There's a slight misfortune to having the ability to continue making films in a franchise that squanders believability of physics in lieu of entertaining with gratuitous overabundance (i.e. typical summer popcorn flick), only to have a great tragedy (the passing of Paul Walker) in its midst that overshadows its blockbuster-ish intentions.
In my viewing of Furious 7, I found there to be a dark undertone to the film, especially with a funeral scene (for one of the other characters) and with Walker's character Brian O'Connor and his inevitable send-off (not spoiling anything here) being a key component to the film and franchise. There's a certain moment at the end that transcends the movie itself - while some of the characters say their good-byes to O'Connor while relaxing at a beach, you can see in the eyes of the actors that they are in fact saying good-bye to Paul Walker (much of Walker's role was rewritten and filmed with his brothers as stand-ins in order to finish the roughly 1/3 of the film he had left to film before his passing). In one degree, it's an odd moment in the film that breaks the care-free action tone that was established, but underlying its double context is a real raw, emotional power. This made me feel that it was also very unfortunate that the scene had to conclude what is essentially a Transformers film without Transformers.
Being the seventh film in a conceivably throwaway film franchise, I wasn't expecting greatness from the film. What I was expecting was a certain creative element as to how the filmmakers would overcome the loss of one of their lead stars before the majority of the film was even completed in filming. At times, Paul Walker plays second fiddle to Vin Diesel (as has been the case for the past few films), but even more so this time around and even to the point that his character really didn't have much purpose in the long run of the "story".
Speaking of story, this film plays just like the fifth and sixth in the franchise, and gives a basic setup to give reason as to why there's even another entry. The thing I like about that idea is that it has been already preplanned in the pre-production of each film that certain elements from previous films would be re-introduced into future films, giving them all a certain flow and connected structure that has to be admired. But, this time around, there's not much in the department of story or character building that hasn't already been established by the fifth film, Fast 5 (arguably the best in the series). That particular film was so over-the-top as to be enjoyable as your brain turned off (the setting in Rio de Janeiro didn't hurt, either). In Furious 7, not much new was introduced to up the stakes, but the over-the-top element became too cartoony to allow the brain to turn off and enjoy. What we have in turn is a film that belongs in a different existence from the original The Fast and the Furious, a film that was arguably based in the reality of physics, and instead belongs in the comic book-like fantasy nature of a Transformers or Hobbit film.
I wasn't entirely turned off by the film itself. While I sat and wondered at how they would end the character of Brian O'Connor, the film introduced us to two new characters: Jason Statham as the big brother to the previous film's bad guy (who is also given a couple pretty cool fight scenes, one in which he gets the upper hand on the walking steroidal meat sack Dwayne Johnson), and the always-welcome action movie icon Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody, a Q-like leader of a secret government organization looking for an impossible device called the "God's Eye" that can hack into any camera in the world to track any person in the world.
Furious 7 can be fun for fans of the franchise, especially those who enjoyed the fourth, fifth, and sixth films. Overall the film is too cartoony to be taken seriously or to have us give any real care to the characters. Despite this respite in connectivity to the film's premise, the film does manage to have a moment of real emotion, one that can be very heart-felt, nostalgic, and awe-inspiring for those who have gone nearly fifteen years and six films with Paul Walker (he was not in the third). For that, I give respect. I also give respect to this film for allowing The Rock to take out a helicopter with belt-fed midi gun, a weapon that fits his hands (and only his hands) more believably than Blain from Predator.
Not good enough to be recommended to anyone not familiar with the Fast & the Furious franchise, and yet still a step down for those who ARE fans. Some moments have high-flying intensity, but the dialogue is too cliche' to be catchy, and the complete disregard from physical reality does take away from some of the connection to the characters and the stakes that would be raised were they to be in actual believable danger.