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THB #371: Fast X (spoiler-free)
There are many ways to tag-line a review of this film…
The first major studio film that might have been written by AI.
The ultimate experience of a franchise eating its own tail, by design.
A surrender to pure fan service, a modern It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, with guest stars showing up for absolutely no purpose, so much so that they should turn to the camera and give a Love Boat smirk to the audience before doing the bits.
Universal’s biggest cartoon release since Mario Bros.
So steeped in series cliches that it is now mocking its own absurdities constantly.
A film that uses de-aging that is so self-aware that they would have been better off Pesci-ing.
The series that no longer knows the difference between bigger and better.
Okay… here’s the thing.
I haven’t seen a series scream, “We are out of ideas worth exploring” since Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. But at the same time, the formulaic madness has its ongoing charms. If this is the kind of thing you enjoy, you are getting a big bang for your movie ticket buck here.
Rarely, outside of a Wes Anderson movie, are you aware of the filmmakers watching their work as it is happening as in this movie. Making the choice to go beyond the edge of madness, it’s almost like a big eye-wink to center the “new” story on the moment when the entire series jumped the shark of its original intent… to make an action movie where everything felt grounded and real.
The giant safe being dragged around Rio (Fast 5) was when I first said, “Check!” on The Fast & The Furious franchise… when they did something that just had no foundation in reality and about which they lied, claiming there was no CG involved. (They later backed away from this.) Kind of like the dead bodies being thrown out of the back of a truck in a car chase in Bad Boys III… thanks, Michael Bay, let me know when you return to earth.
And Fast X, almost like it was making a statement, goes right back to that moment as the foundation for this story and, it seems, the next… which is positioned as the finale’ for this era of the franchise. “This is what we are… this is what we have become… we have made an epic fortune… get with the joke!”
And I have to admit, as I felt about Super Mario Bros, it is an incredible waste of time being angry at a cartoon for not rising about the most fundamental level of dramatic narrative.
So it’s okay.
The old cliche about Superman movies is that there is really nowhere to go, dramatically, after your lead character is a god. You can bring on a greater force, usually reflective of the Superman character. You can take away Superman’s powers. But there isn’t much subtlety in either… and moreover, once you have played those out, you have nowhere new to go.
In the Marvel universe, the vulnerability of the heroes has always been - going back to the books - the key to the franchise. Iron Man, the invincible force with the heart problem. Spider-Man is a teen carrying the guilt of his father figure’s death. Hulk goes back and forth, big and dumb or small and brilliant. Etc.
In the Fast franchise, the series started with all kinds of intimate vulnerability. Someone won. Someone lost. Some relationships stuck. Some changed. There were stakes and you could imagine bad consequences for central characters.
But at this point, the ensemble is literally 20 deep… more… every actor or role in need of “their moment.” This has become the kind of franchise that adds Rita Moreno because, why f-ing not? It’s not like we aren’t already at the point where Dominic mentioning “family” is a laugh line, like he is Great Grandpa Dom farting at the dinner table.
There is no requirement that action be coherent… just that it be relentless and mostly in close-up.
Jason Momoa is doing his biggest, wildest, head-shakingest, muscle-flexingest, charm monster of a character and he seems to be playing it too subtly at times. It’s not because he doesn’t out-Rock The Rock… it’s because everything happening around him is just beyond topping.
Every old character has an entrance, an applause break, and almost immediate irrelevance. I remember that Charlize Theron and Brie Larson were in the film. I don’t really remember why. Both looked really skinny.
It all reminds me of a wonderful night at the movies a bunch of years ago. I am not Twilight fan. But I got to the premiere of the final film, in which Bill Condon, rather brilliantly, kills pretty much everyone who was ever in the series cast. And then, takes it all back before moving on to the real ending. (Spoiler Alert… ha ha.) The LA Live audience was loaded with fans for the finale. Rabid. Everyone who came on-screen got applause. I had no idea why. But their excitement as each character arrived and then, as each character was murdered, was fantastic. It’s was a glorious rollercoaster ride. Not my series… not my peeps… barely had an idea of what was happening and why it mattered. But I rode the audience and had a great night. Just because it’s not for me doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the pleasure of those for whom it is mother’s milk.
And in a way, I kinda felt like this movie was that for the people who really wanted to be there. Even the critic I was sitting next to in the theater couldn’t keep himself from occasionally squealing during the movie, “What?!?!” Because this movie is utterly absurd.
I felt the same way in Super Mario Bros in many ways. It was beautifully made, full of bright, silly colors and I could completely understand why kids were loving every minute. And why critics couldn’t see past their own feelings and felt a need to slaughter the film.
And Renfield, which is not quite as well made as the the others - at 10% of their budgets - but was way over the top with gallons upon gallons of blood and Cage having a rollicking great time… and I probably bought into the story idea more than some… but seriously, what is there to be angry about?
Fast X is a terrible movie. It is obviously a cash grab. It is so overloaded that you can’t really taste any flavor at all as you gag and squirm trying to keep this giant burrito of effects and posing from falling apart all over you favorite shirt.'
And I hate to bring it up during a writer’s strike, but anyone who has questioned Jim Cameron’s dialogue in the past will be sending him a “Sorry” note after this one. Leo Abelo Perry, the 10-year-old in the film, could have written better dialogue in crayon. I bet there was a lot of improv on this set, leading to better dialogue, but general incoherence. I don’t know Dan Mazeau, but I bet he is a great guy… but OH MY!!!
I didn’t hate the 2 hours and 21 minutes of my life that this movie so confidently obliterated. It was like watching a team of very likeable young children play team sports. It means a lot to their parents, it’s not remotely skillful, but there is a charm to watching kids try so hard when it means absolutely no meaning to you.
I would rather it meant something to me.
It could have.
But that wasn’t the choice.
And with the not-really-surprising mid-credit sequence, it announces that the Fast XI will be even more overpacked, leaving zero chance of anything really grabbing hold. It’s one of the first screenwriting lessons you have when you are working in the real world… you can’t tell every story you want… there just isn’t time… that isn’t what movies or TV shows allow for. Write a novel.
Write a better novel.
The Hot Button is actually The Hot Button III. The first incarnation was in 1997. Then again in 2002. And now, on Substack, launched in 2021.