Having a ball: A bouncing bomb rolls through the streets of Rome in ‘Fast X’.
FAST X ***1/2 (141 minutes) M
You know, it’s quite some testament to the structural integrity of the Fast & Furious franchise that here we are, 10 films in, and the lark is still loads-a fun, with enough energy and spectacle and vehicular mayhem to satisfy all comers, even those outside the coterie of discerning filmgoers who have made the series one of the most successful in history – as well as one of the loudest.
We have at the helm franchise first-timer Louis Leterrier (Transporter 1 & 2; Clash of the Titans; Now you See Me) who, despite his newbie status, hit the chair with a sufficiently thorough knowledge to hit all the necessary buttons to deliver a polished product that fans could swallow whole.
To his credit, Fast X is totally consistent with the tone and style of the series since F&F4, the film that revived the franchise by blending magnificently preposterous over-the-top action with faith-based family values, the latter said to account for why the films appeal so much to its Latino fanbase.
Indeed, this time around our car-loving hero Dom (Vin Diesel) isn’t just powered by heavy weaponry and suped-up street machines, he’s got God on his side, with a slightly over-sized crucifix starring as a visual motif, punching up faith much more so than in previous efforts.
And as if that none-too-subtle salute to Catholicism wasn’t enough, the film features a prolonged, very exciting demolition derby through the streets of Rome as Dom chases a giant spherical bomb as it careens towards Vatican City and The Pope. Talk about spiritual devotion. Dom must have been one heck of an altar boy.
At the risk of reading too much into it, we can also take the round bomb both as an homage to the famous boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark and as a tribute to WW2 Dambuster hero Barnes Wallis, which probably accounts for why the film’s finale takes place on a dam.
Dom’s adversary this time around is revenge-hungry Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), son of crime boss Heman (Joaquim de Almeida, so good in A Clear and Present Danger) who owned the vault Dom and his crew stole in such unique fashion in 2011’s Fast Five.
A cheeky enemy with devilish facial hair and a flamboyant dress sense – Momoa does a great job as a sort of sociopathic dandy musclehead – Dante is keen to exact payback over the robbery and for his father’s death, which he blames Dom for.
The characteristically frenzied storytelling consists of the usual jumble of colliding sub-plots, the overarching theme being Dom’s quest to protect his cherished family, in particular his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry).
It matters a great deal, of course, that family values are at the core of the film – though it doesn’t matter quite as much as all the marvellously over-the-top vehicular mayhem in which cars, trucks, bikes and helicopters are flipped, tumbled, totalled and detonated with a flair and grace that is borderline balletic. Only Michael Bay stages destruction so beautifully.
The only snag to all the volcanic action is that there’s so many digital VFX meshed with all the work from the film’s huge stunt team that it’s impossible to tell what’s actually been staged practically for the cameras and what’s been created by the film’s army of mouse jockeys.
This has the unfortunate effect of sapping the action of the type of armrest clutching thrills we used to get in the pre-digital days watching stunt people do amazing things, knowing that it couldn’t be faked.
As great as it looks, so much of the action in Fast X is so obviously animated and impossible to physically stage, that visceral element isn’t there any more.
For over 20 years now filmgoers have been conditioned to presume that anything in a film that’s big and spectacular has either been created with digital animation, or had plenty of digital assist.
Consequently, what we’ve seen in the Fast & Furious films to make up for the synthetic quality of the action is to up-scale with action scenarios that are increasingly wild and outrageous.
Take, for example, the sequence in Fast X where Dom’s car is tethered by two helicopters. It’s brilliantly done, yet lacks that distinctive analog edge because we know that the fiery extravaganza we’re watching is essentially a photo-realistic cartoon.
How good would it be to see a future F&F – and rest assured there are more to come – focused on using practical stunts with no – or minimal – VFX. It’s a dream, but a sweet one.
The film’s momentum does sag a tad in the lead up to the third act rush, and some of the story direction is a bit fuzzy, though that is likely due to leaving it up to the next installment to tie up all the loose ends.
As an interesting side note, the production of Fast X ran into a snag when director Louis Leterrier was brought soon after shooting began, replacing F&F veteran Justin Lin who, despite having made episodes 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9, suddenly found himself at odds with series star Vin Diesel, who he found unpunctual, unprepared (couldn’t remember his lines) and, apparently, out of shape.
If that’s the case, Diesel hides it well. While he’s unlikely to win any awards for his overacting, he holds the centre of the film together as well as he usually does. So props to him.
Aside from the scene-stealing turn by Momoa, comedian Pete Davidson chips in with a funny cameo as a shop owner.
The rest of the cast – including Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, John Cena, Brie Larson, Helen Mirren, Jordana Brewster and Scott Eastwood – go through the motions with the required adequacy.
If, perchance, you sense that Fast X often seems over-eager to please you can likely put that down to it being anxious to keep faith with its fan army after the box office damage Covid did to F9.
Bravely released in 2021 during the global turndown in cinema attendances due to the impact of the virus, F9 set box office records for the pandemic era by taking around $US720 million. Still, that’s about $500m less than F8 in 2017 ($1.2B) and $700m less than F7 in 2015.
So, in a way, Fast X is the franchise’s post-Covid valentine to its fans, with all signs suggesting fans will be delirious with delight over the film’s signature blend of super-sized action, family values and chronic over-acting.