Recently, my country’s Netflix made the first two Transporter film available for viewing. This did bring back a flood of memories of me watching the first film in a rather empty movie theater during the day’s initial screening and enjoying the heck out of it. This made me a huge fan of the Luc Besson produced and I ate up the subsequent second and third films. Sadly, after the third movie, Jason Statham, who played Frank Martin, the titular transporter, bowed out of doing the role, ironically enough, became too big of a star for the franchise that made him popular, and the fourth film The Transporter: Refueled acted more like a reboot of the franchise.
Still, with Netflix so graciously putting up the first two films for viewing, I just had to watch them again and even track down the third film somewhere in the wild world of the Internet. I just had to see if they were really as good as I remember them to be or am I just wistfully looking back at them through my rose tinted nostalgic rear view mirror. That was a car pun, by the way.
Corny jokes aside, I did manage to view all three of the Transporter movies that had Jason Statham in them over the weekend. Let’s go see if they still deserved to be remembered!
The Transporter (2002)
You always remember your first, don’t you? This was the movie that started a franchise so The Transporter was definitely a fine movie. But does it hold up to today’s standards? To that question, I give a wholehearted “yes.”
The Transporter introduces us to Frank Martin, a driver who basically will take on practically any job that relies on getting an object from point A to point B. As long as the price is right, of course. As a former military man, he’s also adept at firearms and many forms of hand-to-hand combat, which does come in handy throughout the film’s scant 92-minute runtime. After breaking his rule of opening the package and realizing he’s transporting a young Chinese girl, Frank Martin gets embroiled in an underworld plot of human trafficking and reluctantly helps the girl from her supposed captors.
There’s a certain undeniable charm from The Transporter. It does have the certain Luc Besson flair and style, giving it a unique look. As this was the first time many saw Jason Statham in an action flick for the first time, he was very impressive! The Transporter’s fight scenes were more akin to kung-fu movies rather than traditional Hollywood fight scenes. This is mostly thanks to Corey Yuen, who did go on to direct all the combat scenes in the next two Transporter films. The fight scene on the oil slick was particularly memorable as it did show Frank to use whatever he has on hand while doing all the flips and kicks.
As this is film about a Transporter, you would think a lot of the action does revolve around cars and car chases. Surprisingly, there isn’t a whole lot. You actually only see Frank drive his BMW Series 7 in a very good action chase scene at the start of the film but it’s never seen again (as it does blow up). You do see him parachute in on a convoy and then chase the baddies in a Mack truck later on but those are surprisingly tame compared to the chase scene in the BMW. Still, it’s okay because the fight sequences are a blast.
I also will say the supporting cast in The Transporter is mostly top-notch. French detective Tarconi (played by Francois Berleand) is a good pseudo partner for Frank. He knows what Frank is doing is shady but can’t really prove it and they’ve formed a weird friendship. Detective Tarconi does return in the other Transporter films and does show how their friendship has deepened later on. I also think Shu Qi looked super cute as the “package” Frank was hired to deliver. She can be annoying at times but, unlike the other females in the series, she does carry her own weight, literally and figuratively, with helping Frank out throughout.
The premise, however, is a little screwy since, if you really examine it thoroughly, it doesn’t make sense. It’s never explained why Shu Qi needed to be “transported” in that manner in the first place nor why the bad guys needed a professional Transporter to do the job! Also, Frank is initially adamant about following his rule about not opening the package. Yet, he does do so, which starts the entire adventure in the first place. Still, these are nitpicks when compared to how good the first Transporter is. It was an enjoyable action movie then and it’s an enjoyable action movie now.
Transporter 2 (2005)
This was a movie I was really hard on when it came out because, basically, they kind of changed the premise from the first film. Yes, Frank Martin is still a hard-nosed transporter of sorts. But this time, he a chauffeur for a little kid! Oh, they gave this lame excuse that he’s doing it as a favor but… really? A chauffeur? The idea really pissed me off and I didn’t give the movie a chance. But now that time’s passed, I did give Transporter 2 a more objective look.
This time around, professional Transporter Frank Martin has taken an extended job of driving a kid around but, when alleged kidnappers come out of the woodwork to take the child, he does everything in his power to save the kid and find out what’s really going on.
Okay, that summary was really lame. But that’s because the overall story is lame. There’s very little underworld intrigue here and that’s a crying shame because that’s one of the reasons why the first film was engaging. However, Transporter 2 does have something the first movie doesn’t: lots and lots of style! Frank’s Audi A8 feels much more stylish than his old BMW Series 7. The car stunts, like Frank driving a Lamborghini Murcielago to catch up to a speeding jet, are fun and exciting. There’s a lot more gunfights here with Frank managing to still beat everyone he comes in contact with.
However, when it comes to style, you can’t beat a short-haired crazy blonde clad only in underwear and wielding two semiautomatic machine guns with silencers! Oh, and she does all of this in red hot heels! Now that’s style!
But all of this style does come with a price. Transporter 2 is incredibly dumb. I mean, really, really dumb! The story and plot is actually okay but you just have to turn off your brain during a lot of the action scenes or else you’ll just be asking a ton of questions. Like how can that door block all those bullets? Or how can Frank precisely corkscrew his car in the air so a hook can remove a bomb under the car’s undercarriage? Or why is there a sniper aiming right at the kid if the sniper’s laser sight should be coming from the good guy’s house? Or why doesn’t the blonde ever have to reload? Or how can a car, even an Audi A8 smash through a concrete barrier and land safely without a scratch? Shhh. Shhh. It’s alright. Just relax and don’t think about it.
Still, because of how dumb it is, this does lead to a lot of incredible action sequences. In fact, I will say they’re a lot more fun here than the first Transporter. There are some creative ones, like when Frank has to save a vial of an antidote. And, thanks to the rather irreverent devotion to style over substance, the dialog does feel better. Oh, and the fight scenes still shows off Corey Yuen great ability to plot out an exciting combat scene.
But that’s just because I can keep my brain from accessing its logic processes. It’s a lot of sizzle but not a whole lot of steak. I have generally changed my mind on Transporter 2. I don’t think it’s a bad movie but, rather a guilty pleasure. Still, it’s actually the lowest ranked film among the Transporter trilogy for me.
Transporter 3 (2008)
We finally are at the final Jason Statham helmed Transporter movies and it does return more to its roots, thankfully.
This time around, we see Frank Martin return to France to resume his regular Transporter duties but, when a partner’s transporting job goes by the wayside, Frank is forced to deliver a package all across Europe but there are two catches. One, he must partner with a sullen female companion and two, he cannot move too far away from his Audi A8 or else the bomb strapped to his wrist will explode.
I had high hopes for this movie as this was a return to form, with the Transporter doing some actual transporting! However, since I did watch this back-to-back with Transporter 2, I do have to say the action in Transporter 3 feels a little too tame and realistic. Still, the fight scenes are impeccably planned out with Corey Yuen amazing attention to detail. Sadly, however, there seems a lot more shaky cam and quick cuts involved this time around, making the combat kind of hard to see unnecessarily.
One thing I really liked about Transporter 3 is Tarconi. He wasn’t all that involved in the second film but here, he does have some time to shine by actually doing some detective work! He’s still pals with Frank but it’s more like they already have come to an understanding. Sadly, while seeing more Tarconi was a blast, Frank’s female partner in Transporter 3 was just so, so irritating!
Now, it’s not that she’s unattractive. In fact, she should check all the marks for me, like how she has red hair and the freckles gives her a distinctive look. However, she just doesn’t come off as sexy for me. That’s mostly because her character was terrible! There are so many moments when she would act stupid or smug for no reason at all! Most of the time, she would act like a brat. Yeah, coming off as a spoiled rich girl is super attractive. Yeesh!
Thankfully, a lot of this can be forgiven thanks to the renewed focus of the Transporter actually doing some transporting here. I do love the gimmick of Frank unable to move too far away from his car as he has to come up with clever ways to survive when it doesn’t seem possible. It also shows that Frank isn’t a mindless brute as some of the things he does, like how he gets his car to float from the bottom of a lake, is really smart.
This is my second favorite Transporter movie, with the first film being the hands-down best of the trilogy. I would say this one just edges out Transporter 2 but that’s just because it does come off as smarter. But man! That redhead seemed really determined to make this the worst Transporter film of the franchise!
What’s your favorite movie in the Transporter franchise? Let me know what it is in the comments section below!