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 Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Dom (Vin Diesel) atop an overturned truck in F9 Photo: Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures

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Some spoiler-free thoughts on F9, a movie where a car may go to space

F9 is here, and magnets have joined the family

Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

F9, the latest film in the Fast & Furious franchise, is nearly upon us after a much longer-than-expected wait. Universal delayed F9 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, making it one of the first blockbusters to delayed in its wake. Now the studio is gearing up to make F9 one of the first blockbuster releases to welcome us back into movie theaters on June 25, as studios begin to send their biggest films to the biggest screens once more.

Unfortunately, F9 may test your family loyalty. We’ve seen the film, and ahead of our official review, here’s a spoiler-free explainer on the film’s setup, and what it might mean for the Fast Family’s future.

Who’s in the family now?

The Fast Family is the smallest it’s been in a while. After spinning off Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) in their own movie, Hobbs & Shaw, the gang now comprises mostly of married couple Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez), along with pals and frenemies Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris Bridges). Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), the hacktivist who joined the team in Furious 7, rounds out the main crew.

The lack of Hobbs and Shaw — two characters whose charisma is the biggest muscle of all — leaves a huge void that F9 tries to fill by bringing back old characters like Han (Sung Kang) who “died” in Fast and Furious 6, and introducing a few new ones. But it increasingly feels like a party where the one person everyone knows stepped out to buy more snacks, and everyone starts to realize they don’t really have much in common.

Why must they be furious?

Jakob and Dominic Toretto face off in F9. Photo: Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures

Because Dom’s secret brother, Jakob (John Cena) has emerged, and is trying to get access to Ares, a cyber-whatsit that would give him control over “anything with an operating system.” Initially put on the trail by a fuzzy transmission from the now-missing government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), the hunt gets personal for Dom when Jakob shows up, and throughout the film, we learn why we’ve never heard of him, and what happened between the two men years ago.

Why must they be fast?

Because Jakob is a master thief and assassin who drives “like a bat out of hell.” The man basically runs his own Blackwater, with a small army of goons equipped with tactical weaponry and assault vehicles that get more and more ludicrous the more of them you see.

Dom Toretto, in comparison, has a Dodge Charger and five shirts, so good luck to Jakob.

Does it feel like a Fast movie?

Not really. The Fast franchise has been in denial about how much it lost with the death of former series star Paul Walker in 2013. Furious 7, his last film, began a transformation that F9 extends, making Dominic Toretto the heart of the franchise and the glue that holds the Fast Family together. Frankly, I don’t buy it.

Walker, as Brian O’Connor, had a sweetness that the movies never made up for, and more than any other member of the cast, he felt like a normal dude. He grounded the movies, which had become ridiculous long before Furious 7. He was the one person who didn’t feel like a superhuman hacker or a wall of muscle. He was just a guy who drove really well, and who wanted a normal life. The rest of the gang are mostly characterized by skill sets that draw them to dangerous careers. It’s almost rude how Roman makes a running joke in F9 about how, after all their crazy missions hasn’t left them with a single scar, they must be invincible.

Where do we go now? Did we really go to space?

Tej and Roman in their rocket-powered Pontiac as they attempt to head to outer space. Image: Universal Pictures

Yeah, that trailer isn’t a fake-out. There’s space stuff in this movie, which makes it hard to feel like things can get any bigger, short of freezing everyone for a hundred years and making the Fast gang compete in a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic death race.

F9 is the movie that shows the limits of this franchise, and in spite of its efforts to lampshade its fudging of reality by making jokes about immortality and defying the laws of physics, the strain is just too much for the two hours and 20 minutes of movie here. Watching it brings whiplash between the kind of absurdity that the franchise should be playing with (I am not kidding when I say magnets are the most significant addition to the Fast family) and the kind it should stay well away from. (The space stuff will likely be divisive.)

More than anything, F9 made me yearn for simpler times, where Fast movies kind of meant it when they said they were about family. There was usually a love story, or an earnest expression of feelings of friendship and brotherhood. But most offensive of all, and maybe the thing that hurts F9 most, is that this is a movie where no one, absolutely no one, thanks God for fast cars.

F9 premieres only in theaters on June 25.