Review: The “Fast X” franchise appears to be losing steam.

Whenever the latest installment of the Toretto family saga isn’t coasting on the past successes of “Fast Five,” it’s striving too hard to emulate a superhero film.

The makers of the latest installment, Fast X, are clearly banking on the assumption that anyone tuning in is a fan of Fast Five. Released in 2011, it remains the franchise’s high point, bringing together stars from the first four Fast & Furious films to create a globe-trotting, Avengers-like super-team. However, the four sequels that followed have fallen into a rut, relying heavily on repetitive cyber-heists and celebrity cameos. Fast X attempts to recapture the magic by revisiting past glories.

Director Louis Leterrier’s new film takes the unusual step of recycling footage from the climax of Fast Five, where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew pulled off a daring bank vault heist in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. This time, a new character, Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), is awkwardly shoehorned into the scene. As the son of Fast Five’s antagonist, Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), Dante supposedly played a background role in the original events. It’s a transparent attempt to lend the new villain some gravitas, but it comes off as cheap and contrived. While watching Momoa scowl and sneer through one of the standout action sequences of the 2010s isn’t as egregious as certain other cinematic revivals, it’s undeniably grating.

Vin Diesel and Daniela Melchior in 'Fast X'

The departure of Fast Five director Justin Lin, who was initially slated to helm Fast X after returning for 2021’s F9, adds another layer of complexity to the recycled footage. Lin’s sudden exit less than a week into filming raises questions about the integrity of the project, as it feels somewhat like appropriating the work of a master action filmmaker to prop up this less-stellar successor.

In Fast X, which hits theaters this weekend, the plot revolves around Dante’s quest for revenge against Dom for the death of his father. However, Dante’s approach isn’t a straightforward “eye for an eye”; instead, he subscribes to the belief that “death should not be accepted when suffering is owed.” Thus, rather than killing Dom, Dante opts to inflict pain by targeting Dom’s cherished family, as audiences have come to know from previous films. Introduced in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, Dom’s son, Brian Marcos, has since grown from infancy into a young teenager (played by Leo Abelo Perry) who shares his father’s passion for cars, making him Dante’s primary target.

Momoa’s portrayal of Dante leans heavily into the flamboyant Disney villain archetype, providing a charming departure from the norm but also creating a jarring contrast within the film’s universe. Undoubtedly, the Fast and Furious franchise has embraced its own brand of silliness – who could forget Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) venturing into space in the previous installment? However, having one character constantly belittling the others and mocking everything may feel a tad too overt. It risks tipping the balance from lighthearted fun into outright parody, potentially undermining the film’s overall tone and coherence.

Fast X

After the opening retcon flashback, Fast X falls back on another tired trope to artificially enhance Dante’s threat level. In a matter of minutes, the franchise’s former top antagonist, Cipher (Charlize Theron), appears at Dom’s doorstep, battered and bruised, lamenting Dante’s wickedness and claiming he surpasses even her in villainy. It’s a cliché device, but it serves its purpose.

Considering that Fast Five’s main rival for the title of “best action film centered on cars in the 2010s” was Mad Max: Fury Road, it was a logical move to incorporate the star of that film into the Fast and Furious franchise, starting with The Fate of the Furious. However, it’s disconcerting how little the franchise has capitalized on Charlize Theron’s immense talent. Despite her impressive credentials as an action star, she has been largely relegated to sitting around in glass boxes and performing vague hacking feats in the past two movies. In Fast X, she finally gets a couple of fistfights that are reminiscent of her role in Atomic Blonde, but it’s baffling that Theron, the actress who brought Imperator Furiosa to life in Fury Road, still hasn’t been given the opportunity to drive a car in the Fast and Furious universe. It begs the question: why not?

In Fast X, Dante isn’t the only new character introduced; Alan Ritchson joins the cast as Aimes, who has taken over the spy agency once led by Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody but is considerably less amiable towards Dom and his crew. Brie Larson also makes an appearance as Tess, Mr. Nobody’s daughter, who is inclined to assist the Toretto team. However, with so many new and returning characters packed into a 142-minute runtime – including another former antagonist, Jakob Toretto (John Cena), now in a more heroic role – it becomes challenging to fully grasp who Tess is or why her character is significant. Nevertheless, there are numerous references to the absent Mr. Nobody throughout the film, adding layers to the narrative.

Fast X

The setting of one of Tess’ introductory scenes in a biker bar feels eerily reminiscent of a similar scene from Captain Marvel, adding to the sensation that Fast X is trying a bit too hard to emulate a superhero movie when it’s not riding the coattails of Fast Five. Throughout the film, Dom’s character takes on a more heroic role, focusing on saving lives, which is commendable. However, there are moments that seem directly lifted from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, almost to the point of homage. For instance, in Fast X’s first action setpiece, Dom confronts a threat to a city reminiscent of the bomb threat in The Dark Knight Rises. There’s even a familiar exchange where one character remarks, “you’ve done everything you could,” to which Dom responds with a line echoing Batman’s determination: “not everything.” Later, Letty’s attempt to escape an underground prison fortress evokes memories of Bane’s pit from the same film series. These serious stakes clash with Momoa’s campy portrayal of Dante, leaving viewers unsure whether to feel threatened or to simply enjoy the ride. The juxtaposition prompts the question: is the film aiming for seriousness or is it all meant in good fun? Why so serious, indeed, Dom?

It’s undeniable that superhero movies have dominated our cultural landscape, making it challenging for other narratives to carve out their own space. One of the appealing aspects of the Fast franchise was its ability to offer blockbuster spectacle akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe while maintaining a unique identity. However, with Fast X, those lines have become increasingly blurred, and the film even echoes one of the most frustrating elements of the superhero genre: endless serialized storytelling.

“The end of the road begins” serves as a fitting yet nonsensical tagline for the new film, as it concludes with a cliffhanger, leaving audiences with a sense of grandiosity without actually providing closure. Fast X seems to desire the grandeur of finality without committing to ending anything, contributing to the feeling of serialized storytelling more commonly associated with superhero films.

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