By CORY WOODROOF

Back when “Live Free or Die Hard” was released in 2007, sticklers for movie realism balked at the idea of film hero John McClain using a cop car to take out a helicopter.

Back when “Live Free or Die Hard” was released in 2007, sticklers for movie realism balked at the idea of film hero John McClain using a cop car to take out a helicopter.

Nearly a decade later, “Furious 7,” the sixth – sixth – sequel in the fascinating “Fast and the Furious” franchise, takes seemingly-impossible stunts to a whole new level – rather, a whole new solar system.

For those who cannot accept a film’s action as a part of its fiction, there’s no point in watching Dominic Toretto (the ageless Vin Diesel) and his family of dangerous drivers engage in eye-popping sequences of surreal stunts.

For the rest of us who can handle something in a movie being unrealistic, “Furious 7” is an aggressively entertaining vehicle that keeps Hollywood’s most unlikely film franchise rolling in style.

The “Fast and the Furious” series has one of the more astounding re-emergences in recent film history. After 2001’s hugely-popular original installment (“Point Break,” with cars), an kinda-sorta-sequel and a spinoff hit the screen with decent box office returns and lackluster critical reception (go back and watch them if you haven’t – “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” are impossibly fun diversions, with “Tokyo Drift” now playing a major part in the film’s mythology).

Universal decided to bring the first film’s cast back for a more-standard sequel with 2009’s “Fast and Furious” – a good continuation of the first film’s story, but one that still didn’t get many kudos from the critiquing world (the fans and dollars still were present, though).

Then, in 2011, the series shocked the film world with “Fast Five” – arguably the best non-“Harry Potter” blockbuster of the 2011 summer movie season. The film made bundles of money, and critics praised the film for its change-of-pace tone (the films, at this point, shifted from racing-oriented plots to more heist-espionage driven narratives) and stellar action sequences (the film’s final chase through the streets of Rio is one of the best ever put to film). 2013’s “Fast and Furious 6” continued the franchise’s renewed effort to provide new experiences with each film – this one being a spy movie.

“Furious 7” finds the series reaching a nice balance between past and present – honoring the glitzy fun of the first few films while harnessing the “big-budget action movie” spirit that has made the last two films so fresh and bombastic.

As Dom says in the new film, the sins of London have followed the Toretto crew home.

Right as one of the family’s beloved members is murdered by a vengeful criminal (Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, older brother of the defeated Owen, the last film’s villain), Dom, his brother-in-law Brian (the late, great Paul Walker) sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and toddler nephew Jack are nearly killed when a bomb from Shaw destroys the Toretto home. DSS ally Agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) also endures significant injury at Shaw’s hand early on.

The malicious murder and attacks leave Dom and crew hungry for restitution, and they’re given a chance at it when shady government official “Mr. Nobody” (Kurt Russell) meets with the group and offers them a fair trade – they intercept a kidnapped techie whose invention can locate anything and anyone on Earth via camera, in exchange for the ability to use the device to locate the elder Shaw.

The team agrees to the deal, and the film kicks into high gear, sending Dom’s group across the globe to save the inventor from the clutches of a dangerous terrorist, secure the device, and try to find Shaw, who in turn, is hunting them down as well.

The cat-and-cat chase and secretive ops in “Furious 7” give the film a nice framework plot, but as these movies go, it’s all about the action. The film’s three big sequences – a chase through the Caucasus Mountains, an impossible escape in Abu Dhabi and a rip-roaring hunt through downtown Los Angeles – rival anything else the series has ever done, with first-time series director James Wan bringing an added level of style the films haven’t had before. The Abu Dhabi sequence especially – as nail-biting as anything likely to be shown in a theater in 2015 – shows why this series has sustained the life it has. Writer Chris Morgan has been penning the screenplays for the franchise since the third installment, and he’s a big part of weaving a true film-spanning narrative for these movies.

Diesel continues to shine in what likely will go down as his defining role, and Walker, who tragically died before the film was completed, gives some of his best series work yet, as his Brian starts the film grappling with life behind the wheels of a minivan, instead of a Nos-infused race car. Rodriguez also has some of her best series moments in this film.

Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges will never get old as Roman and Tej, the former the film’s comedic weapon and the latter a perfect foil for his antics. Brewster and Johnson don’t get as much screen time as the other main cast members this go-around, but like in other films, their impact is felt (don’t worry – The Rock gets a few moments of pure Rock-approved insanity).

Russell is the film’s best new addition, as the exaggerated “Mr. Nobody” fits in perfectly with what the series is all about. Statham also makes for a great main villain.

With this being Walker’s final “Fast and the Furious” film, “Furious 7” give his character a sendoff that just might be the series’ finest moment. Diesel and Walker have been this series’ lynchpins throughout (both appearing in six of seven films) and are both responsible for its impressive longevity. The film closes with a flawless ending – a tribute to Walker – that couldn’t have been more appropriate for the character and more fitting for the actor. If a few tears are shed before the credits roll, don’t be alarmed. Everyone else is crying, too.

It’s tough for some film franchises to make it past the trilogy, but the “Fast and the Furious” series continues to defy the odds and offer energetic roller coaster-rides that bring something fresh and exciting to the table with each new installment.

The rest of Tinseltown should be taking notes – this is how studio blockbusters should be made.