The shadow of Jason Statham is very large indeed. This is very apparent with The Transporter Refueled, a reboot of Luc Besson’s well-known action movie franchise, which brings the series back to the feature film space, after two seasons of Transporter: The Series on television.
The original The Transporter from 2002 was more or less the movie that got Jason Statham’s foot in the door within the action movie genre, before 2004’s remake of The Italian Job officially cemented his blockbuster appeal. Now that Statham has become a big name in the action movie genre, it feels like Transporter as a brand is the molted skin that he shed on his road to stardom, immediately stacking the odds against The Transporter Refueled, which undeniably feels like a way to milk Statham’s legacy, without actually requiring Statham.
To the movie’s credit though, new lead, Ed Skrein actually manages to hold his own as the new incarnation of title character, Frank Martin. Moreover, the movie’s action scenes remain decent, so if there’s a bit of good news to come out of The Transporter Refueled, it’s that the series doesn’t appear as tired here as you would think. Even the story makes for one of the more creative Transporter plots, having something of a heist element that nonetheless has plenty of plot holes and non-sensical turns, but this series has never exactly wasted a bunch of time grounding itself in reality anyway.
With the movie wasteland of September now sadly upon us, you could do a lot worse than The Transporter Refueled, which has enough satisfactory action and thrills to sustain itself while it lasts. This isn’t a movie that’s set to elevate what was largely a middling action series anyway though, so you’d best keep your expectations in check with this acceptable, but hardly revolutionary reboot.
It would have been easy for Ed Skrein to try and completely emulate Statham’s performance as Frank Martin from the prior trilogy of Transporter movies, but fortunately, Skrein doesn’t do that. He maintains the no-nonsense disposition of Frank, mind you, still enforcing the character’s all-important series of rules for his clients, namely that no names can be exchanged, the deal can’t be altered once it’s set, and Frank also gives his word that he will never look in the packages that he delivers. There’s enough shades of familiarity with the character to make the titular Transporter still feel like the man that he always was when Statham portrayed him.
That however is where the similarities end. Skrein’s version of Frank swaps out the raw, menacing appeal of Statham’s Frank, in favour of a more classy, down-to-earth sense of relatable professionalism. Statham’s Frank was a man to be feared, but Skrein’s is more like a savvy businessman, maintaining the character’s well-earned reputation, but generally being more approachable, if also far more strict with how he does his job.
It’s perhaps this increased grounded-ness with the character that makes our new Frank susceptible to the movie’s inciting characters however, a group of former prostitutes who are aiming to strike back at their former traffickers with a highly detailed and pinpoint heist, one that Frank gets roped into when he’s hired to be their driver. The women are led by Anna, played by Loan Chabanol, who is the character that spends most of the movie keeping Frank in line, despite his protests, and repeated attempts to terminate the arrangement.
You might wonder why Frank would ever go along with the vengeful whims of a bunch of angry ex-hookers, which is just ludicrous enough to fit squarely in the overblown sensibilities of the Transporter series, but there is a good reason for that. This reason comes in the form of Frank’s father, Frank Martin Sr., played by Ray Stevenson. Frank Sr. is kidnapped by the women, and his life will only be spared if Frank completes the job. Of course, Frank Sr., an infamous flirt and former secret agent, is just fine with his situation, coming off as almost a tongue-in-cheek parody of a retired and aged Sean Connery-era James Bond, who still knows how to have fun, and make the best of being pulled back into the style of his old life.
Surprisingly, it’s Stevenson that ends up being one of the most enjoyable actors in the movie, alongside Skrein, who puts a worthy new twist on Frank Martin. The rapport between Skrein and Stevenson is a bit goofy, but it is entertaining, and if you’re willing to accept a world where Ray Stevenson can effectively woo reformed call girls, there’s fun to be had with his character. It would be very easy to have the introduction of Frank’s father be tedious and uninspired, but The Transporter Refueled justifies this look into Frank’s family life, even if the father is as outlandish and removed from reality as the son.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the performance quality is shouldered entirely by Skrein and Stevenson, with almost no one else making that much of an impact. Even Chabanol comes off as a bit of a talking head for most of the movie, until Anna’s backstory is divulged all the way in the third act, particularly as every one of her ridiculously precise plans ends up going off without a hitch, with only Frank dealing with the odd curveball. Anna’s plans only get more absurd as the movie goes on, and by the end, she just becomes another plot device for the obligatory climax against the true villains, despite the movie’s valiant effort to make her into an appealing female protagonist.
Worst off however are the true bad guys, a bunch of shallow, virtually nameless thugs who maintain their own nebulous criminal enterprises, largely in the same human trafficking industry that Besson already realized better in Taken, and they pretty much only exist to give Frank and the girls something to battle against. Transporter baddies were never that deep, but they’ve never been this forgettable either. This is something that hurts Anna’s key plot, since the bad guys aren’t developed enough to feel like you have that much of a stake in seeing them taken down, beyond seeing Frank beat up villains and Anna outwit the same villains, and the movie tries to crowbar in a villain connection to Frank later that feels extremely laboured.
Still, the personalities of the Transporter movies were never that complex nonetheless. Even Frank himself lives his life by a series of simple rules, still being a straightforward, no-nonsense one-man army when said rules are inevitably broken at some point. It’s unrealistic to expect that The Transporter Refueled would suddenly aspire to be more than another light snack of an action movie, though at least it does what it can to set this new cast apart from the personalities that came before, even if no one outside of the Martin family truly feels like they register.
On paper, the storyline behind The Transporter Refueled sounds absolutely ridiculous, even more so than the Transporter storylines that preceded it. Again, this series has never been a hallmark of intelligence anyway, but the idea of former prostitutes that have inexplicably become master thieves and escape artists is definitely a stretch, even for these movies.
Still, as much as The Transporter Refueled continually bats its nose at logic and reason, that alone isn’t enough to sink it. After all, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation from this past July also had a downright hilarious disregard for realism, and that was a very well-received movie, because it was nonetheless a great action movie that effectively operated within the rules of its own universe. The Transporter Refueled provides similar thrills, though I will be blunt when I say that it doesn’t achieve the same high points as Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
To be fair, the story of The Transporter Refueled is serviceable, but in the end, it’s nothing special. Many of the supposed twists are weak and disappointing, especially when Anna’s unrealistically supernatural luck starts coming more into play later in the movie. Even then however, The Transporter Refueled degrades into a typical final shootout that feels like it comes out of nowhere, and ends with a pitiful whimper, with several characters’ arc resolutions feeling thankless and lazy.
Still, The Transporter Refueled delivers a decent dose of solid action scenes, and that’s ultimately what audiences will mostly be going for. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense, and doesn’t even bother to develop a truly organic and worthwhile resolution, but at least it’s easy to watch unfold, even if The Transporter Refueled does feel a bit like a movie of diminishing returns, losing a bit more momentum with each passing minute.
EuropaCorp head, Luc Besson remains closely involved with the Transporter series that he created, being among the producers and writers for this reboot movie once again. With Louis Leterrier and Olivier Megaton indisposed elsewhere however, directing duties for The Transporter Refueled now fall to Camille Delamarre, who has mostly worked as an editor for Besson in the past, namely on movies like Taken 2, Colombiana and Lockout, as well as Transporter 3, and served as an assistant director for a handful of episodes in Transporter: The Series.
Delamarre’s only other feature directing credit is last year’s Paul Walker vehicle, Brick Mansions, a rather unremarkable action movie that came and went pretty quickly, even after the tragic death of Walker in 2013. Delamarre at least gives The Transporter Refueled a brisk sense of energy, but he uses up many of his best tricks in the early sequences of the movie. Like I said, this is sadly a movie of diminishing returns, and by the end of the piece, Delamarre just seems to be directing an unremarkable, unmemorable and workmanlike climax and resolution, one that betrays the promising setup that came before.
Fortunately, The Transporter Refueled also comes in an IMAX cut, and to my surprise, the IMAX cut of the movie actually isn’t bad! The IMAX speakers and screens make the speedy, destructive action feel more imposing and engaging, and while the best uses of the IMAX presentation are early on in the movie, most of it is better than you would think. It’s nothing essential, and you’d be served just fine with a regular digital screening in theatres, or even a home viewing rental on your small screen device of choice, but if you enjoy IMAX movies, The Transporter Refueled might pleasantly surprise you.
All in all though, this feels like a movie that revs its engine so hard at the beginning, that it runs out of gas before it reaches its climax. The thrills that came before are enough to carry audiences through the more underwhelming conclusion, but Delamarre’s lack of experience in feature directing is sadly still noticeable. Delamarre does direct with an undeniable sense of vigor, but it would have been nice if he’d paced himself more, which might have made The Transporter Refueled feel like a more balanced package overall.
The Transporter Refueled is a bit forgettable, and a mere passing distraction within a month that has traditionally been very unreliable for delivering good movies. As far as the Transporter movies go however, The Transporter Refueled is acceptable, even if predictably in Jason Statham’s shadow.
On the plus side however, Ed Skrein is a worthy new lead, and the hallmark action scenes that this series has founded itself on are still executed with reasonable panache in this reboot. Like I said, that doesn’t mean that The Transporter Refueled suddenly elevates this series anywhere special, but this manages to be a worthy, if not groundbreaking continuation of Luc Besson’s action franchise.
If you don’t have a previous stake in the Transporter series, and don’t care much for action movies, then The Transporter Refueled doesn’t present much appeal, particularly while superior action offerings from this year’s Summer movie lineup such as Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. are still screening in many theatres. Those eager to continue the adventures of Frank Martin will be satisfied with The Transporter Refueled, though this still innately feels like it’s inferior to Statham’s turn with the franchise, despite the best efforts of Skrein and Besson.
This reboot certainly could have turned out worse, but rather than give the Transporter series a slick new lease on life, it instead simply keeps it going on for its own sake. It avoids coming off as a cheap imitation of Statham’s trilogy of Transporter movies, thankfully, but The Transporter Refueled still doesn’t completely forge its own proud new legacy either.
- Skrein's new Frank Martin is a good lead
- Stevenson is a fun, if slightly goofy foil
- Most of the action scenes are solid
- Storyline is even more outlandish than the Statham trilogy
- Climax and resolution are underwhelming
- Throwaway villains and supporting cast fail to make an impression