Transporter is one of those franchises that could have been pretty good, but refused to change gears. When its best entry is only “half-decent”, one has to wonder why so much time and money has been spent trying to maintain people’s interest in something that wasn’t that interesting to begin with. And without Jason Statham?! He was the one reason people showed up for the sequels, and even he couldn’t save those ones. Then there was that TV series no one really watched (which should have taught them: no Statham = no watch). So what made the producers think “refueling” a franchise that had been out of gas for years was the best way to drive the series forward?
The Transporter: Refueled may be marketing itself as another sequel, but make no mistake: it’s a reboot; and one that’s far too reminiscent of The Amazing Spider-Man. It feels way too soon, it looks the same as before, and replacing the original star with someone who’s only slightly younger just reminds people how little time has passed. Then they show the audience the same things they remember from before: crazy car chases, fight scenes featuring clever environmental use, and sarcastic banter to keep you distracted from the lack of a plot. It’s all the same as before, but with a different guy. Not that Ed Skrein doesn’t have his skills, but he’s more of a caricature than a character. And when you’re “refueling” a franchise, a simple new paint job isn’t enough to get the engine re-started.
The plot, such as it is, follows a group of unwilling prostitutes who want out of their lifestyle, so they hire Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) to drive them to all the locations they need to go to in order to take down their former employers. When Frank wants out, they kidnap his womanizing father (Ray Stevenson), forcing him to help in exchange for his release. Naturally, Frank warms to the girls’ plight, and pretty soon he’s driving cars through airports and riding jet-skis onto beaches to save them, even after they release his father. Now who could have seen that coming? Oh that’s right: Everyone!
It doesn’t take long for the action to start. First the new Frank Martin beats up bad guys in a parking garage while standing almost completely still, reminding us right off the bat that he’s no Jason Statham. Later he uses a car to break open multiple surrounding fire hydrants with impossible accuracy. Then there’s that airport scene I mentioned. Also, every time he sneaks into a room to do something sneaky, some patrolling security guard catches him, and he’s got to either explain himself badly or take them out quietly, or both (it’s usually both). And then there’s those idiot police cars, where there’s always that one at the end of a chase scene that tries to do the crazy stunt Frank Martin just did to escape them, only to fail in a not-funny overturn of suck. It’s every bad action movie you’ve seen in the last twenty years, with sequences so over-the-top that even Michael Bay would roll his eyes at them. And while Ed Skrein may have some decent fighting skills, he’s nowhere near as precise, sincere, or likable as Jason Statham. Ed Skrein feels more like a goon, with no on-screen charisma whatsoever. And Statham’s charisma is the reason this franchise became a franchise in the first place. It would be like taking Darth Vader and making him a whiny, androgynous teen heartthrob.
Transporter could have driven itself into better franchise territory the likes of Fast & Furious: not great, but consistently entertaining. While Transporter 1 wasn’t exactly a classic, it was redeemed in its creative fight sequences led by Jason Statham. The first sequel was overshadowed by cartoonish demolition, and the third entry all but broke down on the highway. But Refueled has even less style and almost no substance at all. Ed Skrein has no future, at least as an action star, and all he managed to accomplish was to make us realize we liked Jason Statham way more than we thought we did. The Transporter: Refueled is like using jumper cables on a flat tire, only not as interesting.
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