The Transporter is a fun action ride
The Transporter made an impressive debut despite some heavy competition. Looking back, 2002 was an exceptional year for action movies. There were major heavyweights in Spider-Man and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Pierce Brosnan’s final stint as James Bond in Die Another Day, Vin Diesel looking to be his more extreme successor with xXx and Matt Damon taking a more bare-bones approach with The Bourne Identity.
From a sheer coolness and smooth fun factor, none matched The Transporter, the franchise that signaled the arrival of Jason Statham as a major box office draw and the start of one of the more consistently entertaining series in the early 2000s.
Frank Martin (Statham, Furious 7) is a professional transporter working the French Mediterranean. If anything or anyone needs a driver, he’s the best man for the job. He’s got a strict set of rules and doesn’t allow for any deviation from them.
It’s why Frank’s driving excursions haven’t attracted too much attention from local authorities beyond the occasional gentle reminder from Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand) to in essence keep the noise down.
But rules always have to get broken and Frank breaks one of his by looking into a package and finding the beautiful Lai (Qi Shu). Reluctantly, Frank continues with his mission and hands her over to a hot shot businessman Wall Street (Matt Schulze, The Fast and the Furious), but the encounter leaves Frank questioning if he made the right choice.
Wall Street doesn’t take kindly to Frank checking out the merchandise and reneges on the deal, but he underestimates Frank’s skills and soon finds him to be an especially difficult loose end to kill.
Beyond featured roles in Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Statham was a bit of an enigma as an action hero. Right from the first scene though, Statham makes it very apparent that he would become one of the preeminent faces on the action movie front for many years to come.
Statham has an easy leading man charisma and exhibits that core Bond quality of women wanting to be with him and men wanting to be him. He carries Frank with a classy air we don’t normally see in our action heroes and Statham assumes command of every scene.
Shu avoids being the standard damsel in distress and makes for a competent and well-timed bit of comic relief. Berléand makes for a terrific Commissioner Gordon to Statham’s Batman and a welcome departure from the typical antagonistic authority figure/hero dynamic. Wall Street is weakly defined, but Schulze makes his character solidly irredeemable and unlikable.
Setting the film in France allows co-director/co-writer Luc Besson to add a little cultural flair from a standard action movie. Cinematographer Pierre Morel gets some gorgeous views of the landscape and countryside making for a beautiful backdrop to the action.
Co-director Corey Yuen utilized his experience working alongside longtime friend Jackie Chan to stage uniquely complex and clean fight scenes that’s some of the best staged in two decades.
While the ‘anything in the environment is fair game’ sensibility from Chan films is incorporated, Yuen and Besson treat the action seriously and humor is spared for character interactions.
Further distinguishing the film from its contemporaries, Frank favors quick strike kicks as opposed to fisticuffs and only uses a gun as a last resort so there’s a remarkably small body count.
The Transporter is a film with style to spare. Every element from the script, characters, direction and the music selections are cool. More than a decade later, no other series has managed to capture the unique blend of silky smooth action thanks to its unique style and Statham’s appealing turn as the debonair modern action hero for the new generation.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Buy from Amazon.com here: The Transporter [Blu-ray]