By all accounts, last night’s surprise screening of James Wan’s Furious 7 at SXSW was an emotional affair. Crowds were energized by the shock of being able to see an anticipated blockbuster weeks before release, and at a midnight screening attended by the film’s director and its producers. And then the realization hit home that this would be the final Fast & Furious film featuring founding father Paul Walker. As you can imagine, the screening became authentic, genuine and heartfelt after two-plus hours of head-shaking, seat-rattling stunts and thrills.
As our own Eric Eisenberg wrote in his recap of the Furious 7 screening, the themes of "family" and "loss" are prevalent throughout this seventh Fast ride, no more so than in the tributes aimed at Paul Walker over the course of the night. The producers of the film asked everyone in the Paramount Theater to protect the ultimate fate of Walker’s on-screen character, Brian O’Conner. As you know, rewrites occurred to give the character a proper ending after Walker’s death. But the crew paid deep respect to the actor and activist from the stage in Austin on Sunday night, and the crowd roared its approval.
The Huffington Post quotes Furious 7 producer Neal H. Moritz as telling the SXSW crowd:
"We obviously lost a dear friend, brother, comrade when we were making this movie. He was really the best guy I ever met in my world -- in my life. When we decided we were going to continue this movie, we were determined to honor his legacy and our love for him forever. … I know Paul Walker would be smiling down on all of us.
We are nearing the end of a long, strange road that has traced Furious 7 through production and on to eventual release. In all respects, the franchise was flying high, coming off back-to-back successes in the hugely popular Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6. The series had discovered its groove, adding vital pieces (like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and recruiting more firepower than the three Expendables movies, combined. Furious 7 includes Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey and Jason Statham… and they are SUPPORTING players to Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and The Rock. That’s insane.
But because of the loss of Paul Walker, Furious 7 will always be bittersweet.
Fast & Furious fans can stat saying their goodbyes when Furious 7 opens in theaters on April 3.