There’s been a pattern with everyone I’ve spoken to who’s seen Fast X. After a brief discussion about the crazy stunts, the conversation quickly turns to the stand-out: Jason Momoa’s performance, and how undeniably great it is.
As Dante Reyes, the son of Fast Five bad guy Hernan Reyes, he’s the definition of a scene-stealer from the moment he steps on the screen. His towering appearance looms in the fun retconned opening sequence and then when he’s introduced in the modern day, all comfortable loungewear and Cheshire Cat grin, he’s unstoppable.
Every single scene Dante appears in had me giggling: sometimes along with the fun Momoa was clearly having, and at other times in sheer amazement at how far he went with the character. It’s a performance full of one-liners that should be cringe-inducing, but instead, just leave you marveling at its sheer gusto.
Really, on paper, Dante clad in a snakeskin jacket overlooking Rome saying, "hey dorks, what are we blowing up?" should not work. However, in my Friday night screening of the movie, it landed delighted laughs as the franchise tried to blow up the Vatican.
Speaking of big reactions, Momoa’s best scene as Dante is also his most unhinged. When he’s in his hideout plotting his next move to inflict "suffering" on Dom, he starts chatting off-screen to his colleagues while he paints their toenails. After a beat or two, it becomes clear there’s something very wrong with this scenario, as the colleagues in question are actually the corpses of the men he’s just murdered.
Interestingly, the director has said they thought they’d have to cut this scene because it was too extreme. But after its reaction with test audiences, Momoa’s improvisation was just too good not to include.
Outrageous, hilarious, and deeply disturbing, it somehow manages to be one of the wildest sequences in a franchise that is known for sending cars into space. And this is all down to Momoa, who not only luxuriates in his character’s revelry but manages to make him absolutely terrifying at the same time. That terror builds throughout the movie as his character becomes even more chillingly unpredictable, and boy, I really cannot wait to see what havoc he’s going to wreck on Fast X part 2.
So why with such a lauded performance, does the conversation not turn to awards chatter? The elephant in the room is that award bodies tend to massively undervalue blockbusters. Yes, Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick landed nods in the Best Picture category at the 95th Academy Awards, but where were the nominations for Tom Cruise and Sam Worthington, two actors who put in performances that anchored those films?
Very few roles manage to break away from box office success to land a nomination. Robert Downey Jr.’s problematic performance as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder was one of few, meanwhile, Heath Ledger’s unmatched performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight (something that seems to have clearly inspired Momoa’s Dante) was a rare win. But given there’s hardly been a shallow pool of talent, it feels odd that more don’t garner recognition.
Of course, these aren’t the only movies that suffer this fate, with horror barely getting a look-in come the glitzy awards season. And it would be wrong to play our violins too loudly for these blockbusters, which traditionally get their accolades through box office performances and wide cinematic releases. Indeed, there’s another argument to be made that award nominations can be the driving force for many people to see more independent releases (just look at what it did for To Leslie).
However, when an actor puts in a performance at the top of his game like Momoa does in Fast X, we should be shouting about it. We’ve got a long way to go this year with some likely huge performances to come (Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon, The Color Purple), but while we wait for them, let’s make sure Momoa is getting the kudos he deserves. And sure when next year rolls around, maybe Dante’s variety of unhinged is more funny than Oscar-worthy, but, at the moment, for me, it’s the performance to beat in 2023 so far.
Fast X is out in cinemas now. For what else is heading to the big screen this year, check out of round-up of 2023 movie release dates.