Early reviews of Furious 7, which features key scenes filmed in Abu Dhabi, are in. Here are seven things we learnt from them
1. The “virtual Paul Walker” bits work
The biggest problem Furious 7 faced was the death of Paul Walker – along with Vin Diesel one of the franchise's two main stars – in a off-set car crash during filming. The decision to finish the movie was both brave and technically challenging – Walker's brothers acted as stand-ins, with his face digitally pasted onto their bodies. Director Justin Lin also recycled cut footage from previous Fast and Furious movies. Variety notes that "although there are moments [where Walker] is conspicuously filmed from behind or with his face obscured, for most of the time Walker is on screen, it's nigh impossible to tell whether he is fully real or partly virtual." The Hollywood Reporter call it a "technical miracle".
2. Abu Dhabi is a major highlight
Of course, Furious 7 was partly filmed in the heart of the capital, and it's gratifying to note the scenes in Abu Dhabi provide some of the highlights of the movie – "so much fun", according to comingsoon.net. A car chase that begins inside an Etihad Towers penthouse and ends in a neighbouring skyscraper without the wheels ever touching the ground is, says The Hollywood Reporter, the reason people will see the film. The same scene is called "ridiculous but highly entertaining" by Variety – although as The National reported this week, the maths prove the stunt is just about possible.
3. The story is as ridiculous as ever...
Narrative isn't exactly the Fast and the Furious franchise's strong point – and comingsoon.net call this latest instalment 'ridiculous'. But for the record, the story is that Jason Statham's character, Deckard Shaw, is a bit cross with Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Walker) and Luke (Dwayne Johnson) for what the crew did to his brother (it involved falling out of an airplane). So the crew decide to try to make a pre-emptive strike on Deckard, with the help of Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) - who, as luck would have it, needs a car-based favour doing. As Variety says, "things manage to get even more complicated from there – perhaps a bit too much – in a story that hopscotches to Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi before finally ending up back in LA". Cool cars, though.
4. ... but it’s a fitting memorial to Paul Walker
Furious 7 was rewritten after Walker's death, so there's a grim sport to be had in predicting which overblown stunt will end in his character Brian O'Conner's heroic demise. Suffice it to say, he survives longer than one might imagine. The Playlist worries that there is a sombre mood cloaking the film that "dangles the question of Walker's character's fate and pays tribute to his memory at the same time". Still there's a sense that Furious 7 is the film Walker "would have wanted". Variety says it's the "ultimate compliment to say that he plays each moment as though it were his last ... when the time does come for Brian O'Conner to bid adieu, the movie arranges it in a way that feels fully earned and well within the boundaries of good taste."
5. The new director has slotted in well
James Wan made his name in horror movies and he may have thought he was indeed in the middle of a real-life nightmare when his leading man died. But his efforts in taking over the directorial chair from Justin Lin have generally been considered successful. He maintains what The Playlist memorably calls "the powerfully stupid spectacle and winning melodrama" that is a Fast and the Furious movie, although Variety were surprised that a man who has built a reputation for old-school analogue frights, in films such as Insidious, "gooses his setpieces with too much CGI." The Playlist also points out that the narrative, such as it is, "is just connective tissue lifting the action sequences up, and Wan both delivers and completely ODs in that regard".
6. The general consensus is ... thumbs up
Let's be honest, this franchise is never going to win an Oscar for best movie. But the general feeling is that Furious 7 does deliver on what it sets out to do: namely, as comingsoon.net put it, making a movie that "falls somewhere between Mission: Impossible and a video game full of side missions". But, they add: "Furious 7 knows its audience and delivers exactly what they want, including an exciting last act with a huge pay-off." The Playlist's praise is slightly more hard won - "cacophonous, gratuitous and peppered with absolutely outstanding action sequences", they say – while Variety was won over, trumpeting that "it's hard to think of another contemporary film series that has run this long while continuing to afford so much pleasure". Er, have they not heard of James Bond?
7. The future for the franchise looks bright
Understandably, the prospects for a Furious 8 initially looked decidedly shakey after Walker's death. The Playlist say the film "felt like an ending", and one of the characters even says "it won't be the same going forward". But Variety is more hopeful. "Even a Walker-less Team Furious still has plenty of gas left in the tank", it decides - while comingsoon.net speculates that Dwayne Johnson's brilliantly OTT Hobbs character might get his own spin-off movie. As always, the final decision about Furious 8 is likely to hang on the box-office success of Furious 7 ... and with talking-point stunts like the ones in Abu Dhabi, it's unlikely to bomb, is it?
• Check out tomorrow's Arts&Life as we speak to the extras, cast and crew who worked on the dramatic Furious 7 scenes filmed in Abu Dhabi