I am not, historically, a fan of the Fast/Furious movies, especially the last few since Paul Walker’s untimely death. They have become too serious and small, overly invested in Dominic Toretto’s boring life outside of racing cars. Vin Diesel is not a compelling leading man, especially without a more charismatic scene partner to balance him out, but, well, that’s where Fast X got me.
The tenth entry into the Fast/Furious franchise has all of the previous films’ problems: Dom is a boring protagonist; Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have no chemistry and I do not believe for one second that they even have sex; it’s too long (141 minutes); too loud; and while the action is great, Charlize Theron STILL hasn’t driven a car—but then Jason Momoa shows up. And I. Was. SOLD.
Momoa stars as Dante Reyes, the latest villain spawned from the events of a previous Fast film. His backstory is basically the same as Jason Statham’s Shaw: Dom and the #family—they say “family” twenty-eight times in this movie—harmed HIS family, and now he’s out for revenge. In this case, Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) killed Dante’s dad, Hernan Reyes, in Fast Five. Now, Dante is seeking vengeance, determined not to kill Dom, but to make him suffer. And hoooo boy, is that FUN to watch. Dante is wildly charismatic and genuinely creepy in equal parts, and Momoa gives the most viscerally thrilling villain performance since Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Dante is written to be the Joker of this franchise, in one scene even coming close to Joker’s famous “Here…we…go” line, but Momoa infuses the character with a breeziness and a flirty edge that turns a knock-off concept into something that feels fresh and unexpected. Dante is obsessed with Dom, but he doesn’t bring dour murder vibes to it, Momoa plays that obsession like a tween girl screaming at a boy band concert. There is an unapologetic femininity in his performance—not just his scrunchies and nail polish but in his flowy, coy persona. That edge of androgyny in a figure that presents as classically masculine as Momoa is interesting and exciting on screen, a modern twist on a classic villain archetype.
It’s a more successful attempt than Silva, Javier Bardem’s queer-coded bad guy in Skyfall, mainly because Fast X doesn’t queer code Dante in the archetypical sense. His queer features are just part of his character, they’re not functional to his villainy, and thus those features don’t become part of his threat level. Typically, queer coded villains like Silva—or Jafar, Ursula, or any Disney villain, really—are sneaky and underhanded and thus, their queerness becomes entangled with these negative traits which conflates to suggest that queerness itself is negative. Queer coding is a harmful trope with a bad history in cinema, but there is a deftness in the way Dante is presented that neatly side-steps these narrative traps.
While Dante is unquestionably evil, he’s not sneaky, or underhanded, and, crucially, all his villainy is contained within his bad deeds. He flirts with Dom and gets mani-pedis and wears makeup and ladies’ blouses, but none of these things are ever conflated with his actions. There is a clarity of presentation, a suggestion that somebody somewhere was aware of the queer coded villain trap and deliberately worked to sidestep it. And Momoa’s frankly joyful performance just gooses that along, with no sense of shyness or shame about embracing Dante’s flamboyance and playing up his gender-bending traits and style with enthusiasm. Yet Momoa is equally fierce in depicting Dante’s rage, which is what makes him so unpredictable. There’s no sense of warning when the switch flips, he goes from cheerful teasing to murderous rage in a split second, which makes watching him enormously fun.
Every second Momoa is on screen is electric, you genuinely do not know what Dante is going to do next, and every twist and turn in his plot against Dom feels justified by both his backstory and his present-day nihilism. Dante believes in nothing, but instead of becoming morose in the face of the void, he embraces living in a way that makes him particularly volatile.
Of course, the downside of this is that every second Momoa isn’t on screen is some combination of overbearing and/or boring. There is only so much Sung Kang, Jason Statham, and Brie Larson, actors who understand the assignment and deliver plenty of style and cool vibes of their own, can do to offset Diesel’s heavy-handed, portentous posturing as Dom.
If it weren’t for Jason Momoa, Fast X would be as unbearable as the last few Fast films, but thank the gods for him, because he is the shot in the arm this franchise desperately needed.
Fast X is exclusively in theaters from May 19, 2023.