“Furious 7,” the latest in the street racing “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, will forever be tied to the tragic death of leading man Paul Walker, who makes his final on screen appearance nearly two years after a fatal, yet unrelated, car accident.

It’s a tragedy tied to a film in much the same way that Heath Ledger’s death looms large over “The Dark Knight,” a film Ledger posthumously won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for as the perfect superhero villain Joker.

Walker’s untimely death hovers in the background of “Furious 7,” never more poignant than in scenes where street racing crew members Tyrese and Ludacris vow never to attend another funeral for a member of their unlikely band of antihero criminals. Family plays a large role both on and off screen in “Furious 7” as stars Walker and Vin Diesel became as close as brothers.

Every moment within the film, otherwise a straightforward action sequel, takes on a new depth that is unmatched within the genre and also unrepeatable within cinema.

Few moviegoers who have followed Walker’s career, mostly through this series of films, will be able to leave theaters with dry eyes. The film’s final moments — a touching retrospective look at Walker and a final scene with Diesel — represent the most authentic cinema the action genre has produced in at least a decade.

But unfortunately for newcomers, this impact will be largely missed as “Furious 7” requires — and almost insists upon — viewers having previously seen the first six iterations of the franchise. Even the outlier third film “The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift” plays a significant role in the plot of “Furious 7.” Clearly, the film isn’t intended for drop-in, first time viewers, but there’s still enough consistent action pacing “Furious 7” to keep newcomers engaged in the movie.

One of the more successful movie franchises out there, these notably top notch, B-rate action fodder films work consistently from sequel to sequel because the franchise slowly builds up its cast of characters, not over burdening viewers with too much back story to decipher in a genre that demands less thinking. Adding a major player like The Rock in the series’ fifth iteration — and now Jason Statham in its seventh — is a slow burn that works much better than “The Expendables” franchise at developing a series the right way.

“Furious 7” ascribes to the “bigger is better” school of action films largely populated by the work of director Michael Bay, but director James Wan makes the most of his debut in the “Furious” franchise. Cars parachuting from airplanes like soldiers and crashing through skyscraper after skyscraper works because of the trend set by the franchise.

On the whole, “Furious 7” rightfully serves as Walker’s cinematic swan song and respectfully honors his memory in a way that still leaves the door cracked open just enough for the racing to continue on for many years to come.

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