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Fast X has the Fast and Furious franchise spinning its wheels

It’s become an endlessly self-referential series of gags, and you really have to be in on the joke

Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) holds up a detached car door to shield himself from a hail of bullets as he moves to cover Isabel (Daniela Melchior), lying on the ground in front of a car, in Fast X Photo: Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures

The only deceptive thing about the Fast and Furious movies is that the people behind them pretend they’re still movies about cars. Don’t let the talk about torque and fuel-injection systems fool you: This series shifted into a different gear a long time ago. Specifically, it pivoted in 2011 with Fast Five, the movie that made Fast and Furious the hybrid superhero/superspy/super-heist franchise it is today. Since then, what was once a fresh (and, honestly, pretty funny) pivot has spun its wheels into the dirt. Which brings us to Fast X.

The villain in this latest chapter of the saga is Dante Reyes (once and future Aquaman Jason Momoa), the son of the Brazilian drug-dealer antagonist from Fast Five. Fast X opens with recycled footage from Fast Five showing Dante’s dad Hernan (Joaquim de Almeida) meeting his end in that film’s climactic bank heist/car chase. It’s a telling choice, because it reveals where the current incarnation of the series really began. It also reminds longtime fans what these movies used to be about — the car chase at the end of Fast Five is awesome, better than anything in Fast X — and what they’re ostensibly about now.

The answer to that last bit is — say it all together now — family. Fast X could not underline this theme any more clearly. This is a film with zero subtext, where characters state their motivations and explain what they’re about to do in the clearest of terms right before they do it. (“It’s a big-ass bomb!” a character says at one point, upon the reveal of said big-ass bomb. “I’m going to go kill the guy who’s trying to defuse my bomb,” Dante tells a flunky a few minutes later.) This bluntness is mostly just giggle-inducing. But it is helpful in the sense that, if a viewer happens to miss one of Fast X’s many references to other Fast and Furious movies, another character will pop up to explain the connection moments later.

Dante (Jason Momoa), in a typically metrosexual snakeskin jacket and vinyl pants, throws his arms out to the sides in a dramatic gesture in Fast X Photo: Universal Pictures

Fast X also lays out Universal’s master plan for the series by constantly underlining the importance of legacy and passing knowledge down through the generations, preemptively setting up a future reboot where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) hands the car keys over to his son Little B (Leo Abelo Perry) after the epic three-part conclusion to the current saga is complete.

Fast X also passes the baton in terms of its supporting characters, introducing two new members of “the Agency” that controls the fates of Dom and his crew. Tess (Brie Larson) is the daughter of Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody, who’s currently “deep in hiding” (read: probably going to show up in a post-credits sequence at some point) after his plane was ambushed at the beginning of the last movie. Aimes (Alan Ritchson) is Mr. Nobody’s successor who’s out to get Dom and his friends until he isn’t.

New characters related to old characters also pop up on the good guys’ side, and our familiar friends — Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Han (Sung Kang), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) — are there as well. Jakob (John Cena), the antagonist from the last movie, has been incorporated into Dom’s circle of trust, and even super-hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron) shows some temporary loyalty to the crew. And that’s not including the cameos!

Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), in all white and standing in a high-tech lab amid blue lights and surgical tables, looks entirely fed up in Fast X Photo: Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures

At this point in their lives, Dom and Letty have settled down and become square parents — ones who keep guns with silencers in their night tables, but square parents nonetheless. They approach their lives and work with utter seriousness, whether they’re trying to stop a bomb or teach Little B the ropes. This makes them two of the least compelling characters in the movie. Their partners in crime (or heroism, depending on which movie you’re thinking of), meanwhile, are still cutting it up like old times. But while Han is on the dating apps and Tej and Roman still spend their days playfully teasing each other, the gags are starting to feel stale.

The characters having the most fun are both new additions to the franchise: Cena, doing a variation on his meathead rocker schtick from Peacemaker, brings fun uncle energy to his scenes. And Momoa? Well, the best way to describe his performance in this movie is as a nepo-baby Joker, embracing chaos and destabilizing Dom’s extended family while wearing pastel nail polish and silk shirts unbuttoned to the navel. He even rips off a line from The Dark Knight when he says: “Some men want to save the world. I just want to punish it.”

Given Dom’s habit of acquiring family members (a point Aimes lampshades by complaining about the Fast and Furious “cult” that keeps recruiting former enemies), there are a lot of characters to keep up with in Fast X. By necessity, director Louis Leterrier (taking over from longtime Fast and Furious mastermind Justin Lin, who left in early production) splits them up into parallel globe-trotting adventures. Some of these are more exciting than others: Tej, Roman, Ramsey, and Han spend most of the movie shopping for underworld tech and catching up with old friends in London, for example.

A car is hit broadside by a vast, flaming metal sphere just outside the Vatican as people flee in terror in an action scene from Fast X Image: Universal Pictures

And when the action does come in, it’s a different style than in the best Fast and Furious movies. Leterrier obviously augmented the chase scenes with CGI, and the hand-to-hand combat is shot in that piecemeal way where not a single punch or kick is shown in its entirety from throw to impact. The whole thing is devoid of any sense of scale or location — and that’s before the nauseating drone photography comes in.

Even the excitement factor comes second to the almighty IP in Fast X, as audiences are encouraged to spend the duration pointing at the screen in recognition, like Leonardo DiCaprio in the Rick Dalton meme. This film is full of callbacks and references, repeating some of the series’ best stunts in warmed-over sequences that mostly reveal how this was more fun the first time. It’s disingenuous to bemoan a subtlety that this series never had, but the emphasis on lore in Fast X introduces an emotion that’s deadly for a film like this one: boredom.

Fast X suffers from the same condition as latter-day MCU movies, where it’s so laden with internal mythology that it feels more like homework than popcorn entertainment. “The days when one man behind the wheel of a car can make a difference are done,” Aimes soberly informs Dom in the buildup to the film’s fiery, physics-defying action climax, which naturally involves one man behind the wheel of a car. Aimes is meant to be wrong in his prediction, and wrong-headed for even thinking it. But the days when a goofy, overstated line like that is enough to keep audiences coming back to this franchise may be waning, too.

Fast X opens nationwide in theaters on May 19.

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