Fast X Review: Jason Momoa's Unhinged, Chaotic Villain Makes For Outrageous Entertainment

It's hard to believe that the "Fast and Furious" franchise began back in 2001 with a story centered around a criminal ring stealing electronics. In the two decades since then, the multi-billion dollar film series has turned into a global heist machine with technology that's way more advanced than a DVD player. Hell, "F9: The Fast Saga" managed to send two of the franchise's longtime characters into space. How the hell did we get here? 

The answer is "Fast Five," a sequel that reinvigorated the franchise with the best action that the entire series had seen up until that point and the badass attitude and beefy brawn of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. After the film's massive blockbuster success, and adding a boost to franchises like "The Mummy" and "G.I. Joe," many referred to Johnson as "franchise Viagra," so much that there was an entire "Saturday Night Live" monologue dedicated to the perceived phenomenon. Well, if Dwayne Johnson is franchise Viagra, then "Fast X" villain Jason Momoa is pure, uncut cocaine, and the usual physics-defying, explosive action and hammy melodrama of the franchise is made even better by the chaos that he unleashes on Vin Diesel and the rest of "The Fast Saga" family. 

"Fast X" is packed with all of the unbelievable, high-octane action you've come to expect and love, but it is Jason Momoa's bad guy Dante who truly makes this a must-see blockbuster experience that turns this sequel into the "Avengers: Infinity War" of the entire franchise. Featuring echoes of "Fast Five," this flick unleashes some of the series' best action sequences alongside a show-stopping eruption of endlessly entertaining insanity from Jason Momoa. However, the ride isn't always satisfying, as some of the story's side plots (and there are many of them) don't drive as smoothly as the rest of the movie, and perhaps most importantly, the emotional core is still missing a key ingredient that has been gone since the end of "Furious 7."

Setting the table

"Fast X" actually begins in the past, providing a new perspective on the climactic heist from "Fast Five," the one that found Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) dragging a vault loaded with cash that belongs corrupt businessman Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) across Rio de Janeiro. That heist resulted in the death of Reyes, and as we learn in this expanded flashback, his son Dante was actually involved in the dangerous pursuit of the vault, but Dom's slick maneuvering launched him into the river, inadvertently beginning his long road to revenge.

Flash forward to the present day, and we're attending another peaceful meal between Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family. Though his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) is in attendance, her husband Brian (Dom's ride-or-die) is again nowhere to be found. Brian doesn't even pull up late without being seen like at the end of "F9." But the late Paul Walker's presence still lingers. After a heartwarming toast by Dom's grandmother (a bit part for the legendary Rita Moreno), Dom reflects on their journey ever so briefly as the piano notes of Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again" play softly, complete with shots of publicity photos that now double as family photos. It's the only bit of genuine emotional resonance in the entire movie, which speaks to a larger problem in the sequels that have arrived in the wake of Walker's passing, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Meanwhile, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang), and more recent honorary family inductee Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are talking about a new mission that The Agency is sending them on in Rome. Coincidentally enough, it's Roman who's leading the charge, with Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) sitting this one out. After all, they have to look after Dom's son (also named Brian, played by Leo Abelo Perry) from another mother, who has already been learning to drive with Dom. Plus, it's more than implied that Dom and Letty are trying to have a child of their own. But they're about to be shoved headfirst into the danger that's yet to come. 

Suddenly, their night is interrupted when Cipher (Charlize Theron) shows up on their doorstep, looking like she's just taken a beating. But who could have shaken the villainous Cipher to her core so much that the only person she felt like she could turn to was Dom, especially after blackmailing him and threatening to kill little Brian when he was just a toddler? Enter Jason Momoa as Dante, and it's immediately clear he's the kind of villain who has done his homework and will always be one step ahead of our heroes. But this is just the beginning. 

When in Rome...

One thing leads to another, and everyone realizes that the mission in Rome isn't actually an official assignment from The Agency. Instead, it's a deadly trap set by Dante that results in a massive boulder of a bomb tearing down the hilly streets of the Italian city. Dom and Letty arrive just as the faux heist has gone off the rails, and along with Roman, Tej, Han, and Ramsey, they try to stop the bomb from detonating, or at the very least, keep it from reaching Dante's target, The Vatican. 

The entire action sequence in Rome is easily the most thrilling part of the movie, and it's one of the best action setpieces in the entire franchise. Director Louis Leterrier knows how to stage these massive sequences, and he keeps the momentum going with plenty of pieces in play. Dante spices up the usual heist formula by being an absolute madman, constantly taunting our heroes and trading blows with them in an extensive chase sequence full of total mayhem and destruction. Whether Dante is remotely controlling a truck with our heroes trapped inside like some kind of comic book villain or speeding into action himself on a motorcycle, it's clear this villain is fearless and reckless, and he's going to be the most formidable foe that "The Fast Saga" has ever seen.

This first confrontation that Dom and his family have with Dante results in them being turned into wanted criminals. With Agency leader Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) nowhere to be found, his daughter Tess (Brie Larson) can't do anything to stop the de facto replacement Aimes ("Reacher" star Alan Ritchson) from tracking down Dom and the rest of the crew, assuming that they've turned back to their criminal roots. Aimes is basically the new version of Dwayne Johnson's character Hobbs, but he's written a little more cleverly, especially in his introductory scene that finds him providing some meta-commentary in a quasi-recap of the exploits of "The Fast Saga" up until now, even going so far as to lament how long they've let this operation go on and poke fun at how many of their former enemies have inexplicably gone on to become part of the family. 

Never accept death when suffering is owed

From then on, it's a game of cat and mouse with Dante completely dismantling everything that the "Fast and Furious" franchise has become known for after all these years, all so he can make Dom suffer for a while before he decides to kill him. Inspired by his father, Dante says, "Never accept death when suffering is owed." Access to high-tech gadgets with a seemingly endless budget? Dante wipes out their bank accounts. A wager that brings incredibly high stakes to a street race with inevitable slow-motion shots of woman shaking their backsides in high heels and tropical colors as the hip-hop soundtrack pulses? Dante interrupts it looking like a flamboyant genie, and then literally blows up the racers. None of Dom's usual tricks are going to work. 

Dante becomes The Joker of the "Fast and Furious" series, and "Fast X" is all the better for it. Jason Momoa's performance goes from being a gender-fluid cartoon character dressed in colorful, flowing fabrics and ample accessories (including too many rings, gold chains attached to his glasses, and even a silky scrunchie) to being a sadistic psychopath in the same breath. He's exactly the kind of villain this series needed. One scene finds him sitting with the propped-up dead bodies of two of Cipher's henchmen, talking about doing his nails and carrying out his grand plan as if they were still alive. Even more demented is that he's taped open their eyes and mouths into twisted expressions. It's darkly hilarious and may be the best example of how deranged Dante can be. 

But for all the work that Jason Momoa does to make "Fast X" stand above the more recent "Fate of the Furious" and "F9," there are still missteps that are a bit distracting. Some of them are issues that "Fast and Furious" has had since Paul Walker passed away and took Brian out of the equation. Others are the result of too many characters with big names attached who need to be given things to do and a need to establish set-ups that will pay off in the next movie, making the "Infinity War" elements of "Fast X" both a feature and a flaw. 

Shifting gears

John Cena is given the shakiest branch of the story. It seems that Dom's plan for keeping little Brian safe in these dangerous circumstances involves his brother Jakob taking him to an unknown safe location. Lest we forget, Jacob is coming off being one of the villains in "F9," and now he's the person who Dom trusts with his son's life. 

The sequence where Jakob has to stop The Agency from grabbing little Brian to use as bait to bring Dom out of hiding gets Mia in on the action, and all this does is call into question how Brian is able to stay away from the threat that Dante is unleashing upon everyone else. It's a major distraction early on in the movie, and it will always be a problem as long as Paul Walker's character remains alive. 

From then on, Cena's portion of the story feels like it's from a family-friendly road trip adventure comedy where he plays a bit of a goober uncle trying to take care of Dom's fairly cool kid. It's like watching scenes from "Cop and a Half" in the middle of a "Fast and Furious" movie, and even though it's intended to be played for laughs most of the time, it's just not great.

Meanwhile, Letty and Cipher have the honor of taking us on a journey that seems only to exist in order to set up a big reveal in the film's third act, which actually only functions as a tease for what's to come in "Fast and Furious 11." There's even a fight between the two women that is entirely unnecessary. Granted, there are some solid blows throughout that face-off, but that storyline mostly feels like a waste of time.

But perhaps the biggest shortcoming of "Fast X" comes from the lack of emotional stakes. Ever since Brian was taken out of the action, the core of the film's heart has been missing. Dom and Brian's friendship was the driving force of this franchise, and try as several filmmakers might to shift that emotional center to Dom and Letty while still caring about the rest of the ever-growing family, it just hasn't been the same since Paul Walker passed away. Instead, the dramatic parts of the story feel like a soap opera that's trying way too hard to take itself seriously. Sure, that's typically been part of the charm of these movies, but there's still something missing. 

An ultimately satisfying sequel

Thankfully, none of the imperfections in "Fast X" keep the movie from being a bodacious blockbuster that knows exactly what fans want to see on the action front. There's still plenty of totally ridiculous vehicular havoc and lots of crisply choreographed hand-to-hand combat. As usual, the comedy is hit or miss, but honestly, these movies wouldn't feel the same if they had finely-tuned gags from expert comedians. The dad joke level of humor is perfectly suited to this franchise, and there's plenty of it on display. Of course, there are plenty of surprises along the way too, including a fun cameo that no one will see coming (not the one that was rudely spoiled by a major trade last week), and the kind of twists and turns that make this film series a joy to watch, including the biggest cliffhanger ending in franchise history.

"Fast X" may be a far cry from the relatively grounded "Point Break" retread offered by "The Fast and the Furious" back in 2001, but this sequel has many of the hallmarks that have made for the best sequels, especially "Fast Five." Though it stumbles in parts, Jason Momoa is there to keep the car in drive before he hits the nitro and blows everything to hell. It's over-the-top, outrageous entertainment that is worthy of seeing on the silver screen with the biggest tub of popcorn you can find. BOOM!

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10