Even great, beloved TV shows and movie franchises can fall prey to the creative malaise of time. After a long run, new episodes or films can begin to feel like retreads of previous installments while even the most interesting characters grow stale. It happens all the time: Modern Family, Scrubs, The Office, Rocky, Die Hard, the list is endless. To combat this decline those in charge will often add a new character to freshen things up. But the Cousin Oliver trope rarely stops the spiral into full blown mediocrity. That’s where it seems the Fast & Furious franchise is quickly headed after the tedious, mediocre Fast X, a film that somehow thinks it’s a good idea to keep reminding you of its much better predecessors.
Fortunately it also stars the greatest Cousin Oliver in history, because Jason Momoa’s unhinged baddie is so good he almost saves a very flawed film in desperate need of much better script.
As its very first trailer revealed, Fast X begins with the most hilarious—and possibly best—retcon ever. Turns out the big bad of Fast Five had a son we didn’t know about. He’s a big, angry, vengeful, Joker-like sociopath/evil genius of a son who almost died chasing down his dad’s vault ten years ago. All of this is shown with an extended flashback to arguably the best scene in franchise history. And I do mean extended. It just goes on and on, a reminder that goes well past what anyone who would pay to see Fast X requires.
In the moment, the opening feels like a flex, as if the Fast & Furious knows it can get away with anything. That includes literally revisiting an old movie just because it wants to. Initially it works, too, because the whole premise is over-the-top and absurd in the best way. It’s the kind of wonderful dumb fun that has defined the latter half of the franchise and made it so successful.
By the end of the movie, that flashback feels less like a fun flex and more like a warning. It’s retroactively a sign of the uninspired trip through memory lane the film delivers. Fast X thinks it’s rewarding longtime fans the way Avengers: Endgame did for MCU viewers. Instead it comes across like a legacy band performing the exact same greatest hits playlist its been using for 20 years.
That’s not an indictment of the actors, but of the script. No one from the primary recurring cast is mailing in their performance. They’re all giving honest efforts since it’s clear they’re still having a blast making these movies together. The problem is they’re all doing the exact same things in the exact same ways we’ve seen a million times at this point. Nothing ever changes with them. Nor what happens to them. There stories are no longer fun because they’re familiar, their familiarity makes them trite and uninteresting.
Once more Roman and Tej argue like brothers as Ramsey laughs at them and Han is the coolest guy in the world with little to do. Meanwhile Letty must get back to her husband! You know, her only reason for existing in most of the films. And Dom, the philosopher king who is basically Confucius with a Dodge Charger? Well of course he’s super worried about losing his family! His family! But don’t worry! He’s still Superman without any kryptonite, a character who is now so boring and inevitable I found myself rooting for him to lose so something interesting would happen when he was onscreen.
They don’t even get to hang out together. Instead of leaning on one of the franchise’s strong suits, the film splits this family up like a classic Star Trek episode. They all have their own adventures to deal with, and each subplot feels like an exact carbon copy of things the characters have done before. Only in the case of Roman, Tej, Han, and Ramsey, their adventure amounts to nothing. By the end of the film it turns out they’re mostly just here for comic relief, as their plot ultimately proves to be non-existent. (I won’t spoil their “arc” with specifics, but it’s so bad it’s actually remarkable.)
That’s far from the only time Fast X suffers from basic storytelling mistakes. The film is rife with them. Every person on the planet is suddenly really dumb. That includes the main cast, regular citizens, cops, and shadowy Agency figures. They’re impossibly clueless and don’t act like humans because the plot needs them to be stupid. But the failure to understand how to tell a story is best epitomized by one scene that made me think I briefly lost my mind. It forces a character to make a choice about whom to save. Only, we don’t know anything about one of the people in danger. We literally do not know who this person is or why we should care about them, so we don’t know why there’s much of a choice to make.
It’s only after the fact the film provides that necessary information, as though we’ll retroactively care about what just happened. It’s such a ludicrous sequence of events I might honestly believe director Louis Leterrier if he claims my theater aired the scenes out of order.
The whole thing is a mess, which is a fitting way to describe most of the script which is often too stupid even for a Fast & Furious movie. And I say that as someone who loves the first nine! Seriously, I love every previous installment! (Yes! Really! All nine. No, not Hobbs & Shaw.) The last film sent a car to space, but that was good stupid, the kind of thing we’ve come to love and expect from these movies. But that very fine line between “good stupid” and “stupid stupid” is crossed repeatedly in Fast X.
I know some won’t agree. Others will see little difference between this film and the last couple installments. But this movie also lacks the heart of those. Not from a lack of trying, but just because it never finds the special F&F sauce that made them both fun and lovable.
A big reason why is that the script doesn’t put the effort needed into making this feel like a new chapter in the Fast story. Instead it relies on a parade of both expected and unexpected cameos. Every few scenes it decides to revisit a much better previous installment, either with a rehashed location, action scene, or old character. Sometimes this works (really well even), often it doesn’t (at all). But combined, the whole thing feels like a collection of references and Easter eggs more like a cohesive story.
That’s not to say the movie is a complete disaster. These movies now have a built-in high floor that prevents them from being unwatchable. There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. And the action scenes that aren’t simply referencing previous ones are excellent in the way they always are in the Fast & Furios. But even those are disappointing if you watched the trailers. Good gravy they gave away the whole movie! That includes the final scene, which you’ll enjoy so much more if you don’t know it’s coming. Fast X has arguably the single most spoiler-y trailers ever.
In terms of its own merits this film’s real strength comes via its newcomers and big-name part-timers. The non-recurring cast is superb and adds freshness this stale movie so desperately needs. That begins with Charlize Theron’s Cipher, who is more interesting and dynamic than ever. Brie Larson’s mysterious Tess is also a much needed shot of fun and intrigue. As is Alan Ritchson’s Aimes, a larger than life figure who looks like he’s going to eat every other character if they look at him wrong. And Fast X also realizes that letting John Cena be a giant endearing goof is always a good idea. I loved all of them and without them this movie would be bad rather than okay.
The real reason to see it, though, is the most important newcomer: Momoa. He gives the single most entertaining performance in Fast & Furious history. Forget chewing scenery. Forget even eating it. He’s ripping scenery down every time he’s on screen. Then he’s mashing it up, distilling it, and pouring it down everyone’s throat. He’s everything I wanted the rest of the film to be. Momoa is maniacal, flamboyant, charming, terrifying, hysterical, silly, and wildly entertaining. I’m not sure anyone has ever had more fun playing a character than he does as Dante Reyes. He’s so good it’s almost impossible this movie isn’t fla-out excellent based on his performance alone.
(Note: I can’t speak for the queer community, but I’m buying stock in him becoming a queer icon. A lot of stock. Seeing the reaction to Dante is going to be way more fun than seeing the reaction to this film.)
But by the movie’s bizarre and infuriating non-ending it’s clear even the best Cousin Oliver ever—a true Hollywood star operating at full power in all his glory—isn’t enough to save Fast X from itself. It’s a shadow of better movies. Worse is that we can’t help but notice that because it keeps reminding us of those better predecessors. All those callbacks and cameos also reminded me to keep checking my watch to see how much more of this movie I had to endure. And when it finally did end, for the first and only time since I started watching them, I thought it really is time for the Fast & Furious franchise to drive off into the sunset.
Better than driving down on a long road of mediocrity.