When Jason Momoa’s character in “Fast X” pulls up to one of the series’ signature street races in Rio de Janeiro, it’s not the first time we’ve seen him in the film. But it is the moment that the character clicks into place.
It’s critical to me that you understand exactly what he looks like in this moment: he’s decked out in lavender from top to bottom, from his shirt, to his wide leg pants, to the polish on his nails. His hair is pulled into a perfectly messy ponytail, situated directly on top of his head. He’s sporting shades that are attached to his face via a bedazzled chain that looks like something a very stylish grandmother would wear. Going toe-to-toe with Vin Diesel’s stoicism, Momoa’s peacocking all over the place, bright and loud with his hip cocked out like he’s Elvis or something. He is a new kind of threat to the “Fast” franchise – a new kind of movie star come to take hold.
Momoa’s villain turn overpowers “Fast X” and is perhaps one of the only things in this installment of the “Fast” franchise to really write home about. A labored first act gives way to a few moments of joy here and there, but the film can’t keep up with Momoa’s manic schoolgirl energy, nor can it keep up with the burden of its future. From the promise of a “Fast X Part 2” (and “Part 3,” according to Diesel), to car stunts that skid to a disappointing halt as soon as they start, “Fast X” can’t keep up with its new villain.
“Fast X” does have one thing going for it. Its opening moments take us back to the highs of 2011’s “Fast Five.” We’re privy to a shortened version of the iconic safe heist, watching as Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) drag drug lord Hernan Reyes’ (Joaquim de Almeida) vault full of cash through the streets of Rio. But this time, we get a different perspective. Reyes’ son Dante (Momoa) was there during the heist and witnesses his father’s death at the hands of Dom and his team. In the present day, he’s back and intent on making Dom and his family suffer.
Dantes is a different sort of heavy than we’ve seen in the past. In addition to his keen eye for fashion (his closet must be overflowing with silk shirts) Dante is not a fighter, and despite his size doesn’t seem to be skilled in hand-to-hand combat of any kind. In one particular face off, Dom handily takes Dante down – something we would never see from the likes of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) or Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), both of whom have it written into their contracts that they cannot lose a fight, let alone get their ass handed to them.
Dante is more of a conductor or a choreographer than anything else. He has a flair for the dramatic, directing his goons with a lavish flick of his hand, or deranged twirl – a petulant, thrill-seeking child stuck in the body of a strongman. Momoa’s flourishes feel like they belong in a different universe, his irreverent humor and instincts so out of step with the earnest cheese of the “Fast” world, his level of insanity outsized compared to the muted quality of the rest of the film. When he is on screen, “Fast X” is his movie. When he’s not, it seems to lose its step.
In this franchise, it’s rare that the newest addition instantly becomes the most compelling. But what’s even rarer is the lack of imagination when it comes to car stunts. Sure, there’s a big blowout at the end, but one that feels like a pale comparison to what we’ve seen before. The other car sequences – one of which is literally just a scene from an earlier film – don’t have near the level of imagination we’ve seen in the past. I can’t help but wonder if the lack of spark here has something to do with the idea of “Fast X” as a multiple-part experience – a franchise within a franchise. That might explain the awkward pacing and set up of the film as well. Our main crew spends almost no time fully together, a decision that impacts Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty in the worst way, leaving her to the wind for the majority of the film’s runtime. As much as the rest of the “Fast” franchise might vary in quality, they’re usually paced well and deliver a full story even if there’s a smidge of set up for the sequel. But “Fast X” lacks any forward momentum.
Even Diesel, usually compelling in his own unique way, feels dragged down by the weight of what’s to come and by Momoa’s unnerving energy. For a movie that tries to spend so much time litigating Dom’s legacy, Dante is the far more interesting figure – the new come to overtake the old. “The days when one man can make a difference behind the wheel of a car are over,” says a government official to Dom at one point, a line of metacommentary that feels very much in the vein of last year’s “Top Gun: Maverick” – a movie that squares Tom Cruise up against a cohort of young Hollywood’s finest and dares to ask if the world still really needs Tom Cruise (spoiler alert: it does).
But the answer to a similar question raised in “Fast X” is, unfortunately, not so simple. I don’t know if the days of one man making a difference behind the wheel of a car are behind us – but for the first time in a long time, there’s a new man in the driver’s seat.