The movie is hard to separate from the real life events that claimed Paul's life. There is a lot of emotion built up within the film. The cast has enormous chemistry with each other, and a blow like that isn't going to go unnoticed.
I've seen a lot being made about the racially diverse cast and gender parity, but what really makes it work is that it clearly isn't trying to have these things...it just does. It's the difference between having black friends and a white guy saying "I need to go make a black friend." It's obvious when shows or films try to properly ratio out the mix of minority characters (as it is when they change everyone into white folk). Fast and Furious built this quality very naturally.
However, on its own, the film is still a great action movie. Like Pete mentions, the series has clearly built up from its roots as a local, low level criminal/cop story, into something clearly higher level. The jumps, survival of characters through clearly impossible situations...this is right out of high level Dungeons and Dragons games. Falling damage, environmental effects...these are minor hiccups for the Toretto Family. I don't think that it is a coincidence that Vin Diesel plays DnD.
Moreover, the film manages to tie events of the previously loosely connected Tokyo Drift tightly into the storyline. It's something so obvious, but simultaneously way more clever than one would give this series credit for being.
And finally, the ending. Wow. I thought it was going to go in a different direction, but the way they did it was perfect. Not big on public crying myself, but I was choking up. The girl next to me was bawling.
If you haven't seen the series, this is still a fun action flick, but you aren't going to get the full impact of it unless you watch it after seeing the previous installments.
RIP Paul. And thanks to everyone involved with the series. A real emotional ride.