If Paul Walker were alive now, today would be his 42nd birthday.

A huge part of the late, slick, blue-eyed actor’s legacy is the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.

The latest installment, “Furious 7,” was hugely successful at the box office (it’s the third-highest grossing movie of 2015 so far) and was also quite a winner with the critics (it has 81 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).

It’s become a hugely successful franchise, in large part thanks to the screen presence of the Walker-Vin Diesel duo, but it wasn’t so clear the series would become a Hollywood winner back in 2001, when the first film was released. 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious” wasn’t a heist movie, as the series has become. It was a street-racing thriller. And it didn’t have the dramatic heft critics would come to appreciate in the series. The thrills worked for some critics, and not so much for others. The characters were criticized for being “paper-thin,” but some critics still recognized how appealing actors like Walker and Diesel were onscreen.

The franchise has come a long way. Let’s look back on that 2001 movie “The Fast and the Furious” as we commemorate Walker’s birthday. (By the way, Ludacris’s birthday was yesterday. We hope the two co-stars had an epic dual birthday party at some point.)

Here’s what the critics said about “The Fast and the Furious” in 2001:

“A gritty and gratifying cheap thrill, Rob Cohen’s high-octane hot-car meller is a true rarity these days, a really good exploitationer, the sort of thing that would rule at drive-ins if they still existed.”

Entertainment Weekly:
“‘The Fast and the Furious’ works hard to be exciting, but the movie scarcely lives up to its title. It could have used a bit of a fuel injection itself.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
“By all the standards by which movies are usually judged, it’s pretty dreadful. But it at least has the honesty and charm of a straightforward exploitation movie, and it definitely lives up to its title.”

Chicago Reader:
“While few of the paper-thin characters register long enough to make much of an impression, Diesel carries the movie with his unsettling mix of Zen-like tranquillity and barely controlled rage.”

Empire Magazine:
“In a cheerfully cheesy was, this is probably the most fun to be had at the multiplex so far this year. Even a slightly dull bit in the middle involving some Oriental gangsters can't slam the brakes on the fun.”

Cincinnati Enquirer:
“Melodramatic, preposterous, excessive
this movie is all that. Yet it is also magnetically appealing.”

“There's nothing daring or high concept about this shamelessly derivative slice of teenage schlock. What it does offer is a visceral, high-octane, Formula One of a flick that puts the pedal to the metal in the opening minutes and does not take the foot off the accelerator until the end credits.”

Ain’t It Cool News:
“‘The Fast and the Furious’ has scary speed in it. Not just told with the camera, but in a soundtrack — both Rock style and sound effects wise that literally shakes the hairs on your balls and tugs on your sternum.”

San Francisco Chronicle:
It’s a good movie, even though it’s exactly the kind of movie that’s usually awful: youth-oriented, straining to be contemporary, straining to be mythic, with no faith in an audience’s capacity to stay awake without being jolted. But ‘The Fast and the Furious’ has something special about it. It’s a formula movie, to be sure, but it’s Formula One.”

An enthusiast of time travel stories, film scores, avocados and Charades, Emily Rome is an alumna of Loyola Marymount University and a native of beautiful Washington State. Emily’s writing has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyNRome.