Dear Dominic Toretto,
It’s never easy breaking bad news to family, especially after all that we’ve been through together. Since your humble origins in 2001’s The Fast and the Furious—a movie meant to do for gearheads what Point Break did for surfers—the Fast franchise has morphed into a multibillion-dollar colossus, and a ragtag group of street racers has become synonymous with actual superheroes. That time your crew stole a bunch of DVD players from a truck is but a distant memory—now, all I can think about is how dragging a bank vault through the streets of Rio de Janeiro would be a city planner’s worst nightmare, and that more covert special ops missions should require parachuting cars out of a plane.
Don’t worry, Dom. I’m not complaining about your pivot to superherodom (no pun intended). A limitless supply of tank tops and NOS-injected muscle cars trumps spandex and CGI sky beams every day of the week. I do worry, however, that the extended Toretto familia might be running on fumes. I know the exact look you’ll give me for such a blasphemous statement, Dom, because it lives rent-free in my head:
Before you permanently revoke my Corona privileges, please allow me to explain. I’m telling you this because I want to help you and the rest of the Fast family avoid a fate worse than death: irrelevancy.
If we’re being honest, my concerns go back to The Fate of the Furious, which had to contend with the absence of the late Paul Walker. (It goes without saying: I still cry every time I get to the end of Furious 7.) Walker’s Brian O’Conner left a void that was impossible to ignore: He had been an invaluable glue guy who elevated everyone around him, including you, Dom. Without the warm camaraderie between you and Brian, Fate had to live and die by its car-centric action sequences. But even those high-octane moments started to offer diminishing returns: When a bunch of “zombie cars” attack the team, it’s hard to shake the feeling that everything you guys are doing has become a bit brainless. (The Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw prison escape still rips, though.)
I was a lot more charitable when reviewing F9 in 2021, but context is key. After all, F9 welcomed moviegoers back to theaters as one of the biggest tentpoles released since the start of the pandemic. Going from consuming pop culture within the confines of an apartment to watching F9 the way it was meant to be seen was genuinely euphoric. (A true story, Dom: I watched the film with a friend who’s a Fast & Furious obsessive, and we housed an ocean’s worth of Coronas between us. We would never disrespect you or the franchise by drinking something else.) In fact, the theatrical experience was so overdue that viewing F9 through rose-colored glasses had, in its own way, proved that reports of the death of cinema were greatly exaggerated. Besides, who would want to be a buzzkill when a Pontiac Fiero is being shot into outer space? You guys knocked it out of the, uh, stratosphere.
Unfortunately, Dom, a more clear-eyed rewatch of F9 does not do the film any favors. Even for a franchise that retcons prior events and brings back characters from beyond the grave like it’s a daytime soap, the manner in which F9 resurrected fan favorite Han Lue was as ham-fisted as the much-memed Palpatine debacle in The Rise of Skywalker. (“Mr. Nobody had a way of making things look real” is all that Han offers as an explanation for Prestige-ing what was believed to be a fatal, and quite real, explosion on the streets of Tokyo.) Another soap opera cliché deployed by F9 was integral to you, Dom: the reveal that you had a long-lost brother who was conveniently never mentioned across two decades of moviemaking. (It’s OK: You’re a man of few words and many unintelligible mumble growls; nobody expected you to bare your soul.) But setting aside the fact that you and Jakob Toretto look nothing alike, the twists and turns throughout F9 didn’t feel knowingly campy as much as downright lazy. Turns out, jumping the shark is a lot easier to accomplish when there’s a V12 engine roaring under the hood.
Which brings us to Fast X. I was cautiously optimistic that you could right the ship, Dom, especially when the power of family is so intense that it defies the laws of physics. But what happens when a mighty family begins to fracture? It was not a great look when Justin Lin, the filmmaker who has left the biggest imprint on the Fast franchise behind the camera, exited Fast X over creative differences. (Lin was replaced by French director Louis Leterrier; not renaming the movie The French and the Furious was another missed opportunity.) No shade to Leterrier, but hiring the dude responsible for the Clash of the Titans remake and Grimsby didn’t exactly inspire confidence—nor did Michelle Rodriguez’s admission that she and Charlize Theron filmed their fight scene without the director present.
Of course, it’s one thing to worry about a film not living up to the hype; it’s far worse when those suspicions are confirmed. Dom, it brings me no pleasure to tell you that I thought Fast X was a massive letdown. How bad? Well:
I’ll try to explain anyway. To me, Dom, what’s really frustrating about Fast X is that it recycles a lot of the soapy tropes from the earlier films in the hopes of keeping viewers hooked. Another villain with ties to the franchise’s past seeking revenge against Dom? Check. Another newcomer who is retconned into becoming a member of the ever-growing Toretto family? Check. Another character long believed to be dead brought back to life? Check. An exiled actor who called his costar a “candy ass” coming back for a mid-credits stinger? OK, that’s actually a first for the series, and almost worth the price of admission alone. (So is Jason Momoa as the villainous Dante, who holds the distinction of being the first person to call Dom a “butthole.”)
Dom, while it’s commendable that the Fast franchise has made the familial bonds you cherish so integral to its DNA, it forces these movies to keep folding in on themselves. That process would be a lot more bearable if the franchise had a deeper mythology to lean on, but that’s never been a selling point. As a result, the increasingly predictable, self-referential nature of the storytelling makes every subsequent film feel like a parody of itself—the cinematic equivalent of drifting around in circles.
The counterargument would be that the Fast franchise is in on the joke—certainly, any series that goes to space because the fans memed the scene into existence knows how to poke fun at itself. But my fear, Dom, is that the audience is no longer laughing along with you; they’re laughing at you. Besides, self-awareness is no substitute for quality blockbuster filmmaking, something that Fast X sorely lacks. There isn’t an action scene in Fast X to write home about—a sequence in which a giant spherical bomb barrels through the streets of Rome is admirably bonkers, but the whole thing is an intentional nod to the iconic bank vault chase in Fast Five. When it comes to original ideas, the tank is close to empty; what passes for a genuine creative risk is Fast X dangling cliff-hangers that won’t be resolved until the sequel. (As for the franchise’s future, it’s not even clear how many more Fast movies are in the works.)
All of which leads to my larger point, Dom: The wheels are coming off, aren’t they? I hate to say it, but the Fast franchise is well past its peak, and with every underwhelming sequel, the brand is just a little more tarnished. My hope, Dom, is that you will have no reservations about calling it quits after one last film in the mainline series. Two-plus decades of high-octane blockbusters is nothing to scoff at; there’s no need to stretch the franchise any further. Some people may argue that, by writing this letter to you, I’ve committed the most cardinal Toretto sin of them all: turning my back on family. I see it a little differently. A true Dom Disciple has the courage to tell the truth to someone they care about, even if it’s difficult to hear. You’ve been living your life a quarter mile at a time for so long. There’s no shame in hitting the brakes, stepping out of the driver’s seat, and cracking open any brew you want. As long as it’s a Corona.