Had you told us in 2003 that The Fast and Furious movies would gross over $2.3 billion worldwide, we'd have laughed in your face. But after 2 Fast 2 Furious nearly killed the series, Universal Pictures brought in director Justin Lin to helm an independent spin-off without stars Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. That slick, entertaining take, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, did well enough for Universal to give Lin the wheel for three more installments, the last two of which grossed nearly $1.5 billion worldwide and received critical acclaim.

Lin stepped aside for Furious 7, handing the reins to James Wan. The long shadow of Lin's contribution to the series is still felt in the seventh installment, though, and Wan's work doesn't stack up to his predecessor's best efforts, 2011's Fast Five and 2013's Fast & Furious 6. That's not due to a lack of action. Furious 7 strings together the same type of over-the-top action sequences that made Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 box office smashes. Alongside the fist fights, gun fire and explosions, this is a movie that features not one, but two games of automotive chicken. Oh, and did we mention cars jumping between buildings and crashing into two different aircraft midflight?

The action of Furious 7 follows the successful formula of the previous two films. Where it differs is in the storytelling. One reason the fifth and sixth films worked so well was because of the ensemble cast. Sure, the plots revolved around stars Diesel and Walker, but the movies were just as solid when they focused on ancillary characters. Furious 7 goes back to the formula of the first and fourth films in the series, where the secondary characters take seat in the way, way back.

The only time we see Tyrese Gibson's Roman and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges' Tej is when they're supporting Walker and Diesel. Dwayne Johnson's DSS agent, Hobbs, merely bookends the film, and new additions, like Kurt Russel's secret agent and Nathalie Emmanuel's (Missandei from Game of Thrones) hacker just aren't very memorable. As for villains, we've been watching Jason Statham as a good guy for a bit too long – he doesn't sell himself as a bad guy. And his counterpart, played by Djimon Hounsou (we dubbed him "Villain Number 2" in our notes) is utterly forgettable.

These criticisms will probably disqualify the film from winning an Oscar for Best Picture, but they don't overshadow Furious 7's undeniable sense of fun. We won't give away too much of the plot but, this being a Fast and Furious movie, it's rather predictable. Statham's baddy, Deckard Shaw, kills Han at the end of the last film (which is also a scene continued from Tokyo Drift), then goes after Hobbs and the Toretto/O'Connor family for maiming his brother in Fast 6. A revenge plot ensues, moved along by a quest for an all-conquering technological MacGuffin. It's shallow, but Furious 7 is a damn good popcorn action flick; the kind that typifies the summer movie season. We fully expect it to leave viewers smiling – until the end.

Furious 7 was always, always going to be overshadowed by the untimely death of Paul Walker. From the beginning, Wan and writer Chris Morgan do a good job of negotiating Walker's exit from the franchise. It's not heavy handed or manipulative. In fact, it felt largely natural. The final scene exists solely to pay tribute to the late actor, doing so in an extremely touching, bromantic way. We challenge you to get through it with a dry eye. We couldn't.

The ultimate question with Furious 7 was never going to be about the quality of the individual film, but whether the series could go on without Justin Lin and Paul Walker. Based on what we've seen, we're cautiously optimistic. Wan's take is big on action, which plays well to the adrenaline-craving fans that will pay $10 for two and a half hours of escapism. We're less sure about how the series will continue without Walker, especially after seeing Furious 7's reliance on the series' two main characters.

Have you seen Furious 7? If you have, we'd love to hear from you. Head into Comments and let us know if you agree with our take on the film, as well as what you liked and didn't like in this latest installment.

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Furious 7 - Trailer No. 1

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