Near the beginning of Fast X, we get one of those family barbecue scenes in the Toretto backyard that the Fast and Furious movies are so fond of--but nothing about it is quite right. We've got Rita Morena's character saying grace like she's been here the whole time (this is her first appearance). We've got curiously blurry backgrounds and a lot of weird close-up shots--hallmarks of lower-budget films, like Army of the Dead, that are trying to hide that they were filmed on a stage with CGI environments. And the editing is distractingly frenetic.
Like so many aspects of Fast X, this scene is a pretty bad attempt to do a new version of something that the series has done in the past. Fast X wants to be a greatest hits album, but instead, it's mostly just a collection of low-quality covers.
Once they wrap up the family barbecue, most of the team heads to Rome for a mission. Which is, of course, a trap. Dante (Jason Momoa), the son of Fast Five villain Hernan Reyes, has been preparing for a decade to take down Dom and his family and is now finally doing it. We get a big chase through the streets of Rome--this sequence alternates between being quite awesome and quite terrible from moment to moment. Dante ends the chase by exploding a huge bomb near the Vatican, and our heroes are branded as terrorists.
From there, the team is dispersed. Letty is in some black-site prison. John Cena's Jakob, who was not at the family barbecue and who has no scenes with any main adult cast member at any point in the entire film, goes on a road trip with Dom's son, little Brian. Tej, Roman, Han, and Ramsay do hacker stuff and hang out with the proprietor of an internet cafe (played by Pete Davidson), and Han experiences a bafflingly brief drug trip. (The scene-stealing Tyrese Gibson, for what it's worth, still manages to produce a few hilarious moments as Roman.) And Dom himself is having his own solo adventure doing street races and other shenanigans in Brazil.
If it sounds like Fast X contains four completely separate storylines, that's because it does. There's no charming ensemble holding this thing together, because there is no ensemble. There's simply a large cast who all happen to be in the same movie. The only time most of them are together is at that family barbecue, but even then, it wasn't everyone.
In lieu of a decent story, Fast X is all about rehashing plot threads and set pieces from past movies. There's one character, for example, who is basically Agent Hobbs Jr.--going through all the same beats that Dwayne Johnson's character experienced in Fast Five. There's a highway chase on a stretch of road that looks exactly like the highway chase from Fast & Furious 6. Little Brian does car stunts in the Dodger Stadium parking lot as his namesake did in the first movie. Dom has a very emotional scene in which he gives someone his crucifix necklace, in the exact same apartment where he had reclaimed it from a different character several movies ago. And on and on.
At the heart of this mess, you've got Dom, and you've got Dante. Dom is a full-on parody of himself at this point, a meme who doesn't realize he's a meme. If Vin Diesel were playing this character with any amount of irony, that could be fun, but instead, he's just earnest and bland and a bad character.
Dante, by contrast, is a rare aspect of Fast X that feels fresh and new, and that's primarily thanks to Momoa's performance, which seems to have clearly involved a lot of improvising. Dante is basically doing a man-child version of Heath Ledger's Joker--a delightful contrast to the very serious and business-like baddies that the Fast & Furious family usually face.
Dante really exposes how bland and boring Dom has become. Dom doesn't learn any lessons or grow as a person in any way--he's participating in the story without having a personal arc. He's just this monolith at the center of the franchise who has spent most of the last three movies doing his own plot threads separate from the rest of the characters, and who has no personality to speak of anymore.
These days, Dom is just a guy who goes around the world collecting random new people for his family in predictable fashion, including some utterly pointless new ones this time. It's going to be really funny when the series ends with Dom defeating Dante in a fistfight and then adopting him as his son.
In all seriousness, and speaking as somebody who was obsessed with these movies back when there were only four of them, Fast X feels disastrous. It's not a well-made movie, the story is awful, and when it ends, it just kind of stops. It has a cliffhanger ending, of course, but not a good one--this film has one climactic action sequence, and then it immediately follows that with a second climactic sequence that doesn't really connect with the previous scene. It's like they rewrote the ending while still keeping the old version and then putting them both in the movie.
Fast X is an exhausting experience. Like Fate and F9, it's overstuffed and is more concerned with fan service and growing the family than with telling a decent story. The action is just okay, and the CGI is frequently awful--something we could live with when these movies had budgets well below $100 million, but Fast X is one of the most expensive movies of all time.
Even though we apparently still have two more movies to go, it's clear this franchise's best days are rapidly disappearing in the rearview mirror.