Justin Lin may no longer be in the driver’s seat of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, but his blockbuster fingerprints are all over “Fast X.” The tenth — and most outrageous installment yet — in the ongoing fast-moving franchise delivers on its promise of high-octane thrills while very clearly setting-up a finale to the massive series, entering every living player from its past into the race. Though Lin’s abrupt departure put the fate of the franchise in jeopardy, French director Louis Leterrier has a solid command of explosive and heart-pumping action scenes to take it for spin.
Relying on homages to past stunts (like Diesel’s Dom Toretto driving out of a moving plane) and surprise appearances by long lost characters, the movie lays the groundwork for a possibly three-part finale (as Diesel has indicated). Whether it has any new tricks up its sleeve still remains to be seen, though it’s unclear if that matters to its many diehard fans.
Following the mantra of go ginormous or go home, “Fast X” rallies its many disparate characters against a shared enemy. (Never mind that some of the more forgettable ones would have been better left alone.) Operating on the adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” this installment brings previous rivals together to stop a demonic psychopath who will stop at nothing to teach Dom the painful lesson that he can’t save everyone.
It must be gospel in Hollywood that every leading man reveres and studies Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning Joker performance, proven out by Jason Momoa’s outrageously flamboyant take on the aggrieved villain Dante. Often laughing maniacally at his own evil genius, Dante drives a purple car, and sports silk pants and purple nails, because: “It tones down the masculinity, which we all need these days.” This winking nod at shifting norms might be less complicated to enjoy if it wasn’t said while giving pedicures to a group of corpses. Instead, Universal is engaging in the oldest trick in the book, using flamboyance (read: queerness) to signal psychopathic supervillain. Pitted against the raging paternalism of Dom Toretto’s singular guiding purpose to protect his family at all costs, the moral edict is crystal clear.
Resurrecting the genetically engineered prior baddie from her own lair, the real action begins when Charlize Theron’s Cipher appears on Dom’s doorstep to warn of an evil like the world has never seen. “I always kinda thought it was me,” she admits, perhaps to the audience. “So that was kinda disappointing.” She arrives at Dom’s family abode bleeding and injured from an ambush, in which she singlehandedly fought off about fifty dudes with nothing but her fists. Waltzing giddily into her headquarters, Dante turned her security against her in an instant by kidnapping all of their children. With Dom’s son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry) in play, it’s clear who Dante’s eventual target is (and where the action is headed).
Now 12 years old and able to sustain his own B-plot, Brian gets his own mini road movie while on the lam with Uncle Jakob (John Cena). Introduced as the tepid villain of “F9,” Dom’s long lost brother fits much more easily into the family as the good guy he was always meant to be. Tasked with keeping Brian safe, he and the kid set out on a charming little side adventure that offers a sweet diversion from the flashier antics. Cue adorable hijinks surrounding the nostalgic magic of mix tapes and lessons in swearing.
The same can’t be said for the other members of the extended family, though they certainly start things off with a bang. Running point on an operation in his namesake city Rome (a confusing choice), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) heads up the dream team of longtime favorites Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sun Kang), and recently introduced hacktivist Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). But the for-hire job ends up being a trap set by Dante in order to lure Dom to come to their rescue. When a truck of what they think is computer chips ends up carrying a massive bomb, suddenly a simple heist turns into a world-saving mission.
Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, smooth as ever on her signature motorcycle) arrive just in time to avert literal fall of Rome, starting the movie off with an epic Italian chase scene that looks like the “Bourne” films on steroids. Though they manage to avert catastrophe by a hair — and with no casualties! — Dante’s plan to implicate them in a terrorist attack on Rome works, and Dom and his family are suddenly personae non grata at the CIA. Once Roman and crew go into hiding in London, their meager action languishes under the pressure of being the comic relief, as well as having to run into old friends (Jason Statham’s Shaw) and new (Pete Davidson?!).
With their old CIA contact Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) mysteriously in the wind, Dom and the family find themselves the target of unsympathetic new boss Aimes (Alan Ritchson). Luckily, Dom is saved by a rogue agent determined to fulfill her father’s legacy, a cheerful but competent Brie Larson as his new CIA ally Tess. Defying her shifty new meathead of a superior Aimes, Tess tracks down Letty in a remote black-ops site, reuniting her with her old pal Cipher for an epic escape and survival plan.
With Dante’s fixation on proving to Dom that family isn’t forever, motivated by his back story, it’s only natural that the climactic battle end in an epic chase for Brian’s survival. Dom has to make some sacrifices along the way, but not before yet again landing a race car from a moving plane, and driving full speed down the side of a Hoover-sized dam. The action delivers, but the film’s third act suffers from an excess of set-ups, cameos, and minor deaths played up as major losses. After all, they have (at least) two more to go.
Universal Pictures will release “Fast X” in theaters on Friday, May 19.