You might have won, Dante, but I have something you don’t… Family.
It is almost unbelievable to think that the day will come when the Fast and the Furious franchise concludes in the contemporary landscape of cinema where everything is turned into a movie franchise and will have TV shows about secondary characters. The franchise had two films that could have been the perfect conclusion yet it still kept chugging and has not stopped for over 20 years being at the center of discussion online and in media about if it will run out of ideas anytime soon while racking up billions of dollars at the box office. Fast X does set up a potential future with Dom’s son, but watching this fills you with a sense of finality seeing as we only have a couple of movies left to spend time with the crew. Let’s hope that the filmmakers make the best out of it while they still can.
The story is a revenge plot 12 years in the making as Dom and his crew robbed and murdered a Brazilian crime boss in Fast Five (2011) with his son gunning for Dom’s family. This setup is more than an excuse to open up with the phenomenal heist in that film to hype up the audience as that scene is what helped redefine the franchise from a middle-budget crime thriller where the crew was stealing DVDs to a high-budget spectacle action series where they went to space. The film is filled with reminders of that nature so all of these help create the sense of finality in that what we are watching is building up to a climactic conclusion. But most importantly it is there to introduce us to the motivation of the main attraction that the film is built around: Jason Momoa as Dante Reyes.
Mamoa as the new villain is the show stealer and who people will be talking about the most once they come out of the theater. He is a welcome addition to the franchise whose roster of villains has always been lacking in how they never match the tone and the theme of family with the only exception being Deckard Shaw in Furious 7 (2015). From a surface level, his motivation due to Dom hurting his family is similar to Shaw but they differ greatly, with Shaw having a family to get back to after hurting Dom’s family back, while Dante has no family to have a barbecue and share a Corona with, so he has fallen in a downward spiral of insanity until he sees the world burn. This re-frames Dom’s actions in finding a new life and beginning for his family and crew to him creating his own worst enemy that exists only to torment him.
Dante is a scheming and cackling sadist who takes joy in psychologically torturing anyone by threatening their family. Mamoa’s performance here is one of his best with him chewing the scenery and poking fun at tropes of the franchise and with the way he laughs at anything he draws comparisons to the Joker. As the movie progresses you get to enjoy him and he makes you laugh as you see him joyously murder people or see his mastermind strategies to hurt Dom unfolding successfully. Yet, even though he made me laugh with his presence, he is still an intimidating villain due to his first proper villain scene sending chills down my spine. Yes, he turns slowly comedic as the movie rolls on but I never stopped believing he was a real threat given his menacing first impression.
The first act emphasizes how powerful Dante is with how he separates Dom’s entire crew and those are who closest to them, returning their public image to that of wanted criminals. From here on our protagonists are all trying to find a way to get back together and stop Dante with the movie splitting the plot into multiple subplots, from Dom chasing Dante, to John Cena’s character returning to help save Dom’s son and the fateful meeting between Han and Shaw promised in the trailers. In fact, there are so many plots to follow that the movie almost becomes convoluted and hard to follow as it cuts between them while following the already sizable cast of characters and introducing a handful of new ones. In the end, it manages to keep it at a good pace due to the number of action scenes and the pacing never feeling drawn out, while also not rushing every scene to a conclusion, leaving breathing room for the audience to enjoy it. The problem is that as it is advertised as part one of a two-part finale (or three-part if rumours are to be believed) it does leave a few of those subplots unresolved for the sequel and it leaves some of the characters with unfinished resolutions that you have to wait for at least two years to see through.
The character arcs which suffer the most are those for Tess (Brie Larson), who was well introduced in a brief manner, yet her character feels like a device to keep the plot moving, and Deckard Shaw, who sadly feels like a glorified cameo to speed up his relationship with Han. Jacob (John Cena) is better written with the writing and directly there to add to his comedic chops and he is a perfect fit to work with a child actor and so he is more memorable than his last appearance, but the writing’s rush to resolve subplots left his character not fully explored in this installment. The rest of the cast thankfully does not suffer from the rushed subplots with ample time to enjoy Dom talking to his son about the importance of family, and Tej and Roman bickering as is tradition in these movies.
With a franchise that prides itself in always upping the ante in its action scenes with each new installment, it might be disappointing to some that this one does not have anything that comes close to the action set piece in Fast Five nor does anyone going to space in a car. Although that is substituted with Mamoa’s getting so much focus, for anyone itching to see more, you will not get anything larger than the action set piece in Rome. The action is still high on octane with a great mixture of practical and VFX from the giant metal ball rolling through Rome and cars crashing and exploding. The practical effects add weight to the car chase scenes and a constant sense of danger. The CGI is not a step up from the one in F9 (2021) with the fire and explosions always looking fake and obvious green screen, but you are not here to watch Avatar-level CGI and the movie knows that with a focus on delivering a fun CGI spectacle of explosions over realism to match the practical effects. The hand-to-hand combat on the other hand, while there to make sure you are never bored, outside of Cena’s action scene lacks any kinetic energy to feel hard-hitting or memorable.
In the end Fast X by itself is an enjoyable experience with a lot of action and good moments between characters to keep you entertained and never bored but without seeing the second part it leaves you with the sense that something is lacking as you have to wait for the second half to release as parts of this movie are not resolved. Ultimately that is the biggest problem the movie will face with how part 2 will go. Dante is a brilliantly written character, but his story is not resolved, so depending on where his arc goes in the sequel it could feel anti-climactic to rewatch part 1 knowing that it does not go anywhere afterward. The lack of another action set piece that tries to outdo a car going to space is a letdown with how the movie was building up besides the promise of one being left for a sequel. This is not to say that not having that will be a deal-breaker for some and it will not be for me, but it would leave me feeling that the finale was missing a grand final note to conclude this saga with. In the same vein of thought part 2 can make this be even better on a rewatch if it handles all of those unresolved stories well and give us the promised action set piece. For now, the only thing I can do is patiently wait for the sequel that makes this a more worthwhile experience to revisit in future marathons of the franchise.