Along with tides of joy of givings of thanks, this holiday weekend brought with it the tragic death of Fast & Furious franchise star, Paul Walker. The forty-year-old actor was in a fatal car crash during a charity event in Santa Clarity, California - and along with an outpouring of shock, horror, and grief from fans all across the world, the big question looming on everyone's mind was, "How is this going to affect Fast & Furious 7 ?"
The seventh installment of the franchise has been in production since earlier this fall, with director James Wan (The Conjuring) taking over the helm from franchise staple, Justin Lin. Part 7 has been touted as a "'70s-style revenge thriller" story featuring Jason Statham as the vengeance-seeking brother of Fast & Furious 6 villain, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) - meaning that some hard hits are coming to the Dom Terreto (Vin Diesel) and his F&F familia.
Of course, that was before those hard hits became all too real with the death of Walker; in an update from THR, we now learn that Universal has held a meeting determining the fate of Fast & Furious 7. The official company line is that as of now, the film will see a delay in production in order to allow for a proper, respectful, grieving period. That delay could subsequently cause the film's July 2014 release date to be bumped, but F&F7 will NOT be abandoned.
However, even though the film is still on, there is a question of logistics; namely, HOW to wrap the film in a way that makes sense in the narrative of the film, while remaining respectful to Walker and his legacy.
...And that is quite a tough nut to crack. On the surface, it would seem an easy fix: rewrite the revenge story so that Walker's character, Brian O'Connor, meets a noble end somewhere in Ian Shaw's (Statham) campaign of vengeance. However, the suddenness of Walker's death (and his position as a franchise lead) means his character's death was likely NOT in the cards; trying to make it happen onscreen, the easiest fix would be to use some kind of stunt racing sequence that doesn't require actual shots of the actor's face - except that any such fix would also be uncomfortably close to depicting the way in which Walker actually died. Audiences are likely not going to be supportive of that - let alone Walker's family, and his friends amongst the F&F cast and crew.
That leaves us with the possible work-around of an off-screen demise for Brian O'Connor, which - while more tasteful and practical - will seem like an unceremonious end for such an important character in a mega-popular franchise. But then, none of this is easy (tragedy tends to be - well, tragic), and if the film is committed to reaching the finish line, a scenario like the one posited above is probably the best option.
But who knows: Maybe things don't have to be so dark. Maybe Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their child are all sent off into the sunset to live free and happy while Dom and the rest of the crew continue to deal with threats at their car doors. Maybe the land of movie fantasy offers fans something better than the harsh reality of life did. Maybe we all could use something a little more uplifting as we say goodbye to an actor whose character was an icon for a generation of moviegoers. One can only hope...
Looking beyond the now, the second biggest question on my mind is whether Vin Diesel and Co. are still committed to making Fast Furious installments beyond part 7 (parts 8 & 9 are already planned). Will it still be fun for the cast and crew (and the fans) to take this ride, now short one passenger? I think we could all understand if the answer to that question was "no."
Fast & Furious 7 is currently set for July 11, 2014 release. We'll be keeping an eye on whether or not that date changes.