Sustaining an idea for ten movies is quite a feat, even if the idea has been stretched, abandoned, and smooshed back together. Fast X bears little resemblance to 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, which followed LA street racers/DVD player thieves and the police officer tracking them down. The subsequent 9 movies have enmeshed the crew in the highest levels of international espionage and given them innumerable enemies to hunt them down. But, as every Fast & Furious movie has emphasized, it’s also given them an endless web of family.

This time, the son of the drug kingpin they killed in Fast Five has gotten off his butt to exact brutal revenge, his ethos coming from the one lesson his father passed down: don’t settle for death when suffering is owed. So he separates the Fast Family from their government connections and goes after everyone they love, blah blah blah. Plot doesn’t matter. That’s about the only thing that’s held true from The Fast and the Furious to Fast X. This is plug and play stuff, an excuse for obscene car chases, friendly banter, and a lot of Vin Diesel furrowing his brow. So Fast X is a Mission: Impossible movie with less brains and more cars. Why not?

What the legions of people showing up to these movies care about is what seems to sell all blockbusters nowadays: familiarity. Fast & Furious’ longevity may seem like an accident, but there’s a nimble and unique backbone to the franchise. Family was there from the beginning, as was honor, responsibility, religion, and yes, cars, all brought to you by its casually diverse cast and crew. Elements ebb and flow, but you can count on a loving family that probably has someone who looks like you settling in for some Coronas and a laugh when the madness dies down, a bit of comfort in an otherwise uncomfortable world.

In the past I’ve labeled these movies as masculine camp. I think this holds true for Fast X, but it’s also become a reductive lens. Lovingly overblown masculinity is still there, but as the characters have aged their sense of self has stabilized and their need for peacocking waned. No one is jockeying for superiority anymore. They’re all just trying to protect what they’ve built, a shockingly mature understanding of human nature overall and the shifting pressure of masculinity specifically. 

Like pretty much all camp, it’s easy for critics to miss what’s happening. The point never was and never will be smooth plotting, cohesion, or god forbid good taste. Such a rigid definition of a good film limits the art form, yet it’s a trap most of us (i.e. critics) fall into. Fast X has none of the markers of a traditionally good or meaningful film, but it’s still a good and meaningful film.

Just look what they’ve done with their idea of masculinity. They’ve been expanding it for a while, introducing variants on the alpha male (or Hawksian woman-esque characters who function as men), but Jason Momoa’s Dante keeps them with the times and the themes. As Dom and crew have grown into security, Dante represents a villain equally as secure in who he is. If you’ve never grasped the distinction between gender and gender expression, you’ll feel it in Momoa’s jaunty ability to stand toe-to-toe with Diesel, but with more color on his nails. This is no mere rehashing of the queer-coded villain; this is what people are trying to get the masses to understand is masculinity.

If this seems strange or even worse too thoughtful for Fast & Furious, remember that this is a film franchise about men and their emotional lives. We’re ten films into Dominic Toretto cobbling together a found family, a journey that’s allowed the series to show the kind of meaningful, platonic friendships, particularly between men, which get ignored by nearly all other film franchises. And now that Dom’s kid is growing up, the series is rife with earnest scenes of passing down what’s important. For Fast & Furious that’s religion, family, and cars, and you’ll rarely see such unabashed joy in this duty of fatherhood. 

So yeah, Fast X is a garish celebration of everything the film series has become, and it’s become something well worth celebrating.

Release: in theaters now
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Dan Mazeau, Justin Lin
Cast: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Momoa, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Charlize Theron, John Cena

Author: Emily Wheeler

Member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Rotten Tomatoes certified critic. Movie omnivore.

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