A report from the premiere screening of the long-awaited sequel to the greatest modern franchise.

Like a lot of people, my love for The Fast and the Furious franchise snuck up on me. I thought the first movie was okay, but was mostly curious to know if there really was this underground racing culture in LA, and also wanted to know more about why they would let NSYNC into it if there was.

Then obviously 2 Fast 2 Furious had the best sequel title since Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, but back when that one came out I thought I was to cool for a movie that was just trying to have fun with driving a car onto a yacht (I was wrong).

I missed Tokyo Drift and didn’t pay attention to Fast and Furious when it came out, but Fast 5 came around at the same time as D-Box seats, and it seemed like the kind of movie that could be enhanced with motion seats so Sarah and I decided to check it out. I went in thinking, “This will be some silly fun” and left thinking, “HOLY FUCK. WHY WAS THAT MOVIE SO AWESOME???”

Of course, if you’re reading this you either already know that or you’re still stuck in that mode of thinking where you think you’re cooler than this series, so none of that is important.

What’s important is that you need to know that if you have been entertained by the Justin Lin entries into The Fast and Furious series, you’re going to fucking love James Wan’s first shot at directing one of these. The action sequences are just as insane as they’ve always been, Toretto’s family is just as loveable, and the 140 minute running time didn’t feel long even after the midnight “secret” screening at SXSW started late and kept the movie running past 2:30a.

Of course, the big thing people are talking about with this one is the fact that Paul Walker passed away during filming, and until tonight none of us were sure how the studio was going to be able to work around that. We know they brought in his brothers to serve as stand-ins for a few scenes so that they could finish the film, but we didn’t know what they were going to do with the character of Brian O’Conner.

Would they kill him off? Would he decide to let the crew do a job without him so he and Mia could have a happy life somewhere off camera? Would he abruptly stop showing up in scenes where it felt like he would have otherwise have been there?

The screening tonight started with the producer coming out and speaking a little bit about the loss of Walker, and he asked the entire crowd to resist the urge to spoil anything about how they tied up Brian’s storyline. We were getting to see the movie without knowing how that was going to happen, and he asked us to let audiences in April see it the same way, too.

I’m going to respect those wishes here, so if you want to know what happens to Brian without seeing the movie, you’ll have to visit another site. Or maybe it’s all over Twitter.

But I would recommend avoiding those spoilers if possible, because one of the things that made watching this entry even more suspenseful than any of the other films in the series is that you really never know what scene might end up being Brian’s last. That rarely happens in a franchise like this, and though it came from a tragedy, it does add another layer to the excitement of everything on screen.

The one thing I will say is that it’s never distracting, and there weren’t any moments where I was pulled out of the story because I was wondering if the Brian I was seeing on screen was Paul or one of his brothers. The filmmaking around the loss is seamless except for a couple of moments where it actually works better to show the digital edges of the probably CGI.

Once you’re past that, you’re free to go on a ride, and let’s all fucking hope that it’s not, as Toretto says, “One last ride.” They should go on making these movies forever.

The plot is convoluted, but it still makes sense as it takes us from point a to point b and action sequence c to action sequence d: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) wants to find the whole crew that crippled his brother, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans in Fast and Furious 6). So he breaks into the CIA’s offices and starts downloading information from Agent Hobbs’ (The Rock) computer, and then they get into the first of many fist fights.

Wan’s action choreography is fantastic, and while no fight sequence will be able to match the intensity of John Wick, there were moments when the camera rotated with a body that was flying through the air where I had flickers of that same level of excitement.

Deckard attacks Brian, Mia and Toretto, so Toretto gets pissed off and wants to get into a fight. He notices a slick car driving past Han Seoul-Oh’s funeral (that’s the guy in Tokyo that we saw Statham kill in the end of the last movie, and an actual character’s name from multiple movies), so he gets in his car and chases it down. He’s about to get into another fight sequence when all these commandos show up, Deckard runs away and then Kurt Russell walks up and says something like, “These commandos are my men. We want to hunt that guy, too. But first we need this device that a hacker made that lets you track down anyone in the world by accessing every camera and microphone and stuff like that. If you help us get that device, we’ll let you use it to find Shaw again.”

And from there, we are off to the races.

I’m not a real film critic, so beyond all of that I’m not going to get into what things worked and what could have made it better. Yeah, there are some moments that make absolutely no sense (how did Hobbs know to bring that one thing to that one spot at that exact time?), but in the moment while you’re watching it somehow never matters, because you’re too busy having a great fucking time.

Ultimately, Furious 7 serves as a fantastic ending to Brian O’Conner’s story, and if you’re prone to emotional outbreaks and have been a fan of this series for a few years you’ll probably get a little misty eyed.

But this won’t be the ending to the entire series, and now that we live in the universe of nothing but cinematic universes there probably never will be an ending to this series. And I’m 100% okay with that, because I can’t wait to see how they factor in self-driving cars in Fastest and Most Furious, due for release in 2019.