Movie Review: Transporter Refueled
By Ben Gruchow
September 10, 2015
Relatively early on in The Transporter Refueled, the titular character (Ed Skrein) has escaped from the city police, with his clientele, in a top-of-the-line Audi S8. He decides it’s time for a change of vehicle - reasonable enough, since his current one is slightly dinged from destroying most of the property in the city during said escape. He drives his black, top-of-the-line Audi S8 into a mostly-empty garage and pulls into a parking spot right next to his other car: a dark-gray top-of-the-line Audi S8.
Rather overly vain of him, I think; with the damage he’s caused already, you figure there’s an APB out for any dark-colored Audi S8 on the road. This is before he detonates the old vehicle, just in case the police had any doubts about his capabilities as a lawbreaker (he thoughtfully tosses the old keyfob into a trash can as he drives by, where it also detonates). The scene also inoculates the movie against ridicule; it’s clearly showing us that no matter what we may charge it with, it got there first.
If only there were more scenes like this one, we might have had something. The movies in The Transporter series are really just slick updates of the type of action B-movies that played in grindhouses during the '60s and '70s, and went straight to video in the '80s and '90. The characters are so paper-thin that they often don’t even get names, even the major ones (the Transporter is nominally Frank Martin, but I’m truthfully not sure that it’s ever spoken during the film, at least not all together). The plot is as arbitrary as they come, for the most part: the hero is a chosen one recruited by a mysterious person/people, complications and action sequences ensue, and things are not as they seem.
An arbitrary or simple plot is not necessarily a demerit against an action movie; as BOP’s David Mumpower put it a few weeks ago about the plot of Mad Max: Fury Road: “A group of people drive over there. Then, they drive back.” What you look for is texture within that template - for visual ingenuity, character wrinkles and notes, sharp dialogue, and a kind of truth in storytelling that gives the most ridiculous of concepts some narrative or thematic weight.
The Transporter Refueled does not have these things - or rather, it possesses these things in exactly the wrong ways. The dialogue sticks out in the sense that it’s visibly rough first-draft material; the Transporter’s first line in the movie is a half-formed head-scratcher that sounds more like someone’s wild first pitch at a catchy phrase. The characters stand out, but only in the awkward way in which the darker the skin color is, the more antagonistic the individual; the film’s sole major African-American is given more relative development in order to be depicted as unrepentantly evil, and the character’s ultimate fate is pretty colossally inappropriate and unsettling in its method).
The proceedings are about as mature and sophisticated toward women as you’d expect from something from EuropaCorp, who produced and distributed the movie. Despite the early goings of the plot, which has the female characters in control as part of an attempt to gain revenge on the people who bought and sold them, every major conflict in the film ultimately depends on the Transporter’s driving, fighting, or shooting skills while the women look on. At one point, he has sex with the leader of the group, and the entire point of this plot point - which is not substantiated by previous character beats or interactions - seems to be so that he can let her know that she doesn’t have to choose “this life” if she doesn’t want to.