Wednesday 16 September 2015

The Transporter Refuelled

Frank’s A Million

The Transporter Refuelled
2015 France/China
Directed by Camille Delamarre
UK cinema release print.

Hmmm... really didn’t think much of the idea of Besson and co doing a new Transporter movie without the leading actor of the previous three, Jason Statham, returning to the role he absolutely made his own. The concept just doesn’t wash but, I have to say that, although it’s absolutely true that this movie would have played a bit better if Statham had not withdrawn due to a rejection of his asking price, it’s really not the terrible movie I was expecting.

Partly that's due to the story, which is a lot simpler, like the original (and best) of The Transporter movies. The second in the series was, for my liking, way too Americanised in its sensibility for a British character living in France (which was one of the things that gave the first film something unique) and although Transporter 3 was almost a return to that and was a much better picture than the second, they’ve never really lived up to the original in impact as far as I’m concerned. I was one of the few people who actually liked the first movie on its original cinema release, thinking about it now. A lot of people I asked at the time hated it because the action scenes are so over the top in that first one but, I think there’s a lot to be said for a movie pushing way past the limits of credibility and it’s an easy one to defend but, I won’t waste space on that here now... I’m sure I’ll get around to reviewing the original movie on here some day.

Anyway, since I didn’t just catch up to the original on home video like a lot of the first movie’s fans did, and because I saw it in a partially empty cinema on its first week, I’ve always had a kind of emotional investment in the films being as entertaining as possible and, I have to say, a lot of that was due to Statham’s personality playing the lead character, Frank Martin. I’ve not seen the recent TV series because of this (at least when they turned Shaft into a TV show they kept Richard Roundtree on) and I was looking on giving this new film, which doesn’t even have Frank’s French Inspector pal in it either, a wider birth... but then I thought I might as well see what they’ve done with The Transporter Refuelled and, as it happens, barring the exclusion of Statham, they’ve done a really good job.

Now, all this makes it sound, maybe, like they’ve got a wooden block of an actor playing Frank Martin in this one and, again, I really expected this to be the case. Imagine my surprise when I found that the new guy,  Ed Skrein, does a really sound acting job in this... picking up on some of Statham’s mannerisms but then changing other things of the character. Considering he’s filling in from somebody who has left a very deep stamp on the series of films, I was amazed that this guy gave as good a performance as he did. He’s a pretty good actor and, luckily, the writing is backing him up on this so he has some interesting stuff to work with.

The fight choreography he gets involved in is pretty good in places too. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing as absolutely special in terms of the action sequences as the “oiled up Statham” scene from the very first movie but there are some pleasing moments like, for instance, a bit of action in a confined space involving pulling out drawers as part of the combat. The hand combat also doesn’t seem out of place with the style of choreography seen in the other three movies, so that’s pretty cool.

The story focuses on a small group of prostitutes who are trying to regain their freedom after many years of working for a ruthless boss and the way they do this is to first kidnap and then put in peril the life of Frank Martin’s father, Frank Senior, so they can acquire Frank and his “special skills”. Now the ladies are pretty fantastic as strong but manipulating characters, it has to be said... but it’s the character of Frank’s father, played as entertainingly as possible by a guy called Ray Stevenson, who is the real star turn here. It’s pretty heavily inferred that the character is some kind of super spy who has just retired and is collecting his pension... and Stevenson does this as a convincingly sophisticated, self confident James Bond like character in a way which gives some of the various Bond actors over the years a run for their money. There were times in this movie when I thought... “Oh, wow! If only Jason Statham and Timothy Dalton had played these two parts” and, while that would have been glorious, I think it’s a testament to both Ed Skrein and Ray Stevenson that they manage to work this angle together so well. There’s some really good chemistry between the two of them and the writing of the father is very much something Stevenson can get to grips with... he knows what expensive wines to buy and he knows how to keep someone alive using only sugar and cobwebs. No really... there are some nice little touches in the writing on this one.

The one thing which confused the hell out of me was the follow on from the last movie, which it doesn’t have in terms of the way the characters are left. By the end of the third film, which takes place contemporary to its release in 2008, Frank Martin had a new, regular girlfriend. In this movie she’s not mentioned although the timeframe is still right for that to happen. The Transporter Refuelled starts off with a sequence set in 1995... before jumping 15 years to the main action of this story, which dates it as being set in 2010. So some mention of the female lead from the last film would have been useful, I would have thought. Especially since some of the phones and gadgetry being used in this film dates way after the year in question. So already we have some bizarre anachronisms cropping up.

I read that the producers are treating this movie as a reboot rather than a sequel which is a shame, in a way, because it kind of makes it hard for Statham to sign back on board if he should ever want to. That being said, the new guy does a pretty good job so that’s possibly not going to be too much of a problem if the studio can still get good box office for this one... which is presumably a much harder sell without Statham on board. The fact that they’re treating it as a reboot, or even a partial reboot, is brazenly included in the title of the movie, The Transporter Refuelled... which might possibly be the first time a film has featured its status within its title, as far as I can remember. Anyone want to conform or refute that in the comments section?

Either way, I guess the reboot status partially justifies jettisoning the girlfriend and the French police inspector and, lets face it, the series continuity in this is way better than in something like, say, the Daniel Craig Bond movies from Casino Royale to Skyfall... which seem to make no sense whatsoever in terms of continuity as a whole or even amongst themselves, a lot of the time. If you like the previous Transporter movies then, fear not, The Transporter Refuelled, amazingly, doesn’t let the side down and, though you might miss Statham at first, the new guy does a good job with the role. You never know, a fifth outing might be on the horizon if this one goes down okay with the cinema or home video markets. I kinda liked it and if modern action movies are your thing, this one’s definitely worth a look.

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