How 'Furious 7' Perfectly Honors Paul Walker's Legacy (Even if It's Sometimes Hard to Watch)

by John Boone 10:28 AM PDT, April 01, 2015
Photo: Universal Pictures

A franchise that prides itself on being fast and furious is not going to send one of their own -- in Furious 7’s case, Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner -- gentle into the night. But he does go. And if you didn’t know of how much work the team behind the movie put into salvaging an incomplete film, you’d never know this wasn’t what they were planning all along.

Walker died in a high-speed crash in November 2013. At the time, the seventh installment (Walker’s sixth) was only halfway through production. So when the cast and crew decided to go back to work to complete the movie, the script was overhauled and Walker’s younger brothers, Caleb and Cody, were brought in as stand-ins for Paul, all to craft and execute an emotional “retirement” for Brian.

We won’t spoil it flat-out for you, but the tribute at the end of the movie is emotional: Not overly-sentimental, except in the way the Fast & Furious movies have always been overly sentimental, with tough guys saying things that tough guys think are poetic -- “I don’t have friends. I got family.” -- to each other while piano music wafts in the background; but truly final. And we don’t blame you if you got a little verklempt when “For Paul” appears on the screen as the credits roll.

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Photo: Universal Pictures

But the real tribute to Walker’s legacy is the rest of the movie: That it’s not neutered. That, even after Paul’s death, Brian’s life still hangs in the balance countless times throughout the film. That it never feels like Universal tried to tone down the more reckless accidents in the editing. (Aside, possibly, from one scene -- Han’s death in a fiery, high-speed car crash, a scene that is briefly revisited to tie Furious 7 into F&F’s over-arching timeline, but which might prove too morbid to re-watch in full, considering.)

Because The Fast and the Furious isn’t just the role that defined his career, it was how Walker lived his life. “I’ve always been into cars,” he told ET in 2013 while promoting Fast & Furious 6. “In my family, that’s just the way it was. Car racing, growing up all the different car publications around the house, going to my grandfather’s shop...I think it’s just a part of my DNA."

“I like going fast,” he shrugged.

FLASHBACK: Paul Walker on the set of ‘The Fast and the Furious’ in 2000!

Photo: Universal Pictures

And this installment is faster, furious-er, and more insane than any that have come before it. There’s a so-called “Super Car” that drives 200-plus miles per hour -- which Brian and Dom (Vin Diesel) proceed to “fly” through three skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. A fleet of murdered-out race cars skydive into a shoot-out on a remote mountainside. A shot-up bus careens off a cliff. Cars are horribly, terribly wrecked -- as they are in every other F&F film. Smashed into bits. Burst into flames.

Is it hard to watch knowing what fate befell the star of the movie? Depends how easily distracted you are. Can you separate art -- in the sense that any movie is art -- from real-life, even when the lines blur and it’s hard to know where one stops and the other starts? If you can, it’s just another testosterone soaked romp with the Toretto “family.” Is there a morbid curiosity in trying to see what scenes have the late actor CGI-ed in? Naturally. Do you wince a little more when two cars smash into each other? Maybe.

But it feels like the movie Paul would have wanted.

Find out what the Furious 7 cast told ET about the film’s emotional tribute: