Fast X has a Dominic Toretto problem
The head of the family needs to listen to the other members.
We need to talk about Vin Diesel.
The Fast and Furious movies have long been Diesel’s baby, ever since he jumped on as a producer for the fourth entry, 2009’s Fast & Furious. The story behind his creative control of the series is a convoluted one. The crux, however, is that as he’s taken more ownership, the movies have increasingly catered to the star’s superhero complex.
How have they catered, exactly? For starters, there’s the oft-repeated fact that Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham have in their contracts that they can’t lose a fight onscreen. Then there’s the years of offscreen animosity between Diesel and Johnson (presumably related to their competing egos) that caused Johnson to minimize his future involvement with the franchise. Most damningly, early on in the Fast X production process, long-time director and producer Justin Lin departed after “creative differences” with Diesel on the movie’s direction (Lin remained as a producer).
The point is this: Diesel shows all the signs of being a star who believes he knows best what works for these movies, and what works best for these movies is Vin Diesel. Ironically, that understanding could not be further from the truth, as Fast X, an otherwise typically daffy and fun entry in an always daffy and fun series, repeatedly demonstrates. Everyone else is having a great time. Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, however, is a dour anchor dragging it all down.
Fast X, the first entry in the series’ three-part (reported) finale has Dom and his beloved family facing down yet another enemy to end all enemies, this time in the form of Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), the son of the Brazilian drug lord our heroes took down in Fast Five. After Dante frames the group for a bombing in Rome, Dom and his crew have to work to rebuild their relationship with The Agency, and destroy Dante before he destroys them.
Helping Dom pull this off is new addition Tess (Brie Larson) the daughter of Dom’s Agency ally Mr. Nobody. Dom’s now-reformed brother Jacob (John Cena) is tasked with safely transporting Dom’s son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry) to a safehouse.
The franchise’s previous entry, F9: The Fast Saga, felt like a series high, with beloved characters rejoining the fold and long-time fan theories (i.e. “they’re going to space”) finally coming true. Fast X is a step back from the meta delights of that experience. The threats here are still totally silly; a giant spherical bomb rolling through the streets of Rome, some mumbo jumbo about a computer chip.
However, there’s nothing approaching the hat-on-a-hat stunts or character arcs teetering on Community-level self-awareness that made F9 really sing.
That’s not to say what’s here is without enjoyment; much of Fast X is lots of fun, and the dynamics between the characters are as satisfying as ever. Our side characters—namely Han (Sun Kang), Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel)—are still having a hijinks-filled good time. Cena’s interactions with little Brian are endearing. Momoa’s Dante is cartoonish fun, though a little over the top and problematically coded. He’s clearly patterned after The Joker, but leans more toward Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Any time Diesel enters the frame, everything grinds to an over-serious halt.
Dom has always been a tough, stoic dude who loves talking about how much he loves his family. In this finale run, however, it really seems like Diesel wants to drive home Dom’s heroic qualities above all else. He uses a car door like Captain America’s shield. When his son is in danger, the film slows down to ensure you see Dom selflessly shielding him as dramatic music plays. Dante presents him with moral conflicts like Dom’s Batman in The Dark Knight. Even by previous entries’ standards, Diesel’s performance lacks anything resembling a sense of humor, increasingly at odds with the movie he’s actually in.
In the ranking of Fast and Furious movies, Fast X lies somewhere around the middle of the pack.
There are a few reveals in this one that suggest the subsequent parts of the three-part finale have some extra fun up their motorcycle jacket sleeves, but all that will be for naught if Diesel doesn’t learn to take at least a half-step back and take some constructive criticism. It’d be a shame for these movies to end on diminishing returns just because one guy couldn’t get over himself.