If you’ve been following the Fast and Furious series since its inception, you’ve seen it grow from a devil-may-care little street-racing story in 2001 up to 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, which morphed into a full-blown spy thriller. It probably couldn’t have grown into Universal’s all-time biggest franchise ($3.1 billion-with-a-B as of this month) if it didn’t feature a tight ensemble of not hugely talented but likeable and charismatic stars. The sequence of scripts emphasizes the growth of this group as a family, and by the current episode, Furious 7, the cast operates as a family as well, able to play off one another’s tics and wheezes to great comic effect.

Not that this movie is a laugh riot; it pits the team against as nasty a villain as Bond ever faced, who makes up for lack of subtlety with a superhuman tenacity; he’s like those giant weasels in Dance of the Dwarfs who never give up once they’ve got your scent.

The weasel, er, villain is Deckard Shaw, played with unsettling single-mindedness by Brit heavy Jason Statham. Deckard is bent on avenging his brother Owen, the bad guy whom our friends left on life support at the end of the last movie. (Villains never file a living will or advance directive because they hope to regain consciousness in time for the next sequel.) After counter-productively terrorizing the hospital that’s taking care of Owen, Shaw breaks into the DSS office where Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) works to download files of the crew, and to have a bout of fisticuffs that sends Hobbs to the hospital. (Fans of The Rock, among whom I count myself, needn’t worry, as he takes off for most of the movie to film Hercules, but returns in time for the bust-’em-up finale.)

Meanwhile the rest of the team are enjoying a relatively normal life, with Dom (Vin Diesel) reconnecting with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who is not dead at all but just amnesiac, while Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) have settled down to have babies. Shaw is determined to break up these happy families with bombs and car chases when Kurt Russell arrives bearing the subplot and an amazing head of hair. It seems that noted terrorist Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) has kidnapped the computer nerd who controls a universal digital tracking device called God’s Eye. Rescue the nerd, says The Hair, and you can use God’s Eye to find Shaw.

This setup is all we need to cue the chases, explosions, martial arts demonstrations and bullet storms that fill a the majority of the movie’s two-and-a-quarter-hour running time. If such shenanigans bore you to sobs then this is not the movie for you – just down the hall you may see The Second Best Marigold Hotel, a worthy rival. But if your tolerance for crashing vehicles and pyrotechnics approaches that of the average 12-year-old boy, this is a great way to spend a spring evening.

If your enthusiasm for such mayhem is limited, I have to say (no spoilers) that there are two set pieces in this movie that are worth missing Downton Abby for: one is an air drop from about 35,000 feet into the Caucasus Mountains that involves a fleet of cars (And they land on the right road! Amazing!), and the other involves using a $3 million Lykan HyperSport to escape from a penthouse in the Etihad Towers of Abu Dhabi. Though it’s possibly the most preposterous stunt in the history of cinema, it’s a real jaw-dropper, and you can find the mathematics that (sorta) prove its feasibility at http://multimedia.thenational.ae/the-vin-diesel-conundrum.pdf.

You must know by now that Paul Walker wrote himself out of the series due to a single-car accident which killed him and a friend in November 2013. Completion required severe re-writes as well as stand-in and CGI work, but the result is nearly seamless, and stands as a tribute to the young actor. In particular the final sequence ends with a very moving image, as Brian and Dom choose different roads and drive off in separate directions. Lest we think this is the end, however, we have seen Shaw locked away in a maximum-security cell that would probably not hold Hannibal Lecter for more than a day or two.

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