Saturday, 5 December 2015

The Transporter Refueled (2015) - Movie Review
Luc Besson is one of the greatest action writers in cinematic history. Debate the quality of his overall filmography as much as you like, and he has definitely ventured into weird-ass territory numerous times throughout his time in the industry, but in terms of his impact to the genre, people seem to forget how much he’s done. Between rejuvenating Liam Neeson’s career (for better or for worse) with Taken, helping to rescue Jet Li’s American reputation with Kiss Of The Dragon and giving Jean Reno the role he will always be remembered best for with Léon: The Professional, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has affected the landscape as much as him. Hell, even with how ridiculous Lucy was, Scarlett Johansson’s action credentials are still secure regardless of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because of it. However, of all of his creations, his greatest contribution to the world of film would be introducing Jason Statham to a wider audience with the Transporter series. So, when a new addition was announced to the series, you better believe we were excited… until we discovered that Mr. Statham wouldn’t be returning for it.

The plot: Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) is a Transporter, a driver-for-hire for the less reputable clients of France’s underground. However, when his father Frank Sr. (Ray Stevenson) is kidnapped by prostitute Anna (Loan Chabanol), he is forced to help in her plan for revenge against her current employer and Frank’s former commander Karasov (Radivoje Bukvić), even if it goes against his very strict set of rules.

The acting is… look, might as well get it out of the way, it sucks that Jason Statham isn’t here. Skrein, despite how much he’s trying here, just doesn’t have the charisma and presence of the king of British cool. He keeps thinking that almost whispering makes him look badass and, given how the Transporter films have always been dangerously close to having his character overshadowed by the femme fatales of the series anyway, that lack of Statham makes that possibility an unfortunate reality. Not that I’m dissing Chabanol, as she’s more than capable in her role; just that they needed someone with a more forceful personality to balance things out. I’m sure this’ll add more fuel to the fire that 2015 was the year where male action stars got overtaken by their female co-stars; for the rest of us who have perspective, it’s just disappointing. However, this is helped a bit by Stevenson as Frank Sr. Now, while this would have worked a lot better if he was the original Frank from the last three films, and Frank Jr. just wanted to continue the family business, it is unfortunately not the case. So, yes, Skrein is indeed meant to be our Statham for this film. Thankfully, Stevenson is having a lot of fun on set here which results in a damn engaging performance. I doubt that just anyone could have convincingly told someone that they were going to use cobwebs as part of a makeshift surgery.

And speaking of the wildly ludicrous, let’s get to the writing of this thing. Honestly, even though it does follow the series tradition of extremely convoluted revenge plots, I’ll admit that it has a decent and well-paced set-up. Really, it only starts to really fall apart once it comes to why the Martins got involved, which reached the point where I started wondering if this was even meant to be a Transporter film in the first place. Then we get to the relationship between Frank Jr. and Karasov, and the explanations we get for Frank’s background actually make sense, like the reasons why he sticks to his rules like he does. The fact that his background gets fleshed out, even if only a little bit, makes me again have to scrutinise Skrein’s performance here. If he was even remotely close to Statham with how he played it, these revelations might have had a bit more of a kick to them. Then again, these points are so minor, the film could’ve carried on without them; it’s just a nice addition to the overall product.

Now for the important part: The action beats. More than anything else, the Transporter series is best known aesthetically for its Hong Kong style fight scenes. Outside of Jason Statham, they’re the main reason to watch them in the first place. Here is where we get to another person who didn’t return for this instalment: Fight choreographer Corey Yuen. One only need to look at Transporter 2’s firehose sequence to see that the man has a flair for creatively bizarre but extremely effective bouts. This film doesn’t feel like it has the same skill behind the scenes, but I’d be lying if I said these scenes weren’t awesome in their own right. In fact, these are where my bitching about Skrein stops because, when he’s in a scene that doesn’t require him to talk, the man knows how to sell a fight scene. These also enter into the realms of the absurd, like when Frank Jr. fights a group of thugs while outside of his car that is still slowly rolling along to a locked gate, but that sense of cartoon reality honestly ends making them even better. It also helps that, between the throwdowns and the car chases, it’s mostly done practically; it is immensely more satisfying seeing actual cars crashing into each other rather than the usual CGI-sploitation we usually get.

All in all, this is Luc Besson doing what he does best: Dumb but fun action fluff. However, unlike his last effort from earlier in the year, this doesn’t feel like the exact same thing we’ve been seeing for years now. If anything, the Hong Kong-style fight scenes are something that’s been sorely missing in today’s more explosion-heavy and CGI-abusing scene. It may still suck that Statham didn’t return for this one, but the film just manages to hold together without him, thanks largely to a very fun performance from Ray Stevenson. If you have a taste for Besson’s brand of bombast, check this out.

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