When one of the biggest stars of a franchise dies, obviously that franchise is no longer going to be the same. Such is the case for the Fast and Furious franchise which, 10 years ago this month, lost one of its original stars, Paul Walker. Since Walker’s death, several films have been made continuing the Fast story, and with each subsequent entry Walker’s character has been treated with an odd disregard and growing disrespect that feels at odds with the series’ universal message of family.
This story began 22 years ago when the original The Fast and the Furious was released in theaters. The Point Break-inspired racing film was a hit for many reasons, among the biggest being the adversarial relationship between Walker’s character, undercover cop Brian O’Conner, and street racer Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel. The mortal enemies turned friends gave the film a complex beating heart and when Diesel didn’t return for the second film, the filmmakers introduced a very similar foil for Brian, Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), to give the film that same feeling.
Walker and Diesel wouldn’t reunite until the fourth film, 2009’s Fast and Furious, and it’s not a coincidence that’s when the franchise shot into the stratosphere. By this point, the characters had each been through so much they needed each other and that notion of “family” which has since become a Fast and Furious staple was born. It continued into the franchise’s fifth, sixth, and seventh films, which is when tragedy struck.
Walker died November 30, 2013, right in the middle of production of Furious 7. After a period of grieving, drastic changes were made to the film, with Walker’s brothers agreeing to stand in for him so it could be completed. The movie ends with Brian and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) welcoming their first child and the group acknowledging that they’d both be leaving the gang. Brian drives off into the sunset, alive, well, and happy with his choice of family over crime. Director James Wan then ends the film on a magical, heartfelt montage paying tribute to Walker. Watch it here:
What audiences didn’t realize is that that montage marked the end of the Fast and Furious saga as we once knew it. Since then, the films in the main saga have acknowledged that Brian is very much still alive—and have continued to give excuses for why he never shows up to aid his best friends and family with their dangerous, world-saving exploits. And it’s been a lot.
Here’s how it’s played out. In 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, Dom is blackmailed into betraying his family. In a discussion of why he would do such a thing, Roman suggests that Brian might be able to figure it out. “No,” Letty (Dom’s then-love interest, played by Michelle Rodriguez) quickly snaps back. “We can’t bring Brian and Mia into this. We agreed on that.” Roman lets it go and the movie moves on.
That seemingly throwaway scene set a precedent for the future. Brian and Mia are done. They decided to leave and, because everyone is family, the on-screen characters choose to abide by that. The film then adds a weird bow to that sentiment as we learn Dom has a son and he names that son “Brian” after his best friend and brother-in-law. Again, Brian is alive, just not in attendance at this event where his best friend names his baby after him as if he’s passed away. The scene is much more of a wink at the audience and tribute to Walker than a logical moment in the story. It’s fine.
It’s a little weird… but it’s fine. Unfortunately, things would then get weirder in 2021’s F9 when Dom is forced to face a villain he never expected, his brother Jakob (John Cena). After the group is forced into hiding, someone joins them in their battle: Mia. We were told she and Brian were out of the game but that rule is instantly broken in the very next movie because her brother is now the villain and she felt compelled to help. That’s not great but that logic tracks well enough so we’re okay with it. What doesn’t track is what happens next.
“If you get involved here, you put everything at risk,” Dom tells his sister. “Your kids, the world you built.” “My kids and yours are in the safest hands possible,” Mia retorts. Yup. You guessed it: Brian is back home with his child, and little Brian, watching over them while his wife risks her life on this adventure. Is Mia capable and badass just like Brian? Absolutely. Is it essential that we know where the kids are? One-hundred per cent. Does it make Brian look a little less than heroic that he’s home babysitting while members of his immediate family are risking their lives? Without a doubt.
But don’t worry! After Dom, Mia, and the rest of the group save the day, Brian’s car shows up to the family barbecue late, ending the movie and reminding us that he’s still part of this group. At this point, three movies in a row have ended with some sort of Walker nod.
And yet, the events of F9 don’t do Brian any favours. He’s stuck at home doing the important, but very much overqualified job, of watching the kids. Let’s go with that though. Babysitting is his thing now. He watches the kids. Cool. Got it. Enter 2023’s Fast X, which takes this gradual degradation of Brian to even more baffling new depths.
For starters, Brian (and his child) don’t show up at a Toretto family barbecue. A barbecue that includes, for the first time ever, Dom and Mia’s grandma, aka their child’s great-grandma. Mia’s there though. In fact, she brought grandma to the party. Did she not think her father’s mother would want to meet her child? Was Brian busy doing something else? Are they in a fight? It’s not addressed.
Later, Dom and Letty learn they’re being targeted by a man named Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa) who wants revenge on everyone who aided in the death of his father, mainly Dom and his family. Dom specifically states that Mia and Brian have been contacted and are safe, checking that box.
Dom and Letty then flee to Rome to save some of their friends, leaving little Brian back at their house in Los Angeles. Who is there watching him? It has to be Brian, right? He’s the one the franchise has established as the babysitter/protector and if everyone in the family is at risk, Brian is the only person for the job. Bring the kid to his house. At the very least don’t leave him at his parents’ house, which would seem like the worst possible place to be.
As you can probably guess at this point, it’s not Brian watching his nephew—it’s Mia. And they are at Dom’s house, not Brian’s. A reminder that no one knows where Brian and Mia live but everyone knows where Dom and Letty live. Their house was literally blown up in a previous movie. Where’s the logic in Mia alone staying there? Dom and Letty’s is the first place anyone looking for the child would arrive to get him. Which, wouldn’t you know it, is exactly what happens. Armed and armoured soldiers come after Mia and little Brian. Mia is a great fighter and does her best, but she needs help defeating the bad guys. Enter… no, not Brian. Jakob, her brother, sent by Dom to retrieve little Brian.
In Jakob, who is redeemed at the end of the previous film before dying in this one (spoiler alert), we have the family member who goes out of his way to save his family. To fight for his family. And the implication by comparison is that Brian is not that. He’s so disconnected from all this, he’s okay with Mia staying at ground zero for this terror, all by herself. Once Jakob and Mia defeat the soldiers, Jakob takes little Brian and Mia says she has to warn big Brian and the kids that now they’re being targeted on multiple fronts. Mia doesn’t reappear in the film.
What Fast X is saying without even realising it is that Brian, once a leader of this group, once a police officer, and presumably still a very skilled and capable driver, is at home watching his kids while his wife babysits their nephew who is clearly in danger. There’s no mention of maybe the nephew going to stay with his amazing uncle and cousins. Or Auntie Mia taking him back to her place. Or Brian suggesting a better plan. Instead, Brian is fine with his wife Mia (who, again, is certainly capable—but two are better than one) being alone and a clear target in the worst place imaginable.
Plus, as Dante continues to target all of Dom’s closest friends and allies (including a post-credit scene adding Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs to the list), he never targets or mentions Brian, Dom’s best friend. Which, we guess, is forgivable since clearly Walker isn’t in the film. However, you can’t help but wonder why Dom’s closest friend in the entire world is totally fine with all of these people he knows and loves dying as he sits home and does nothing about it. We should not feel that way about the second-most important character in a franchise, no matter what real-life tragedies occurred. It’s a bad look.
Now, to be fair, things could have been a whole lot worse. If any of the movies killed Brian in an unbefitting way, fans would’ve been upset. If, god forbid, he kept appearing as a CGI creation, that too would have been upsetting. And there is a certain comfort knowing Brian is still out there, ready to help in case of an emergency. The choice to keep him alive but absent still seems, at face value, to have been the right way to handle a terrible situation. But the specifics of it have been an absolute disaster, continually showing disrespect toward the character Walker crafted.
Finally, here we must acknowledge that the Fast and Furious isn’t over yet. There’s still at least an 11th film on the way, one that has plenty of breadcrumbs leading toward a payoff of Brian’s story. Diesel himself recently said that he “couldn’t imagine this saga ending without truly saying goodbye to Brian O’Conner.” We hope so. Maybe in the group’s final, dire moment of need, a former cop, turned street racer, turned off-screen babysitter will return, swoop in, and save the day.
Otherwise, as it currently stands, each time the series makes it a point that Brian is still alive, he’s also implied to be totally okay with everyone he loves being in mortal danger. That’s a stain on the legacy of the franchise. A franchise that Vin Diesel may carry, but Paul Walker helped build. Dom famously said, “You never turn your back on family.” Maybe he should turn the mirror on himself because he’d been doing just that.
Want more entertainment news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and DC releases, what’s coming to cinemas in Australia this year, and everything streaming this month across all platforms. Check out our dedicated Entertainment tab for more.