By Joe Passantino
If the box office numbers for “Fast & Furious 7” are anything to go by — it has already grossed over $500 million worldwide — the movie franchise is as strong as ever. This particular entry carried a special significance, as it was the late Paul Walker’s last installment after having passed away in a car crash in 2013. So how, exactly, did “Fast” retire Walker’s Brian O’Conner? (Stop reading here to avoid spoilers).
As it turns out, it did so in as classy a manner as one could possibly imagine. Throughout the film, viewers learn that O’Conner’s love interest, Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), is pregnant with the couple’s second child. Given that she mostly discusses this new pregnancy with brother Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and in a phone conversation with O’Conner, it seems fair to guess that this storyline was written in posthumously as a way to explain Walker’s exit. While O’Conner does flirt with death a few times in the film, he does not die. Given the nature of his actual demise, the calm nature of his departure seems much more appropriate than killing him off in an automobile-related stunt.
The film concludes with a faraway shot of O’Conner (played by a stand-in for Walker) and Mia on a beach, playing with their first child, Jack. Most of the key characters, including Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), watch the scene and reflect on their time with O’Conner. But it is Dom’s struggle to accept the notion of “goodbye” that is truly moving, as he departs the scene without saying a final farewell. As he drives away, O’Conner catches up with him in a white Supra, and the two share “one last ride” together. Following a montage of O’Conner’s best scenes, Dom says that O’Conner will always be his brother – and it seems obvious that these words are really from Vin to Paul. The two part ways at a fork in the road, and O’Conner drives off into a bright sunlight.
This was a perfect ending, one that encapsulated the overarching “Fast” theme of family and the real-life bonds the cast members shared. Anyone watching should have been able to tell that, although Diesel plays an often-stoic tough guy in the movies, he is a real person with real emotion. That emotion came right through the screen and caused many fans to tear up. The imagery of the final parting was beautiful, as it optimistically suggested that Walker is not gone, but has simply taken a different road.
Thankfully, the entire movie was not as much of a tearjerker as the closing five minutes. It stayed true to the spirit of “Fast” with lots of action, beautiful women, fast cars and absurd stunts. Dwayne Johnson made a brief but entertaining return as Luke Hobbs, hitting villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) with a Rock Bottom (his wrestling finisher) through a glass table and powering a cast off his arm through the sheer might of his will. Statham himself did an unsurprisingly fantastic job of playing the bad guy, always on the heroes’ tails and a participant in several exciting fight scenes.
Roman, portrayed by Tyrese Gibson brought his amusing brand of humor to the film, asking to check his email during a complicated tech procedure and denying his obvious fear when asked to drive a car out of an airplane. The latter brought a human element to one of the film’s ridiculous stunts, a stunt which was matched later by Dom and Brian crashing a car through three skyscrapers.
Naturally, many of these antics seem far-fetched, but “Fast” has never been a series that prided itself on realism. It is well aware of how wacky it is and, if anything, thrives on it. That endearing ridiculousness and the excellence of the other cast members mean that “Fast” can feasibly continue successfully without Walker. But he will live on through his work, always remaining part of the family.