'Fast X' chases the thrills of the franchise's past : Pop Culture Happy Hour More than 20 years into the Fast & Furious franchise, the saga keeps roaring on with the latest installment, Fast X. With a star-studded cast including Vin Diesel and Jason Momoa and many more, the film has plenty of absurd action sequences and logic-defying stunts that have become a trademark. But after all this time, does the magic of fast cars, backyard BBQs and family persist?

'Fast X' chases the thrills of the franchise's past

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1173318373/1176901889" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We're more than 20 years into the "Fast & Furious" franchise, and the saga keeps roaring on with the latest installment. The movie "Fast X" is predictably over-the-top and silly. It has plenty of absurd action sequences and logic-defying stunts that have become its trademark. But after all this time, does the magic of fast cars, backyard BBQs and family persist? I'm Aisha Harris. And today we're talking about "Fast X" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining me today is Wailin Wong. She's co-host of NPR's daily economics podcast, The Indicator from Planet Money. Hey, Wailin.


HARRIS: Hey. Hey. Also with us is Ronald Young Jr. He is the host of the film and television review podcast "Leaving The Theater." Welcome back, Ronald.

RONALD YOUNG JR: It's all about family, Aisha.

HARRIS: But you got to say (impersonating Vin Diesel) family.

YOUNG: (Impersonating Vin Diesel) Family.

HARRIS: That's the only way to say it.


HARRIS: And rounding out our panel is Vulture TV critic Roxana Hadadi. Welcome back to you, too, Roxana.

ROXANA HADADI: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

HARRIS: Yes, yes, yes. I can already tell this is going to be fun. So in "Fast X," Vin Diesel plays Dom Toretto, a street racer turned heist leader, working with a government group known as The Agency. Dom is faced with a new adversary, played by a very flamboyant Jason Momoa, who's looking to settle an old score. His name is Dante Reyes, and he's the sadistic son of a drug lord who was robbed and killed by Dom and his team in a previous movie. Now, years later, Dante's emerged to punish Dom and everyone he loves, which is, of course, a huge deal because, as you might know, as we've already mentioned, the "Fast" franchise is all about (impersonating Vin Diesel) family.

Now, Michelle Rodriguez plays Dom's wife and fellow street racer Letty. Leo Abelo Perry plays their son B. And also under threat are longtime allies played by Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Sung Kang and Nathalie Emmanuel. The overstuffed ensemble - there are so many people in this movie - also includes Charlize Theron, John Cena, Jason Statham and Brie Larson. "Fast X" was directed by Louis Leterrier. He replaced Justin Lin, who clashed with Vin Diesel over the script. But Lin is credited as a screenwriter alongside Dan Mazeau. And this movie is part one of two, maybe. And it ends on a cliffhanger. "Fast X" is in theaters now.

So, Wailin, I'm going to go to you first. What are your thoughts on "Fast X"?

WONG: Well, first of all, I have to say I have such tremendous affection for this franchise. I don't know if you can see it, but I'm wearing my Toretto's Market & Cafe muscle tee today in honor of this recording.


WONG: So I love this franchise. I love its combination of extreme action with extreme sentimentality and earnestness. So I do grade it on a bit of a curve. I forgive a lot of things in these movies that I do not forgive in other movies. That said, like, for me, Jason Momoa really makes the movie for me. He has all these great outfits and scrunchies, and he's got this kind of Jack-Sparrow-meets-the-Joker thing going on, which I found very appealing and interesting.

And I think he is the reason to see this movie because even me grading on this very affectionate curve for the "Fast" movies - I'm sorry. Like, the dialogue and the plotting are just getting so sloppy that it's, like, starting to be hard for me to really buy into it like I used to. You know, I feel myself working a little bit to get over some of those things. Like, I feel like in this movie, maybe more so than the other ones, the dialogue truly feels like it was written by an algorithm that was fed all of the previous movies plus "Chicken Soup For The Soul."

And there's also way too many characters. Like, when John Cena shows up, I literally forgot he was a part of this franchise and that he was Dom's brother. And I just thought, gosh, if I cannot keep up with the amount of people they have introduced to me in la familia over the years, like, it's just too many, too many people. So I did enjoy the movie, but mostly because of Jason Momoa and mostly because of the sentimentality I feel towards the franchise. It is starting to show its seams in a way that worries me a little bit.

HARRIS: Yeah. I have to agree with you on the too many characters thing. The poster on the screen that I saw it on had, like, at least nine different characters on it.

YOUNG: It looked like "The Avengers."

HARRIS: Yeah. It's kind of like "The Avengers," except, like, there are way more than nine pretty big names in this movie, so it is a little hard to keep track of them, but yes. Thank you, Wailin. Roxana, how do you feel about this family?

HADADI: I also come to this film from a place of deep love. I mean, the first "Fast And The Furious" is just "Point Break" with cars. I love "Point Break." I love that they so blatantly copy that film. And so sort of the brazenness of that and the initial griminess of these films have sort of lodged them into my heart for a very long time. "Fast 8" is probably when they began going a little bit downhill for me. "Hobbs & Shaw" is also fairly rough. There became this sort of, let's get as many cameos as possible. Like, Ryan Reynolds was in one of these. Kevin Hart was in one of these. They've sort of gotten to this point where, unfortunately, they resemble all blockbusters in that there's, like, this duality of super-militarization within The Agency and this increased PG domesticity. Like, we have to take care of our children, and we're married and blah.

WONG: (Laughter).

HADADI: So there's a lot that, going into this film, I'm sort of done with. But I really enjoyed that this movie makes fun of itself and makes fun of all those things through the Jason Momoa character. He's very arch, sort of, like...


HADADI: ...Commenting on the weirdness and goofiness of all of this. I don't know what this movie would be without Momoa. He feels like the best villain they've had in a long time because I am strongly anti-Cipher and anti-Charlize in these films. So I think he's having fun, and the fact that he is having fun allows us to have fun. We're allowed to be like, yeah, it's really goofy that Vin Diesel keeps saying family. And it's very silly that these characters are in their, like - I don't know - late 40s, early 50s still doing these things. Why is Rita Moreno here?


HADADI: I have a lot of questions.

HARRIS: (Laughter).

HADADI: But at the end of the day, I was still mostly amused. But I do miss what these films used to be. I miss that there were, like, street races and that sort of intimacy of those early films. So this was fine. It didn't blow my mind. But, you know, like, if I still had cable and it came on TNT, I would watch it. I mean, that's the barometer for these films. Would I watch them on TNT? And the answer is pretty much always yes.

HARRIS: All right. Ronald Young Jr., now, you texted me right after you saw this movie, and your actual words - I will censor them slightly, but they were, what in the actual - (clearing throat).

YOUNG: (Laughter).

HARRIS: So what did you mean by that, Ronald (laughter)? Explain.

YOUNG: All right. Just like everyone else, I also love this franchise. I said this right around "Fast Five" or "Fast & Furious 6." As long as they keep making them, I'll keep watching them. I never said that I would like them as they continued because I think that the peak of this franchise was four, five and six. But the specific issues with this movie, for me, were two main ones, and I think we've kind of touched on it, but I want to unpack them a little more, which is that there's too many stars. There's too many cameos, to the point that we know that Paul Walker is dead, but in the movie, the way the movie behaves, Brian should pop up at any moment to save the day.


YOUNG: But we all know that he can't. So instead, it's Brie Larson. Instead, it's John Cena. You know, it's other people that are popping in to save the day. It felt like there was a scheduling problem because the movie is fractured into, like, three or four different actual movies. There's a zany heist film. There's a buddy movie with a child. There's a techno sci-fi thriller. All three of these - varying degrees of seriousness in all of them, and I felt completely lost. As a matter of fact, I did laugh at Jason Momoa a lot, but whenever he showed up, I forgot that he's the main villain. I forgot. Oh, yeah, he's the bad guy. He's the guy that we're supposed to be going after. I get that.

The other big problem is this, is that they've established so hard that the stakes aren't real. Everyone is invincible, 100% invincible. So if no death actually matters, then all of the stunts and everything we watch, it's just washing over you over and over again. You're like, no one's in danger. Nothing's ever going to happen. You can fill a car with NOS and fire, and it will not explode. We know that. That is a thing that will not happen. It happens in this movie, and it blew my mind. So I didn't not like it, to be clear. I'm very curious to see what they do with the next two movies in this franchise, and I will watch them out of curiosity. But to say that these are good - they are not good anymore.


YOUNG: They're just fun, but they are not good anymore.

HARRIS: I should reiterate, the allegedly next two movies. Vin Diesel has suggested that there may be a third (laughter) part of this "Fast X" trilogy, I guess, or would-be trilogy.

YOUNG: Yeah.

HARRIS: Anyway, so I was a latecomer to this franchise, and I love it now. And I think that what I noticed with this is that it feels like there are too many stars. There's not enough of the original, like, what made us love the original, which is the street racing. And, yeah, it's like, you know, what are the stakes? I think, for me, it peaked - and I don't mean peaked as in quality but peaked as in, like, what could blow your mind as a viewer - in the last movie, which is when they sent Luda and Tyrese to space.

YOUNG: Correct.

HARRIS: It has become so self-aware, and people have been saying, what are you going to do next? You're going to go to space. And then they go to space. Once you go to space, what else is there to do? And what I noticed with this film is that we're seeing a lot of the same stunts and action sequences that we've seen in previous movies. At one point, Dom drops his car out of a plane and, like, crushes some cars. And I'm like, this happened in "Fast 7"...


HARRIS: ...Except it was five times as big because there were, like - all of the gang were parachuting down from a much higher height. And then there's a moment where Little B, his son, like, jumps from one car to the next, and I was like, this is what happens with Letty and Dom...


HARRIS: ...In a previous movie.

HADADI: In "Fast 6," yeah.

HARRIS: And what I remember more than anything about these movies are those action sequences. I remember the cars jumping from one giant luxury building to the next in 7. I remember all those sequences, and I'm just like, OK, what do we do next? Like, nothing here feels new. That being said, I still enjoyed it, you know, as much as the next person. I think that there are very funny moments. Another new character that they've added is Aimes, who is now the head of The Agency in place of Mr. Nobody. His introduction is him explaining to Brie Larson's character about, like, why the entire crew is just, like, a menace to society. And he talks about, like, they're street racers turned hijackers, and they're defying the laws of God and gravity. And it's just like, this is what I like about it. This is what I like about the self-awareness and how silly it seems to be and embrace that silliness. I want to come back to the Jason Momoa character because I thought he was very good in this role. I thought he was very entertaining, but I also just kind of felt like, OK, why is he leaning so hard into this, like, flamboyant...


HARRIS: ...Kind of queer-coded villain thing? And I was wondering, like, was this his idea? Was he ad-libbing a lot? Like, this felt like an ad-libby (ph) kind of performance. And he is dressed - like, at one point, he's wearing a pink robe, and he's got painted nails. He does, like, this, like, kind of Fosse rolling-his-spirit-fingers moment. As much as I enjoyed him, I also just felt like it kind of fell back on a lot of these tropes and stereotypes about villains that just felt kind of hackneyed to me and took away from the performance. But I'm wondering if that's just me or if you all kind of felt that way or if it, like, crossed your mind at all 'cause I know you loved the character, but I also just felt like this also feels like a retread of so many other characters we've seen.

WONG: The trope that plays out with Jason Momoa's character that bothered me the most, actually, is how he is supposed to be really Joker-like in that he has plans within plans within plans to a completely preposterous degree, where it's like, OK, so you telegraphed, like, every single move of every action sequence so that, whatever happened, even when it looked like you were down for the count, you would be standing there with, like, a big button to press that, like, detonates something...

HARRIS: (Laughter) Literally buttons.

WONG: ...Right? - down the path and be like, I already thought of that, or, like, I meant for you to find this. And I'm like, how many times are we going to go to this well?

HADADI: A lot. I mean, but that's the "Fast And The Furious" way - right? - especially as they started retconning everything.



HADADI: That gave them the freedom to do this sort of stuff. And I think that's the bigger issue for me is that I do respect that Momoa's character messes with the "Fast Five" narrative, because "Fast Five" is, like, the movie.



HADADI: It is the perfect "Fast And The Furious" film. It has the best twists and turns, literally, figuratively, narratively. So there is a little bit of respect I have for them going back and messing with that film in their retconning way. But I agree with you, Aisha, that, like, there is the hint in Momoa's character that the worst people watching this film will laugh at it for the sort of, like, homophobic reason because he is so over-the-top, because he could be coded as flirtatious, because there's this very unsettling scene where he is applying nail polish to a couple of characters. And I won't go further.


HADADI: But that was, like, shockingly gruesome.


HADADI: I sort of took it as this enemy is the opposite of everything Cipher was. And Cipher was very cold, very held within herself, very unwilling to go outside of this, like, icy demeanor and is oppositional to Dom, who - at this point, Vin Diesel just plays, like, a boulder with, like, growling emotion. It - like, Dom is just, like, mission-focused and, you know...

HARRIS: Faith, family.

HADADI: ...Doesn't alter his emotionality. So I saw Momoa as working against both of those things in sort of an interesting, challenging to toxic masculinity way. But I think that it's so broad that I do think there are moments here where I was like, what do you think we're laughing at exactly about this character? And that feels a little bit imprecise. A lot of this film felt imprecise...

HARRIS: Yes. Yeah.

HADADI: ...In a way that the other movies have been, you know, like, very specific in what they're attempting to do in their stunts, in their definition of the family. Between this and "Fast 8," I think there are a lot of similar flaws between those films.

YOUNG: For me, watching Jason Momoa, I think one thing that bothered me was that it felt like they were playing the queer parts of his character for laughs. I had a moment where I felt like I was laughing, and the people around me were laughing, and for a moment, as I'm laughing, there were question marks in there. I was like, ha, ha, ha. Like, what? Wait. What are we laughing at here? Is the joke that the character is queer? - which is fine. But I'm like, that can't be the joke - right? - because if it's the joke that he's a villain, that he's this Joker character, that he's chaotic, then all of that makes sense.

But it seems like they tried to characterize that with this, like, look what he's doing. He's painting their fingernails, and he has scrunchies in his hair. When that shows up in a movie that is as masculine as "Fast And The Furious," it doesn't feel as responsible. And it doesn't feel as intentional, to Roxana's point, where I'm just like, it seems like they looked at this and said, wouldn't it be funny if he played the character like this? And that kind of gave me pause. But, I mean, there were parts where he said stuff - he walks in and says, my name is Dante. Enchante. And I laughed out loud. Like...

WONG: It's so funny.

HARRIS: That was a great line.

YOUNG: ...That was just - it was just a great line.


YOUNG: But other parts where it's just like - I'm like, am I being responsible here? - you know, I didn't know.

HARRIS: Yeah. Yeah. And I do think, like - look. Again, I thought he was very entertaining, and I do appreciate that need to sort of, like, break up the sort of monotony of the last few villains. But, like, I just question, why does the opposite or the opposition to that have to be so, at least in my eyes, queer-coded? Like, why is that the fallback as, like...

HADADI: Right.

HARRIS: ...This has to be directly oppositional? He is, for better or for worse, like, one of the more interesting - 'cause I agree. Cipher - as much as I love Charlize Theron, I mean, Cipher - she's kind of - I don't know - opaque in a way.

HADADI: She is, in fact, a cipher.

HARRIS: A cipher, yes.


HARRIS: I was trying to avoid that. I guess my - one of my last questions for you is, is there an action sequence or moment that really stood out to you here? Were there any moments that truly surprised you or made you at least feel like, oh, this feels like what we came here for; this is what we love?

YOUNG: One of the stunts that I actually liked the best was probably the most simple, and it's one that's in the trailers. And it's Michelle Rodriguez jumping over a light fixture with the bike...


YOUNG: ...In a very cool way where I was like...

WONG: Yeah.

YOUNG: Yes. That's vintage "Fast And Furious."

WONG: Yeah.

YOUNG: I want to see that all day - just little silly things like that. What I don't want to see is these large, improbable things where it's harder for me to take seriously in those cases. But that was my favorite stunt, I'd say - the motorcycle.

HARRIS: I was going to say that, too. I love the way she just kind of threads it over.

WONG: Yeah.

YOUNG: Yeah.

HARRIS: It's great. Roxana, what about you?

HADADI: I don't know if it's my favorite necessarily, but there is an opening lengthy sequence that just feels like Vin Diesel was watching "Mission Impossible" movies and was like...


HADADI: I want to do this. Again, I have so much affection for this man that I don't know and have never met, but I imagine him at home watching, like, Tom Cruise films and thinking, Dominic Toretto could do that. So, you know, it was outlandish and silly. And nothing about it makes, like, actual, realistic sense. But Dom really was paying attention in physics classes, I guess, because my man has become a master at gauging distance, time, velocity, force and gravity.

WONG: This is correct. He does a little kind of Rube Goldberg thing where he...


WONG: ...Hits, like, a big construction crane with his car to, like, change the trajectory of a bomb in exactly the right way. And I was like, wow. I was like, I've never seen a Rube Goldberg machine this big before.


WONG: I did enjoy that moment, as silly as it was. That first really big set piece involving this huge, rolling bomb that's like the "Indiana Jones" ball but it's metal and it's a bomb - it's very deliberately a callback to the events of "Fast Five." And they show this highlight reel of all the other movies beforehand when they're, like, you know, giving the dossier on this crew, right? First of all, I just want to say, how did they get the footage of this stuff? Has there been a documentary film crew trailing these people the whole time...

YOUNG: Apparently.

WONG: ...That captured the train heist? Like, all these improbable moments where - like, there was a camera there? There was surveillance footage?

HARRIS: You're thinking too hard, Wailin. You're thinking too hard.

WONG: But I did enjoy the highlight reel because then it reminds you - it gets you really amped - right? - for, like, oh, yeah, all this cool stuff that's happened. But at the same time, I feel like they're playing a really dangerous game because you are reminded of all of the lovely things that happened, all the exciting things. And "Fast Five," which is my absolute favorite - I've been chasing that "Fast Five" high through all these subsequent films and have not gotten back to that place. And to always be calling back to "Fast Five," unfortunately, by the end of it, just reminds me that I still haven't returned to that really, like, lofty place of "Fast Five." We're reminded of, like, how sloppy everything's gotten. At least I was.

YOUNG: And it feels like they're also chasing that high as well to go back to four, five and six and say, oh, man, remember when we did this? Remember when we did this? And sadly, Paul Walker was there, and now he's not. And in a lot of ways, you're not going to recapture magic of the films when you don't have the entire crew back there, which is - I know that's kind of a sad thing to say, but I think that might be part of this to say, like, we're going to make it bigger and better and badder every time. But you're never going to have that same feeling of all of those because all your friends aren't there. And it's always just going to feel like you're just chasing after a memory in those cases.


YOUNG: I didn't mean to bring y'all down (laughter).


WONG: No. I mean, I was deep in my feels every time they showed Paul Walker's face in this film.

YOUNG: Yeah.



WONG: I was immediately, like, playing that Wiz Khalifa song in my head and getting very sad.

HADADI: Which they also play.


HARRIS: Well, that is "Fast X" chasing its high, and we'll probably be back here in a couple years talking about "Fast 10.2." I don't know.


HARRIS: So you should tell us what you think about "Fast X" and the whole "Fast And Furious" franchise. You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh. And up next, we'll be talking about what's making us happy this week.

Now it's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What's Making Us Happy. Wailin, let's start with you.

WONG: What's making me happy is this podcast called "The Soundtrack Show." This is a podcast that goes deep into analyzing film scores. It's written and hosted by this guy named David Collins, who I believe is a sound designer and a voice actor. And it's back with a multipart series about John Williams' score for "E.T."


WONG: And it's, like, transcendently good. This show just - I am, like, exploding head emoji the whole time I'm listening to it because he goes so deep on music theory and orchestration and how the music supports the storytelling and how this music relates to music in other films, whether it's by John Williams or it's just another film in general. And the "E.T." series, I would say, is a great point to jump in 'cause it is just one of the all-time great film scores. And I actually saw John Williams conduct his own music with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra a couple months ago, and he played a little bit of "E.T.," and I just, like, floated into space. I was so happy to hear it. But this is called "The Soundtrack Show." I highly recommend it.

HARRIS: Thank you, Wailin. Roxana, what is making you happy this week?

HADADI: What is making me happy this week is that FX released their summer premiere schedule and what I currently care about most - the third season of "Reservation Dogs." And I say that because I'm writing about "Reservation Dogs" right now, and I'm revisiting the second season. And it is just taking me on such a, like, roller coaster of emotion because these four friends are just really going through it in Season 2 as they continue to deal with, like, the grief of losing their fifth friend member, as they deal with sort of growing up, getting jobs, trying to figure out if they want to live on the reservation for the rest of their lives or if they want to move away. So there's all that, like, really nuanced writing and acting that is happening within this ensemble.

But there are also these episodes that - because they've established this world of Okern, Okla., and because they've established these characters, the show is willing to get, like, weird and silly. So there's, like, a standalone episode about the aunties of this community. There's an episode about the police character, played by Zahn McClarnon. I think it's really worth, you know, if you have a Hulu account, catching up on Seasons 1 and 2 because Season 3 is coming in August, and I just think it's one of the best shows on TV.

HARRIS: Awesome. That's a great choice, Roxana. So that's "Reservation Dogs" on Hulu. Ronald Young Jr., what is making you happy?

YOUNG: What is making me happy this week are two podcasts. The first is called "Delusions Of Grandeur." It is a "Star Wars" novel recap podcast. It is about the "Star Wars" novels that have been released from the canon as of 2014, when Disney got rid of all of that backstory that a lot of people grew up with. Hosts Emily Gadek and Kelly Hardcastle Jones are actually going through some of their favorites, and they're recapping each book and just talking about the vastness of the "Star Wars" universe - very excited. That is "Delusions Of Grandeur," a "Star Wars" novel recap podcast.

And the second one is one that's a little closer to my heart. It is called "Weight For It," W-E-I-G-H-T. It is a podcast that I have written and produced that is coming out later this summer, and it is about navigating a fatphobic world in a fat body and what that's like. And it's telling the stories and unpacking the details, looking for love, finding an airplane seat, all of the little indignities that come every day with living life in a larger body. I'm very excited. It comes out on August 5, but the trailer and feed is up now, so go subscribe. That's "Weight For It," spelled W-E-I-G-H-T.

HARRIS: Thank you so much, Ronald. I'm very excited for you.

YOUNG: Thank you.

HARRIS: Well, what's making me happy this week is that my crush, my girl, Janelle Monae is back.


HARRIS: She's back as a musical artist. And look. She's been doing her thing and acting for the last several years. She was in "Glass Onion," of course. And look. She's a multihyphenate. She can do pretty much anything she wants. But I've missed her in the music scene. And now she's back with a new album that's coming out in June called "The Age Of Pleasure." It's her first album in five years since "Dirty Computer." And her new video/song, "Lipstick Lover" - it's hot. She looks great. She co-directed the video along with Alan Ferguson. It looks like a home movie from the 1960s and 1970s. The fashion is on point. It's definitely not safe for work, but I love it. I love how she's kind of flourished and, you know, become even more open about her sexuality. I also just think the song is really great. It's got big summer vibes. Let's actually hear a little bit of "Lipstick Lover."


JANELLE MONAE: (Singing) Just want to feel your hips on mine. I really got a thing for my lipstick lover, lover, lover, lover, lover. I'll do anything for my lipstick lover, lover, lover, lover, lover.

HARRIS: That is Janelle Monae, "Lipstick Lover" and also "The Age Of Pleasure." And that is what is making me very happy this week. If you want links for what we recommended plus some more recommendations, you can sign up for our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. And that brings us to the end of our show. My (impersonating Vin Diesel) family, Roxana Hadadi, Ronald Young Jr., Wailin Wong, thanks so much for being here.

YOUNG: So much fun. Thank you.

HADADI: Thank you, guys.

WONG: Raising a Corona.


HARRIS: Yes, as one should. This episode was produced by Mike Katzif and edited by Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Aisha Harris, and we'll see you all next week.


Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.