"Transportation is a precise business."
Writers: Luc Besson, Mark Kamen
So, what was one of the coolest parts of the classic James Bond movies? Seeing what incredible car he'd end up driving in a car chase around picturesque, winding European roads. Hey, that's a movie all by itself. Sure is. Add some incredible fight scenes, a few explosions, and a seemingly ordinary guy as the lead: "Frank Martin" could be me or you—That's his appeal. The everyman hero . . . Jason Statham sells it, and his ordinary English accent is part of his anti-Bond relatability. Dress impeccably (wing tips and driving gloves!), drive a nice car, and have mad fighting skills, that's all you really need to be 'secret agent' cool. Frank is ultra calm under pressure: even cooler. Plus, he doesn't need gadgets to make up for being a 'suit' (flabby underneath)—he's all muscle. Compare Pierce Brosnan adjusting his tie while driving a tank in "GoldenEye" (@4:28) to Jason Statham violently shrugging his jacket into place after kicking everyone's ass cause they tried to blow him up (@ 1:45).
The really great thing about this series is the way they handle the driving scenes and the chase scenes. It is, after all, a movie about a driver. I love how both the first and second movies open in parking garages. Frank is sitting behind the wheel, ready to go. You get a "Where-are-we-going / This-is-going-to-be-a-wild-ride" feeling. (I missed that in the opening of Transporter 3.)
When the first chase scene begins after a bank robbery, there are no green-screen scenes—Frank ( Jason) is transporting the robbers as the getaway driver, and the way they're bobbing around inside the car reveals just how fast they're really going: They get tossed around like so much salad. You see the joy of the chase and the rush of adrenalin—Frank's intense concentration and periphery checks also sells their need to escape. Add to that the fact that one of the robbers barfs! No matter how many times I watch it, I always enjoy that first chase and can't take my eyes off it. The bottom line is: The driving delivers the excitement. You can relate to that. And it's enough, but it's also so much more. A driver this good doesn't need a car with an ejector seat.
The Transporter series also satisfy because when they get to the implausible bits they totally have fun with it. When The Transporter does 'ridiculous' like fighting in motor oil with bike pedal cleats, or racing off an overpass onto the top of a car carrier (but not just the empty top of a car carrier, one with just one empty slot—that's threading the needle!), you suspend disbelief because if you were a driver you would want to be that good. Believing you can do it makes it happen. It's possible because you want it to be possible. You feel if Frank can do it, we could do it. It's all happening because Frank is not "Bond, James Bond". In fact, Rule Number 2 is "No Names". Walk the walk, skip the talk.
Another way The Transporter is cooler than Bond is his way with women. He's a 'nice guy'. It's clear from his face that he melts when he first sees "Lai" (and women in the audience swoon). Later he tries to fend her off and backs away. He doesn't want sex to make things complicated (it's implied that he will get attached and has feelings: how nice and real is that?!). But he is only human and when he realizes she 'gets' him: "You like it simple. Very simple", only then does he let his guard down (what a sound!). His terms. Bond had sex just because he could. Frank Martin is more controlled and more selective. And isn't it more appealing to be with someone who won't be with everyone? Frank rescues the damsel in distress, but with some humor and a little of the sweetness of love at first sight thrown in. (She didn't come with his hotel room.)
Another part of the unique flavor of the Transporter series is their sense of humor—visual as well as verbal. It's a buddy movie that has a little "Clouseau" appeal with Inspector Tarconi as the combined 'boss/buddy' figure. The way Frank and Tarconi respect each other but play with their roles is great to watch. A lot of credit must be spread around in this movie: half to Jason Statham, and half to Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, half to Corey Yuen, and half to Louis Leterrier. That's a lot of halves. It's a masterpiece of collaboration. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that's saying a lot. The look and feel, and sound, the situational humor, the chase and fight scenes . . . There hasn't been such great one-against-many ass-kicking fight scenes since Jim West in the Wild Wild West TV show. The Director of "The Transporter" is the Martial Arts Choreographer of Transporter 2. Here (photos below) are a couple "wows": The jumping double chest kicks, and, the flying kick to the throat (speechless) . . . (How do you receive that in a stunt without getting hurt?)
This movie is having so much fun with its fight and chase scenes, you sometimes forget there's danger (as people who love to drive too fast know too well). Starting with the opening scene and Rule Number 1: "The Deal is the Deal". From the sight of the two robbers' faces being thrown against the glass (the teeth! LOL) when they stop short on the overpass/bridge; to the head robber in the front seat trying to get out of the car when he realizes, the split second before they go over the edge, what Frank has in mind; to the moment when they get away by racing in front of a moving train to U-turn, losing all the police cars at once—a lone policeman chases on foot shoots after them in abject frustration . . . the sound of his first shot ricocheting off something close by, as if to say, not only is he incompetent, he's a bad shot, which makes him want to throw his (useless) gun down on the ground, but he thinks better of it, and all he has left to do is throw down his hat and whine—it's so fast and so much fun, you sometimes forget what's at stake. We are reminded after a couple of cool and creative transition shots from the hill line of drop-off point to the horizon of Frank's house by the sea, and from inside his car to his television screen inside his house, where we learn the robbers were caught when (without the help of Frank) they got in a wreck.
Back to the story: Having successfully delivered the robbers from danger to their rendezvous point, the first deal is completed. The head robber tries to give Frank more money to get him to take them further. Frank reiterates Rule Number 1: "The Deal is the Deal." The robber replies "Rules are made to be broken." And Frank says "Not mine." And that's where this Murphy's-Law-roller-coaster ride really begins . . . Frank's bound to break his own rules and we get to see what happens. And what happens is, he breaks Rule Number 3: "Never Open the Package".
On Frank's second job he gets a flat tire and discovers 'the package' is a person inside the duffel bag in his trunk. This scene lets us see the real Frank. He's not just a driver for hire, he's a gentleman. The concern on his face when he notices 'the package' is moving when he stops to change the tire, leads to him buying a drink for whoever has the misfortune of being stuck in a duffel bag in his trunk. Being kind to 'the package' gives her, Lai, an opening and she tricks Frank and tries to escape. After tracking her down into a seemingly endless ravine, he manages to get her back, and carries her, re-gagged and re-tied, across his shoulders up the embankment to where he left the car, only to discover two motorcycle policemen who just happened upon his car on a two-lane road in the middle of nowhere. The moment of mutual disbelief between Frank and the two policeman is still funny even though you've expecting something to go wrong since he broke the rules. The consequences of breaking Rule Number 3 leads to the first big fight scene.
After completing his second job and turning the package, Lai, over to the bad guys, Frank accepts a third job. "The deal was this far, no further" still hangs in the air from the first job, plus the fact that the robbers got caught, which Frank avoided by not breaking Rule Number 1. Had he never gotten a flat tire . . . had he never opened the package . . . had he just walked away and ended his deal with them with the second job, but he doesn't. The third job is to deliver a briefcase, which, of course, turns out to be a bomb that blows up his car while he's at a rest stop having a snack. Jason Statham never hesitates as he walks toward the car, and there is no hint of the impending explosion that pushes him backward with great force—about as forceful as the look of anger on his face when he realizes they tried to kill him. He's PISSED! How pissed? Ring-the-doorbell-then-running-kick-knock-down-the-door pissed! Want to watch it again? Ding dong . . . It's your ass! . . .
What ensues after the bull breaks down the door, is a dance of violence. Graceful in moments—when he swirls the tablecloth around like a matador's cape, sending everything flying into the air, including a gun, which he catches, backhanded of course! (Because if you could catch a falling gun wouldn't it be cooler to catch it behind your back?) Mostly frenetic—He shoots up the place and the camera catches him with a stunning shot in a full-length mirror . . .a quick glance and he moves on to the hallway and the genius of the double axe fight where, missing, two bad guys end up embedding their axes into the wall just over Frank's head while he, with one hand on an ax is alternately punching away at both of them while, comically, neither of them, at first, wants to let go of their ax. Fiercely comical—you want to laugh but you can't, your breath is caught in your throat because it's all happening so fast. The coral-colored walls of the hallway set off with royal blue (and green) are as striking and sharp as the ax blades. The entire movie is largely blue and orange (with touches of yellow and green); not to the extent of Bruce Beresford's "Rich in Love" but the complementary use of blue and orange gives the movie a special feel. (It's used even more in Transporter 3.)
This movie works on every level. The fight in the bus depot seems like every man waits his turn because they want to be the one to take him down. Yeah, they could all get him at once, but that wouldn't be as satisfying. They're sensibly wary until they get pissed off that he's winning and try to shoot him. The ensuing truck/container/car/plane/parachute chase seems a lot more believable with mighty Jason driving.
I think the movie fired only
a few "blanks":
I am so sure there are no tires on
the left side of the car as it flies through the air to land on
the car carrier. Why is the plane so
crazy-high up at one point?
Why does Lai's father need to walk
Frank up the hill to shoot him? And how does Lai get to
the top of the hill so quickly, and, Frank waits way too
long to throw that rock.
If you still want more Transporter, check out this site: The Transporter.net | sadly, that site is history . . .
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