Warning: SPOILERS for The Fate of the Furious below
Back in 2001, no one could have ever expected a humble movie called The Fast and the Furious, based on a magazine article about street racers in Los Angeles and starring two actors who were hardly household names, would spawn one of the biggest franchises ever. 16 years, eight films, and over $4-billion in worldwide grosses later, there is no stopping the Fast franchise. Not even the tragic death of Paul Walker, one of the series' leads, can curtail the ongoing adventures of Dominic Toretto and his makeshift "family" of international criminals with hearts of gold. The newest film, The Fate of the Furious, is the first since Walker's passing.
Paul Walker died on November 30, 2013 in Santa Clarita, California, in a terrible car accident. He was just 40 years old. When Walker passed, filming was midway through Furious 7, with some key scenes involving Walker still to be filmed. His death halted production as the producers, including Walker's fellow series lead Vin Diesel, struggled to formulate a way to move forward without him. In the end, they opted to complete the film using a mix of CGI and Walker's brothers, Caleb and Cody, as stand-ins for some of his scenes, including a reworked and emotionally resonant coda where Dom and the franchise itself would bid farewell to Walker's hero, Brian O'Conner. Our last glimpse of Paul Walker in a Fast movie is of O'Conner fittingly driving off into the sunset.
Throughout the series, Brian has been in a relationship with Dom's sister Mia, played by Jordana Brewster. The couple married and even settled down and had a son, Jack. However, Brian's eternal loyalty to Dom always pulled him back into the game of being a wanted fugitive traversing the world pulling spectacular heists. At the conclusion of Furious 7, to give O'Conner a graceful exit from the franchise, Dom and Brian agreed to part ways for good, so that Brian and his family could have a chance at a normal life. Out of respect for Walker, the Brian O'Conner character won't be recast. His character is simply retired, and the franchise continues without him.
In The Fate of the Furious, Dom falls under the thrall of Cipher (Charlize Theron), a cyber-terrorist who blackmails Dom into working for her and betraying his family. Cipher forces Dom to go rogue and steal an EMP device for her, part of her overall master plan to bring the nations of the world to "accountability." Dom is now a villain, and he's so dangerous, he alone is able to outwit, out-drive, and out-maneuver the combined forces of the rest of his Fast Family trying to stop him, including Luke Hobbes (Dwayne Johnson), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who is now Dom's wife. Cipher disrupted Letty and Dom's honeymoon in Havana, and Letty is heartbroken with Dom's sudden turn.
Brian O'Conner's Whereabouts
The events that transpire in The Fate of the Furious beg for Brian's intervention. After all, the unthinkable scenario that Dom would suddenly and ruthlessly turn on his family is something that would naturally bring Brian back into the fold. Though adversaries when they first encountered each other all those years ago, Dom and Brian are as close as brothers, and Brian would be the only one who could legitimately stop Evil Dom. However, that just isn't possible with Paul Walker gone.
To the film's credit, Fate doesn't dodge the issue of calling in Brian. At one point, when the team, unaware of the circumstances of why Dom turned, debates what they can do to "save" Dom, Roman logically suggests they call Brian back into the fold. This idea is immediately dismissed by Letty, who reminds them that they promised to never involve Brian and Mia in their line of work again.
It's an interesting decision. Beyond the reality of the situation, in the context for the characters within the movie's universe, not calling Brian back - even for this extreme circumstance that would logically demand his intervention - posits that there is a happy ending for the Fast Family. It cements the idea that, if they choose, they could each have a way out of their criminal lives where they could retire and live out the rest of their days in peace. Previously, the only way out of the game for the Fast Family was death, such as what happened to Han (Sung Kang) and Gisele (Gal Gadot), who each lost their lives as a result of being in the game.
By the end of Fate, however, we do learn that there is another Brian in the Fast Family, so even if Brian O'Conner is now a legend inviolate, his name fittingly lives on.
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