Hot Dogs and Hot Rods
As chance would have it I popped out to our local food market just before settling down to compose this latest indelible stain on the internet. The two gentlemen I ended up dealing with, when not wrangling artisan Frankfurters, were passing their time by discussing what they'd been up to; the one doing most of the talking making most of his contributions at the sort of decibel level usually associated with the crowd at a football match. 'Best film of the year so far! I loved it! Had to go and see it twice! So exciting! Although I did miss the first forty-five minutes cos I was asleep.'
''Sa bit far-fetched, though,' said hot-dog purveyor #2.
'No it's not,' said #1, unprintably. Naturally, I enquired as to what film they were discussing. 'Fast and Furious! It's fantastic!'
'It is a bit far-fetched,' I said.
'What about that bit where the giant neutron bomb is bouncing through Rome with Vin Diesel chasing after it in his car? What about the bit where he drags those two helicopters behind him until they crash, then uses the burning wreckage as a vehicular flail? What about when he drives down the vertical face of a dam to escape the exploding tankers?'
There was a pause. 'Yeah, the bit with the bomb is kind of far-fetched. But it's still fantastic.'
Personally, I was most surprised that anyone managed to sleep through any section of Fast X (directed by our old friend Louis Leterrier), given that events of the film routinely take place at jet-engine volume. But there you go. I have long since stopped being a snob about this series, because the best of these films are irresistible fun, but I know that many people still smirk and snigger. Nevertheless, a film series doesn't last twenty-plus years, reach double-digits, and earn a combined take of over seven billion dollars without being genuinely loved by a big audience.
As ever, the answer as to why this should be probably lies in the details. There are lots of big action movies, I expect, that would build a major sequence around a giant spherical neutron bomb rattling through the via Roma on course for the Vatican, with a desperate race-against-time to save the Pope. What elevates Fast X to its preeminent position in the action landscape is the fact that the giant spherical neutron bomb, while bouncing on its way, is on fire. That's what I call a touch of genius.
This isn't even close to the climax of the film, coming at the end of the first act. Anyone somehow managing to sleep through the start of the film will miss a protracted flashback to the climax of Fast Five, revealing that the villain had a son (Jason Momoa), who inevitably survives and swears revenge on Vin Diesel and his Fast and Furious All-Stars. (Students of the franchise will be aware of its penchant for revising the events of previous films this way.)
Back in the present day, we find man-mountain boy racer Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) doing his fatherly duty by teaching his son Little B to do doughnuts at eighty miles an hour, even though he is only about nine. (The film invites the audience to engage in the usual conspiracy of silence concerning the whereabouts of Little B's namesake Big B; i.e. Paul Walker's character, who has always been conveniently busy elsewhere or just off-screen since Walker's untimely death about four sequels ago.) Sure enough, there is another barbeque and a gathering of the extended family and Diesel rumbling on about the importance of family; this is distinguished, a bit, by the appearance of Rita Moreno as Granny Toretto - Singin' in the Rain, West Side Story, and now Fast X: that's what I call a career trajectory. These scenes are, of course, objectively terrible, but they are in a very real sense obligatory for each new film in this series.
Soon enough the plot kicks in when old enemy Cipher (Charlize Theron) turns up having just come off worse in an encounter with Jason Momoa; yes, once again someone is out to get them. This all leads into the bit in Rome with the bouncing neutron bomb (which is on fire) - yes, Momoa is such a loon that blowing up the Vatican with a WMD is just a sort of by-product of his real plan, which is to give Diesel and the others a jolly hard time.
From here the plot splits, or possibly unravels, into a number of storylines (possibly one or two too many, to be honest) - Diesel goes off to Brazil to rumble stoically in Momoa's direction, Michelle Rodriguez gets chucked in the clink and has to be rescued by a new character played by Brie Larson, Little B goes on a road-trip with his uncle (John Cena), and most of the others end up in London where - oh joy of joys! - they have to ask for help from Jason Statham, whose extended cameo peps up the film just when it is starting to flag a bit.
In the end - well, we obviously have to preface any criticism of elements of Fast X by acknowledging that this is a film which is almost completely implausible from start to finish, with some startlingly poor acting in several of the key positions, and a narrative sensibility where it's not just acceptable to switch off the plot for five minutes so Michelle Rodriguez and Charlize Theron can gratuitously kick each other in, it's practically obligatory. Not to mention that it is now clearly apparent that no-one important ever dies in these films, assuming the actor involved is happy to come back. Anyway, despite all this, the film is still afflicted with a structure where it's the first episode of a two-part conclusion to the series, which means it ends on a cliff-hanger, with the characters still scattered all over the landscape. This is an undeniable flaw, which I suppose will be excusable if Fast XI does the business whenever it comes along.
The rest of it finds the series back on form after the rather lacklustre F9: it's silly and implausible, but not egregiously so, nearly all the characters show up to make a decent contribution, and the stunts and fights are as outrageous as ever. It all confirms my suspicion that, for the last ten or fifteen years at least, the Fast movies have supplanted Bond as the acme of escapist action nonsense (the closing titles of this film suspiciously resemble a Bond credit sequence). The Bond films became their own genre decades ago, and the same thing happened to this series round about the fifth or sixth film - you can try judging it by conventional standards of logic and credibility, but that's to miss the point: it's all about the sheen and the glamour, the growl of engines and the screech of brakes, cars doing impossible things and Vin Diesel never being caught dead in a shirt with sleeves. Fast X is not a good film as these things are usually understood, but it's a great Fast and Furious movie, and just as entertaining as that sounds.