Were it not for the dreadful Fantastic Four, the limp and clunky Transporter Refueled would easily be 2015’s most unnecessary and worthless franchise reboot.
It’s a closer battle than it should be though largely due to the filmmakers abandoning nearly everything that made the Transporter films so popular in the 2000s. At least the FF reboot didn’t have such an easy template on how to make a successful installment in the series.
The reboot was already in trouble when series star Jason Statham opted not to reprise the role that made him a box office sensation. I’m not entirely sure if Statham could have salvaged the film, but his effortlessly cool swagger was certainly missed.
Ed Skrein (Game of Thrones) assumes the role of Frank Martin this time out and while he can fill out a suit, Skrein can’t fill Statham’s shoes.
There’s a certain level of absurdity to the franchise that Statham was able to make work with a roguish charm as he deadpanned through puns, but Skrein doesn’t have enough presence to pull it off — especially when he’s relegated to second tier status for most of the film.
The four screenwriters, including franchise co-creator Luc Besson, make the puzzling decision to take what should be an introductory showcase for Skrein’s Martin and cram in five supporting characters — all of whom prove far more worthy of the camera time than the main character.
Frank is continuing his transporting gigs in the south of France when Ava (Loan Chabanol) hires him to help her crew Gina (Gabriella Wright), Maria (Tatiana Pajkovic) and Qiao (Wenxia Yu) in taking down Arkady Karasov (Radivoje Bukvic , Run All Night).
Arkady kept them in his prostitution ring and now they’re willing to do whatever it takes to free themselves from his control. Along the way, Frank’s father (Ray Stevenson, Big Game), gets tangled in Ava’s schemes as well.
Had Statham returned, the film would have had a more Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade vibe with Frank teaming with his father to aid Ava’s crew.
Stevenson is so dynamic and engaging that Frank Sr. proves far more entertaining than his son. Poor Skrein essentially gets benched in his first major starring role. Without a word of dialogue being changed, there’s little doubt Statham couldn’t have done more with his role than being a glorified third wheel(man).
The writers also struggle to decide on a tone for Ava and her crew. At their best, they’re mysterious and coldly calculating assassins. Chabanol especially shines here and she’s a far more intriguing character to follow.
Frustratingly, the second act reduces these smart, cunning foursome to shrieking in the car as Frank does some of his crazy driving or getting seduced by Frank Sr. It’s as if the writers couldn’t trust the audience to invest in strong female characters fully capable of handling themselves without needing a man’s help. (Hi Furiosa.)
Characterization isn’t the only thing botched. The script is a mess with scattershot logic and idiotic decisions just to keep the story moving.
Director Camille Delamarre (Brick Mansions) can’t handle the much of the ride either. He’s able to set the mood, but seems better suited for a less action-heavy project. One of the franchise trademarks is clean, elaborate fight sequences. Corey Yuen’s spell-binding fight choreography helped make anything in Frank’s reach a dangerous weapon.
Delamarre goes the more basic approach with dizzying hyper-edits and cuts that make the action disorienting at best and limply tries to capture the same spirit of Yuen’s fight scenes.
The title implies this update is replenishing something that’s nearly on empty. While they weren’t all-time action classics, the first three films had charm, a sense of style and were a lot of fun all of which are lacking in this relaunch. The Transporter Refueled sadly finds the Transporter series creatively on fumes.
Rating: 3 out of 10