It’s been fourteen years since the debut of The Fast and the Furious and the franchise is at again. We’re truly in an era of miracles when the seventh entry of a series originally about flashy cars races into theaters with just as much hype and fanfare as the world’s most iconic superheroes and action stars.  By this point in the lifecycle of a successful brand, we would have normally already seen diminishing returns with each passing film being less impressive than the one coming before it, but despite the odds and the Hollywood machine, the story driving the bromance of Dom Toretto and Brian O’ Connor continues to be one of the most reliably entertaining in recent blockbuster history.  Does Furious 7 bring the momentous story of O’ Connor and Toretto to a satisfying end?

After winning their pardons in Furious 6, everyone on Team Toretto seems to have finally settled into their new lives. Dom (Vin Diesel) is working hard to bring Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) memory back while Brian (Paul Walker) attempts to live the domestic life with his wife (Jordana Brewster) and son Jack. All is well until Dom gets a call from Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who seeks vengeance for his little brother Owen (Luke Evans) by killing Han and bombing Toretto’s home. Seeking retribution, Dom begins hunting Shaw and is quickly drawn into a much larger shadow game being led by a mysterious man known only as Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). Toretto rallies the entire team including Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and eventually even his old foe Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) for one last ride to take down Shaw and his elusive employer.

Furious 7 continues the tradition of the last two films by making the story less about cars and fancy toys (of which there are still many) and more about completing a heist job to keep a deadly weapon out of enemy hands. Just when you thought the stunts couldn’t get more ridiculous than the epic raid on the cargo plane, the team comes up with a series of bizarrely imaginative set pieces so farcical and outrageous you can’t help but laugh and enjoy the fun. This movie features at least three heist sequences with each one more absurd than the one before. When the skydiving sports cars sequences isn’t the most absurd thing you see in the movie, you know you’re watching something special.

The NOS fueled action is as spectacular and impressive as ever, but for the first time in the series, the assault on the senses is almost exhausting by the time the final act roles around. The pacing never quite finds the right beat and ultimately feels a little too bloated with action sequences.  The movie often overlooks crucial plot points and character moments in favor of the next inconsequential mano e mono duel between any five of the heavyweight leads. This series has thus far thrived on obscenely silly action, but this movie may overindulge just a little too much for its own good. It’s all great fun and never falls short, but in the case of Furious 7 we receive a little too much of a great thing.

Like the previous two entries, this film brings in a host of new characters driven by their own plans and agendas which always makes for a fun show. Statham makes for a bold presence, but it’s Kurt Russel’s brief turn as Mr. Nobody who really steals the show by poking at the ridiculousness and giving the audience a playful wink from time to time. Newcomer Nathalie Emmanuel  joins the family as the unbelievably lovely and mostly underutilized computer hacker. This movie is jam packed with characters and unfortunately her development is minimized in favor of closing out character arcs from the past six movies.

With all of the big stars blowing up the screen, it’d be easy to overlook the real MVP, director James Wan. Wan has built his entire career on low key horror movies which meant taking over one of the biggest blockbuster franchises of the last decade must have been a huge challenge. Luckily the director more than exceeds expectations and delivers some of the cleanest action the series has seen yet.  He retains the popcorn B-movie energy we all know and love but also gives the movie a flavor more in line with that of a Saturday morning cartoon.

Paul Walker’s tragic passing may lay heavy on the hearts and minds of audiences, but Furious 7 treats this movie as they would with any other in the franchise save for a truly unforgettable tribute to Walker’s work over the years. You never realize how much you’ve got invested in these actors or this series until you’ve seen this farewell tribute that gives O’ Brian/Walker a touching and heartfelt sendoff. I’ll admit it: I felt feels for these people I didn’t even know I could feel.

Furious 7 is undoubtably one of the most over the top action movies ever made and it’s a great time at the movies. Unfortunately the pacing never lands right and more than a few plot threads simply don’t add up in a way that makes movie-logic sense. Fast 5 still stands as the greatest movie in the series as an action masterpiece while this entry spends a little too much time relishing in its own success.  It’s still worth checking out for newcomers and is a no-brainer full price for fans of the series. It may not be flawless, but Furious 7 is a worthy conclusion to a series that has beaten the odds at every corner.