Fast & Furious 7 Revisited: The tragic loss of Paul Walker brings about the end of an era

The new episode of the Revisited video series looks back at Furious 7, directed by James Wan, starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker

Last Updated on June 28, 2024

This episode of Revisited was Written by Cody Hamman, Narrated by Travis Hopson, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Adam Walton and Chris Bumbray, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

Over-the-top action sequences. Bone-crunching fights between titans of the action genre. A popular horror director getting his chance to make a massive-budget blockbuster. Fast & Furious 7 (watch it HERE) brings all of those elements to the table. But it’s primarily remembered for being a production that was disrupted by tragedy. And we’re going to look into how it all played out in this episode of Revisited.

Universal Pictures doesn’t have a lot of major blockbuster franchises. In 2012, Jurassic Park had been dormant for a decade and the Bourne Identity movies had lost Jason Bourne. So they really only had Fast and Furious. It makes sense that while they were sending the sixth movie out into the world, they were already planning the seventh. Part 6 was released in May of 2013, and they intended to get 7 into theatres in July of 2014. This was such a quick turnaround that Justin Lin, who had just directed four Fast and Furious movies in a row, had to drop out. He had to focus on getting 6 through post-production. He couldn’t start pre-production on 7 at the same time. So the month before 6 was released, Universal hired another director to take the helm of 7. And it was a bit of an unexpected choice: James Wan, who had gotten his career started with the low budget horror film Saw. He followed that up with more horror: Dead Silence, Insidious, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2. He had made a mid-budget action thriller called Death Sentence, but very few movie-goers had seen that one. Fast & Furious 7 was a huge opportunity for him. His first chance to direct a studio blockbuster with a huge budget. And he dove right into it.

Chris Morgan, who had written the previous four movies, returned to write the new sequel. The basic story was in place when Wan signed on. In fact, it had already been set up with a mid-credits scene in part 6. That’s where we were introduced to Jason Statham’s character Deckard Shaw. The brother of Furious 6 villain Owen Shaw, who had been seriously injured in the climax of that film. Now Deckard is out to avenge his brother – and that mid-credits scene retconned the Tokyo Drift death scene of the Han character. Revealing that what had appeared to be an accident in Tokyo Drift was actually vehicular homicide. Deckard killed Han on his mission of revenge. Now he’s after Vin Diesel’s character Dominic Toretto. And the rest of the team of heroes we’ve been following throughout this franchise.

That team includes Paul Walker as lawman turned outlaw turned family man Brian O’Conner. Jordana Brewster as Brian’s wife and Dom’s sister Mia. Michelle Rodriguez as Dom’s wife Letty. Who is still suffering from amnesia, the result of a near-fatal crash in the fourth movie. Tyrese Gibson as Brian’s talkative friend Roman. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as tech expert Tej. Dwayne Johnson as Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs. And Elsa Pataky as Hobbs’ associate Elena, who was also briefly a love interest for Dom when he thought Letty was dead. They, along with Statham, were all locked in for the sequel before Wan even got involved.

When Wan was first hired, he said the seventh film would tell “a classic revenge story. I’m a big genre fan, so that’s how I’m approaching it: I’m looking at it like a gritty, ’70s revenge thriller, but one that still fits into the Fast and Furious series.” And it seemed possible that the seventh film could be a straightforward revenge movie. After all, the series was evolving with each new sequel. While the early films were about street racers, thieves, and drug dealers, Fast Five was a heist movie. Then Furious 6 had our heroes going on a spy games adventure for the government. So it would make sense for the seventh movie to switch styles again. Paired with his filmography, Wan’s quote could lead you to expect a dark, intense thriller about a relentless, violent Jason Statham hunting our heroes through the streets of Los Angeles. But the movie was never going to be that dark. Or that grounded. As soon as Wan signed on, Universal told him of an action sequence he would be expected to bring to the screen. The movie was going to contain a scene where cars equipped with GPS-guided parachutes are dropped out of a plane. Now, as far as outlandish Fast and Furious scenes go, this isn’t the craziest. The military does perform vehicle airdrops. And they use GPS to guide airdropped cargo to specific points. For the filming of the sequence, cars really were dropped out of a plane with GPS-guided parachutes. This just isn’t the sort of scene you’d expect from a gritty, ‘70s revenge thriller.

Furious 7 revisited

So the story starts off showing how dangerous Deckard is. We see that he has busted into a hospital and decimated a security team to visit his comatose brother. He almost kills Elena in an explosion that puts Hobbs in the hospital with a busted arm. He does kill Han. Dom goes to Tokyo to retrieve Han’s body. And while he’s in Tokyo, he has a conversation with Sean Boswell. The lead character from Tokyo Drift. The fourth, fifth, and sixth films had all been set before the events of Tokyo Drift. Simply because that was the only way to get Han into them, since he had been killed off. But now the franchise has finally caught back up to the third movie. And Lucas Black makes a cameo as Sean. While no time at all has passed for his character, for the actor nine years had gone by since the last time he played Sean. Dom takes Han’s remains back to Los Angeles for the funeral… And sees that Deckard is lurking around the cemetery. They have a confrontation. And thirty minutes into the film, the story takes a swerve. Their confrontation is interrupted by the arrival of government agents. Led by a character called Mr. Nobody, played by Kurt Russell. He needs Dom and the team’s help on a new globe-trotting adventure. A private military company led by Djimon Hounsou as a character named Jakande has kidnapped a hacker. Ramsey, played by Nathalie Emmanuel. They’re trying to get their hands on a hi-tech tracking system called God’s Eye. And Mr. Nobody wants Dom and team to rescue Ramsey and get God’s Eye for themselves. He promises that if they do, he’ll let them use God’s Eye to track Deckard. Which isn’t really necessary, because Deckard shows up everywhere they go anyway. But that’s the story. And it takes our heroes from L.A. to Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi and back to L.A. Along the way, we get huge, vehicle-based action sequences. We see Paul Walker fight a mercenary named Kiet, played by Tony Jaa. We see Michelle Rodriguez fight security guard Kara, played by Ronda Rousey. And we see Jason Statham fight Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel.

According to The Wall Street Journal, some of these fights did cause concern for the actors involved. It has been claimed that Johnson is backed by a team that ensures his characters won’t be bested in fights. But they must have been looking the other way, because Hobbs is nearly killed in both Fast Five and this movie. The Wall Street article also says Statham signed a document that limited how badly his character could be beaten up. While Diesel suggested implementing a numerical system that would give points based on punches, body slams, roundhouse kicks, and head butts. To make sure he would come out of the fight scenes with the highest points. The other producers objected to that idea. So he just had his sister Samantha on set, counting hits.

Filming on Fast & Furious 7 began in early September. Toward the end of November, the production went on break for the end of the year holidays. By that time, Paul Walker had filmed roughly fifty percent of his scenes. But he never got to complete his work on the film. On November 30th, his charity Reach Out Worldwide held an event to raise funds for the victims of a typhoon that had hit Southeast Asia earlier in the month. He and his financial adviser Roger Rodas left the event in Rodas’ Porsche. And while driving at a speed between eighty and ninety-three miles per hour – in a forty-five mile per hour speed zone – the Porsche crashed. Both Roger Rodas and Paul Walker died in the accident.

Universal, Wan, and the producers had to figure out how to finish the film without one of the stars. Wan told The Hollywood Reporter, “When the passing of Paul Walker happened, we were like, ‘Do we just shut the movie down for good?’ But we collectively felt like this movie needed to be Paul’s legacy. So we wiped our tears away and sat around in editorial, going, ‘All right, how do we do this?’ Thankfully, I had shot certain stuff with Paul, like his ending action stuff, but there were still many bits missing in the film that needed him. We worked with visual effects to salvage what we had. We had to really dig deep into our bag of tricks to make it work, and one of them was having Paul’s brothers Caleb and Cody Walker step in and shoot the other half of the movie. We then pulled different words that Paul had spoken all through the franchise to create sentences for us.”

Several of Brian’s remaining scenes in the film were shot with either the Walker brothers Caleb and Cody, or actor John Brotherton, as a body double. Paul’s face was then placed over their faces in post by Weta Digital, headed up by supervisor Joe Letteri. These scenes include a moment where Brian puts his son in a minivan outside Dom’s house. Then the house explodes. A dramatic scene with Mia that was based on a deleted scene from Fast Five. The end of a sequence where Dom and Brian drive a Lykan HyperSport through three of the Etihad Towers. A moment where Brian and his cohorts look out at Los Angeles. And, of course, the final moments where we say goodbye to both Paul and Brian. Wan has said that the hardest part of making the movie was editing that final sequence. Because he and the editors were crying so hard while cutting it together.

Jordana Brewster’s scenes were only filmed after production resumed in April of 2014. So she never actually got to interact with Paul Walker during the making of Fast & Furious 7. Despite her character Mia being married to his character. Her scenes became a way for Wan and Morgan to write Brian out of the franchise. The fact that he was trying to balance being a husband and father with being an action hero was already part of the movie. But now Mia is pregnant with their second child. And it’s becoming clear that Brian needs to leave the action behind for his family.

Furious 7 revisited

This was going to be director James Wan’s most challenging movie yet no matter what. It was a huge production that required more action, stunts, and visual effects than he had ever worked with before. It was shot in multiple locations around the world. Three hundred and forty vehicles were destroyed during filming. While Wan usually likes to figure out scenes on set, for this one he had to do a lot of storyboarding and pre-viz. It was the opposite of the way he prefers to approach filmmaking. Then he had to face the loss of Paul Walker as well. But he proved to be capable of taking on these challenges. And he delivered a solid, entertaining action movie. It’s difficult not to ponder what might have been if he could have just made it a gritty revenge thriller. But it’s also difficult to complain when a movie offers you bigger action sequences. Like the team assaulting a private military convoy to rescue Ramsey. A high speed car crashing through three skyscrapers. A weaponized drone chasing our heroes through L.A. Multiple fight scenes. And Dwayne Johnson firing a mini-gun at a helicopter.

The most popular scene in Wan’s Death Sentence involved Kevin Bacon scrambling out of a car that’s falling off a parking garage. The director brought a bigger version of that set-up to Fast & Furious 7. Here Brian has to scramble out of a bus that’s going over a cliff… And it might be the best, most thrilling moment in the movie. There is some of the darkness you’d expect from Wan. Mainly in scenes involving Deckard. And especially in the nighttime climactic sequence. But there’s also plenty of the comedic banter you expect between the team members. These characters are always fun to watch. And the likes of Jason Statham and Kurt Russell are great additions to the series.

The movie also has a lot of heart. It might even be too sweet for some viewers. While some fans were afraid that Brian would be killed off due to Walker’s passing, he makes it through unscathed. It’s actually Dom who dies in the midst of the action… But then he’s brought back from the dead by the love he has for Letty. All she has to do is cradle his body and reveal that she has regained her memory of their romance. Wan did something similar with a possession scene in The Conjuring. And as he told Vulture, “The idea is that human emotion is more powerful than death itself.”

The death of Paul Walker brings a melancholy feel to the overall movie. We see that Brian is wrestling with the decision of stepping away from the adventurous lifestyle. And since Walker isn’t here to play him anymore, we know this is going to be the last we see of them. It’s building up to a goodbye – and when that goodbye comes, it may make you cry as hard as Wan and his editorial team did.

That said, there’s plenty of fun to be had with Fast & Furious 7. Even when the action goes a little too far over-the-top. Wan makes it clear up front that the movie has a sense of humor about itself. When Brian’s son throws a toy car, he tells the kid, “Cars don’t fly.” That comes at the beginning of a movie that involves cars flying through the air in nearly every action sequence. They parachute out of planes. They crash through high levels of buildings. And Dom ramps his Dodge Charger to the level of a low-flying helicopter. Cars don’t fly… But they do in this movie.

Tokyo Drift aside, each Fast and Furious sequel tended to do better than the one that preceded it. Fast & Furious 7 was no different. The film was released in April of 2015, nine months later than originally intended. And to this day, it remains the highest grossing entry in the franchise. Made on a budget somewhere in the range of two hundred to two hundred and fifty million, it earned over one-point-five billion at the global box office. It broke the franchise’s domestic record, which was previously held by Furious 6, by more than ninety million. Ending up with with over three hundred and fifty-three million domestic. And it made more than double Furious 6’s international record of five hundred and fifty million. Fast & Furious 7 is the champion in all categories, and it doesn’t look like any further sequels are going to beat it.

And yes, of course there have been more sequels. You don’t just walk away from a franchise after a sequel has cracked the billion dollar mark. But in some ways, 7 feels like the end. It would have been the perfect place to wrap things up. And not just because of the death of Paul Walker and the exit of Brian O’Conner. It also feels like a stopping point because it’s full of callbacks to the first movie. Dom and Letty attend Race Wars, the big racing event from part 1. There’s a cameo by part 1 character Hector, played by Noel Gugliemi. When the team looks out at L.A., they’re standing in the same area where we first saw Brian in the original movie. There’s a moment where Brian takes his car under a semi trailer, just like we saw in the first movie. And just like in the end of part 1, Dom gets his Charger to do a wheelie in a confrontation with Deckard. Now that the timeline has caught up with Tokyo Drift, it feels like everything has come full circle. This would have been the ideal time for Fast and Furious to end.

But the franchise continues on, and other sequels have been quite successful. Still, they feel like they’re missing something very important without Paul Walker and Brian O’Conner. Although the team has gone on more adventures, Fast & Furious 7 truly was the end of an era.

Source: JoBlo

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.