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Fast X review: the franchise only has a few good miles left in ‘er

Fast X, the latest of the Fast and Furious franchise, sputters through a few entertaining action sequences but ultimately falls into cruise control on safe clichés.

You know you’re in trouble when a Fast & Furious movie starts with a backyard barbeque scene.

Traditionally getting the whole cast together – minus Paul Walker’s Brian, who is somehow still alive (but unseen) in the franchise despite Walker having died in 2013 – is reserved for a post climax reminder that in a world full of the Fast and the Furious, the only F that really matters is Family. But Fast X gets the get-together out of the way early; with the finishing line for the franchise only a movie or two away, it’s foot to the floor cliffhangers and shock reveals from here on out.

The story is the usual crockpot of high tech gizmos and street racing and reminders that family is all that matters and missions that involve trashing major world cities and stopping off to check in with old friends before a whole lot of explosions. Flamboyant yet sinister new threat Dante (Jason Momoa), son of that dead Brazilian bad guy from Fast and Furious 5, is running around saying ‘never accept death when suffering is owed’, which means the usual supervillain antics instead of just hiring a couple of guys with sniper rifles to shoot alpha potato Dom (Vin Diesel) from a safe distance.

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Why must movies need to ‘make sense’?

The callback to Fast & Furious 5 with Dante’s origins – because seriously, they could say he was an alien come to Earth to drink petrol and it would make as much sense as anything else – is a move designed to signal a gear change. It’s time to ease off on the franchise’s trademark insanity and return things to that magical time when Dom and his crime crew were actually committing implausible crimes instead of spending every movie being hunted by some bad guy thinly connected to a previous instalment.

This means much of the film is somewhat subdued by FF standards, which is insane to say about a movie where early in proceedings a neutron bomb the size of a house rolls through the streets of Rome (sometimes on fire) crushing all before it. But as Dante himself says, that’s a homage to the classic safe-stealing sequence from FF5, a film that did not have secret underground prisons full of laser-wielding robots or reminders that in the previous film some cast members literally drove a car into space.

Does this reset work? Not really. The need for big destructive set-pieces means much of the action is clearly CGI – not that the effects look bad, but that (for example) there’s no way the city of Rome is going to let half the town get trashed. There’s no firm line as to what is or isn’t possible, let alone dangerous: minor characters are sidelined simply by falling out of a car or a flesh wound while others are basically indestructible, gravity is an optional extra and turning on the nitrous system in your street racer gives the car (and possibly you) superpowers. Despite Fast X’s best efforts to keep the action somewhat grounded (so mostly just over-the-top fist fights and car chases until the usual crazy climax), sometimes you can’t drive home again.

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Chaos and clichés

Typically Fast & Furious villains have tried to out glower Dom – a futile effort that’s doomed to failure. Momoa steers hard in the other direction, playing a consistently gleeful bad guy relishing in chaos, as much at home conversing with the taped-up corpses of his former henchmen as he is mock-vomiting at the very mention of the word ‘family’. His willingness to weaponise the clichés at the foundation of the FF franchise makes him a real threat, even if his schemes are the usual over-complicated, loophole filled shenanigans the Dom Squad always find their way out of.

He’s not the only over-muscled giant to flex his way out of the franchise’s gender roles. John Cena, whose professional persona has swerved firmly into the goofy dork zone since he frowned his way through the shock revelation last movie that he was playing Dom’s never-before-mentioned brother Jakob, spends most of this film on a road trip babysitting Dom’s son. It’s a charming and low stakes (until it isn’t) counterpoint to all the rushing around, even if at one stage it involves a high altitude-escape in a fold-up vodka-powered jet.

The counterpoint is Vin Diesel himself, who showed more range and emotion playing a block of wood in the recent Guardians of the Galaxy vol.3. For a man so obsessed with family, Dom sure does spend a lot of time in these movies solo: whether that’s because the bad guys know the only way to weaken him is to isolate him from… family… or because literally every single other member of the regular cast up to and including his car can out-act him, is up for the viewer to decide.

The end is nigh

What isn’t up for debate is that this feels like the start of a victory lap (though with Vin Diesel recently announcing that there may well be two more films to come, who knows how long that lap will be). Dante’s link to FF5 means some lengthy flashbacks – Paul Walker is back! – while many of the action sequences feel like deliberate callbacks to earlier high points.

And of course everyone else is back, including the entire core cast plus Scott Eastwood, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham (still using chumps as a punching bag), Helen Mirren, and at least one surprise guest that’s going to require some explaining. And as if the cast wasn’t big enough, Brie Larson joins ‘The Agency’ to provide exposition and get in a bar fight.

The Fast and Furious franchise started off average, somehow became a lot of fun (that’s instalments 5 & 6), and has since drifted back to a much louder kind of average. This isn’t the hoped-for return to form, but if you’ve come this far then Momoa, the supporting cast and a couple of shock twists (don’t leave once the credits start) are reason enough to strap yourself in yet again. Can the return of a fully CGI Paul Walker be far off? If there’s anything that can bring him back in front of the cameras, it’s family.

Run time: 2 hours and 21 minutes

Rated: M

Fast X is in Australian cinemas from today.

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.