It is a blink-and-you'd-miss it moment from the early goings of Furious 7: Paul Walker's character Brian O'Conner is strapping his young son Jack into the growing family's minivan, when the boy hurls his toy vehicle out onto the pavement. He tells the boy that "cars don't fly", and the boy repeats the line back with a giggle.
Moments later there's a big (unrelated) explosion — and it would be easy to dismiss this minor emotional beat. But if you caught it, the moment is truly haunting.
Jack's toy is a red sports car, a two-seat coupe with a rear spoiler that closely resembles the crimson Porsche Carrera GT that Walker was riding in when the $350,000 supercar crashed in November 2013, killing the actor and driver Roger Rodas. Whether the filmmakers intended this, or it was a mere coincidence that they decided to leave in, is hard to say.
Walker had shot about half of his furious 7 scenes before his death, forcing Universal to delay Furious 7's release so they could re-build the story around what they had. Very much to the credit of director James Wan, not to mention the producers, editors, writers and hundreds upon hundreds of visual effects and sound editors, they pulled it off — because if you weren't looking closely for seams, you'd never notice them. That's epic.
After his death, Walker's brothers were used as stand-ins for several shots, to which his face and voice were added later. In some cases, he was edited into the scene from b-roll footage. And in others, his face is obscured or he's off to the side.
But re-inserting him wasn't their only challenge: The filmmakers also had to find room in the story to let Walker go — and in a way that would allow the franchise to carry on. Most assumed Brian O'Conner would be killed off, or at least indisposed in
-Walker's First Appearance In Furious 7.
After a pair of opening set-pieces that don't involve Walker, we finally see him for the first time: It's a close-up of his face. He's behind the wheel, his high-top Vans skate shoes on the gas, revving the engine — and it cuts away to show he's driving the minivan, dropping off Jack at preschool. It's our first glimpse of Brian's adjustment to his new life with Mia. "You'll get used to this," says the teacher taking Jack from the vehicle, to which he responds, "That's what I'm afraid of."
-That Small toy car.
It's another day, and Brian is strapping in Jack to take him to school. "What do you say, parking-brake slide right up to the school?" he playfully asks Jack — the kind of reckless driving maneuver that Walker loved to pull in real life, where he was every bit the gear-headed speed freak that Brian O'Conner is onscreen (and the reason he got the part in the first place).
That's when Jack hurls the toy, prompting the "Cars don't fly" line, which Brian will repeat during the tower sequence in Abu Dhabi as Dominic (Vin Diesel) crashes between buildings ... with Brian in the passenger's seat.
-Brian's new family.
Brian's new role as father and husband is obviously pulling him away from the thrills he loves most, a major theme of his turn in Furious 7. That was almost certainly part of the plan before he was killed; his scenes with Mia are clearly him, including when he tells her: "I've screwed up many things. I couldn't live with myself if I screwed this up, too."
But clearly this theme was amplified after the fact. Later, in another moment between Dominic and Brian alone, it's obvious that Diesel is acting against shots of Walker reacting to something else. "You miss the bullets," Dominic says. "Yeah, that's messed up huh?" Brian responds, but there is something uncanny about his voice and expressions, and the camera never actually catches them together. Then Dominic drives it home: "What's real is family. Your family. Hold on to that, Brian." "What's real is family. There's another sequence later in the film when Brian seems to think he might not survive the crew's latest mission. Mia, in a safe haven in the Dominican Republic, gets a call from Brian who says: "Something's about to go down. If you don't hear from me in the next 24 hours, I need you to take Jack and moves on. Mia is stricken by his tone: "Don't do that. The way you said that sounded like goodbye. Say something else."
His end of the conversation could easily have merely been a warning that she would be in danger; was her end changed to make it seem more ominous? In any case, he merely says: "I love you Mia."
Another early moment that seems too close to home, yet was probably shot before Walker's death: The funeral for Han (Sung Kang), who was killed in Tokyo. With a close-up on Walker's face, we hear Roman (Tyrese Gibson) say: "I can't do any more funerals." Then he turns to Brian and says: "Just promise me Brian, no more funerals."
Brian responds: "Just one more," and the pause is excruciatingly long before he finishes the thought: "His" (referring to the bad guy, Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham).
-The Crazy bus stunt!
The mountainside chase — esily the high point of the movie — is punctuated by Brian's daring escape from a bus that is teetering over the edge of a cliff. In trademark hoodie and skate shoes he runs up the side and is saved when Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) drifts in just long enough for him to grab the spoiler of her hot rod. Flung to the ground, but safe and sound, Brian lies on his back for a moment, arms outstretched in a crucifixion pose. "You good?" Letty asks him, and all he offers is a flat "Thank you."
That might have been his last line of spoken dialogue — because the cast and crew was on a short break from shooting the mountain sequence outside of Atlanta when Walker returned to California for the charity event that involved his company's sports cars.
Furious 7 didn't shoot any of its Abu Dhabi sequences in the Middle East until the year after Walker's death, which can only mean one of two things:
They had already shot much of the dialogue on a soundstage beforehand, as Walker is seen fully talking and interacting with Diesel throughout the sequence, or;
The digital artists who put Walker's face onto his brother's body are freakin' WIZARDS. Maybe a little bit of both.
There are moments when Walker looks ropey, even spectral; there are other moments when he's delivering lines while his face is front-and-center, looking perfectly natural. The dicey stuff is mostly when they're outside, at the beach and later standing at the precipice of a hole they just smashed in the side of a skyscraper.
In all likelihood, they only went to Abu Dhabi to pick up those exterior shots, and had to put Walker in to salvage their exteriors.
But if the whole thing was cooked up ... slow clap.
-The last Ride.
There are just two noteworthy connections in the final boss-battle scene: In one, Brian dives from his car as it explodes in flames. Moments later, he pulls Dominic from his car just before flames begin to flicker inside of it, and starts administering CPR.
It's really the last five minutes of the movie, however, that have everyone talking.
The battle is won and the crew is at a Malibu beach, watching Mia play with Jack down by the water. She calls to Brian to come join them. "Duty calls," says Dominic, and Brian stands up — and it's one of the few moments from the whole film when he doesn't look quite right.
Brian lifts up Jack and spins around, repeatedly kissing the boy. And puzzlingly enough, this looks 100% natural; his face is ever so slightly obscured as he turns, but then is fully in view. Did they film this beach frolic as b-roll, never intending to use it in this way? It would sure seem so, as the crew begins to talk about him, looking on but as if to suggest that he's not really there.
"Beautiful," says Roman.
"That's where he belongs," says Letty.
"Home. That's where he's always belonged," says Dominic.
"Things are gonna change," says Roman.
Dominic stands up as if to leave, and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) says to him: "You aren't even going to say goodbye?"
"It's never goodbye," Dominic says, as Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again" begins to play.
Now Dominic is driving away from the beach in a silver Dodge — his trademark American muscle car — when a white Japanese exotic (Brian's standard choice) pulls up alongside him.
"Hey, you thought you could leave without saying goodbye?" Brian says, his last line in any Fast and Furious film. Again, it's fairly obvious that this shot was created later, but it works OK.
The two begin to drive, side-by-side, through the Malibu canyon, and Dominic begins speaking in voice-over: "I used to say I live life a quarter-mile at a time. And that's why we were brothers. Because you did, too."
A montage of moments from previous films begins, again with Dominic's voice: "No matter where you are, whether it's a quarter-mile away or halfway around the world, you'll always be with me and you'll always be my brother."
Then an overhead shot of the two cars, driving together, and they come upon a gentle fork in the road, Walker's white exotic drifting to the left, Diesel's silver Dodge staying on the main route. The camera pans up to the sun, and the screen goes blindingly white, with two words flashing onscreen: