Six different men have embarked on secret wars as the British superspy James Bond — soon to be seven if you believe the rumors that Daniel Craig will hang it up after “Spectre.”
While it was difficult to replace Sean Connery, eventually Roger Moore was able to take up the mantle and keep the Bond franchise alive, something action franchises like Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne, Die Hard and Rambo were never able to do.
EuropaCorp, the studio responsible for the Transporter franchise, hoped to reboot their high-octane martial arts action series with a new lead, but much to their chagrin, the bland and ineffectual Ed Skrein is no Jason Statham.
The studio most likely would have been better off restarting the franchise in the United States and leaning on a charismatic American actor like Dwayne Johnson, a versatile action star with instant credibility both on screen and off. Instead, in Skrein, viewers are left with a blank, emotionless caricature of what Statham brought to three “Transporter” installments. It’s impossible to care about an action lead who isn’t even able to convince himself to be engaged in the material.
Writer/producer Luc Besson, the man behind both “The Transporter” and “Taken” franchises, has to know this at the outset, providing the rebooted Frank Martin character — apparently no longer a notorious loner — with a partner in crime in his father, played by the film’s most recognizable performer, veteran character actor Ray Stevenson. Stevenson provides the best counterbalance to Skrein’s stiff-as-a-board acting, brightening the screen each time he appears while simultaneously playing a pivotal role in the film’s plot.
Unlike most action films, “Transporter Refueled” relies on a bevy of women to carry the plot forward, though Besson undercuts this seemingly progressive script by making those same women interchangeable ex-prostitutes out to see revenge on the villainous pimp who forced them into the sex trade. They literally dress and look the same so as to not be recognizable and have no definitive personalities. 2015 has seen progress in the casting and writing of roles for women within action films — most notably Frank Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” — but films like “Refueled” make the progress feel like one step forward, three steps back.
While Besson’s plot leaves a lot to be desired, action sequences that should be the saving grace of “Refueled” just make audiences long for the original trilogy, mainly because a majority of the scenes were ripped straight out of the first three films. “Refueled” has the parking lot fight and leaping jet ski from “Transporter 2” and an ending nearly identical to the original film.
To be sure, two action sequences stand out positively for “Refueled,” including a car chase complete with broken fire hydrants and fisticuffs in front of a moving Audi. Even then, these scenes are only laudable for their relative originality, not necessarily their quality.
“Transporter Refueled” is still perhaps the best of the C-rate action films to arrive in 2015, besting the likes of “Taken 3” and “Hitman: Agent 47,” but not a top-tier blockbuster worth continuing with more sequels.