Fast X was supposed to feel “ground[ed] more in reality.” Does Fast X feel more grounded? Sometimes, but it also rolled a giant bomb through the streets of Rome for a solid eight minutes before Dom crashed into a crane and diverted it to safely detonate in the River Tiber. If big, practical stunts taking place on the ground rather than in space are what makes a movie “grounded,” then I understand where Leterrier is coming from. On the other hand, it takes strong character work to bring a franchise like this back to Earth, and I feel like, for the most part, Fast X can’t quite get all of its wheels on the ground.

“Grounded more in reality”

At its most grounded, the Fast and Furious franchise has, historically, been built on strong character relationships, which Fast X is sorely lacking. Besides an early, down-to-earth moment between Dom and Han talking about fatherhood — where is Han’s adopted daughter Elle anyway? — Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto spends most of the movie entirely separate from his “family.” Instead, the majority of his time is spent alone or interacting with characters introduced in Fast X — Brie Larson’s Tess, Daniela Melchior’s Isabel, and Jason Momoa’s Dante. None of these new relationships have a lot of weight to them thanks to how fresh and brief they are. Instead, almost every scene seems to send the message that everyone besides Vin is having a blast filming this spectacle, while he’s taking the whole operation entirely too seriously.

Outside of Dom and Dante’s whirlwind of chaos, other members of the Toretto family, either by blood or otherwise, also have mixed results when it comes to character relationships. Roman and Tej spend most of their screen time in an out-of-nowhere feud about Roman’s leadership skills, with Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey sort of caught in the middle, while Han (far and away my favorite character in the franchise), feels like a tacked-on afterthought. The film’s C story showcases the film’s most developed character moments, with John Cena’s Jakob rescuing Dom’s son, Little B, from Dante’s goons, and transporting him to a safe house in Portugal. Watching Little B get to know, and learn to idolize his uncle Jakob during their trip is a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster movie, no doubt bolstered by John Cena’s seemingly endless fount of charisma.

And his name is Jason Momoa!

Not to be outdone by Cena’s charisma, Jason Momoa’s performance as the flamboyant and psychotic Dante is another highlight of Fast X – even in the brief moments that he’s obviously trying to make the audience uncomfortable, it’s clear that Momoa was there to have a good time, and that Leterrier was more than happy to let him run with it. Even without any strong relationships of his own, Dante’s commitment to his revenge against Dom for his role in his father’s death in Fast Five is a force to be reckoned with. By and large, Momoa’s performance has precisely what the rest of the film is missing — an understanding of how silly these movies really are and a willingness to lean into it anyway.

Could a follow-up to Fast X feel more grounded and fix these character issues? Or will the Fast and Furious franchise continue to get even bigger, louder, and faster? Will we ever see Han’s adopted daughter again? With at least two more films in the final saga of the franchise currently planned, anything is possible, but I won’t be holding my breath.


Posted in Reviews