The Transporter Refueled is the long-delayed fourth entry in a previously lucrative franchise and, unexpectedly, it’s the one that turns the male hero into something of a sidekick to a group of female heroines. But Camille Delamarre’s film, which mainly exists as an object lesson in trying-to-have-it-both-ways sexism, is no Mad Max: Fury Road redux. Little time is wasted in establishing the film’s real protagonists. First introduced on the French Riviera in 1995 in the clutches of thuggish Russian human trafficker Yuri (Yuri Kolokolnikov), Anna (Lona Chabanol) is then seen, 15 years later, as the leader of a band of fellow former prostitutes, all of them now trying to take revenge on the pimp who wronged them long ago.
That sounds like we’re on the verge of yet another subversive blast of female empowerment in a genre whose sense of gender representation usually skews male and extremely macho. But in Fury Road, George Miller never stooped as low as Delamarre does here in objectifying these women while ostensibly applauding them for standing up to their male oppressors. Thus, writhing model-like female bodies in sexy wear abound; worse, at one point in a nightclub, two members of this band of female warriors are seen randomly kissing each other, the better to satisfy the audience’s delectation for girl-on-girl sensuality.
Somewhere amid this mess of faux-empowerment, and at the center of a few imaginative jolts of mayhem (filing cabinets incorporated into a bout of hand-to-hand combat, an airport-runway sequence that climaxes with a chase through Nice Côte d’Azur Airport), lies the titular crime-fighter: Frank Martin. Taking over the glowering, suit-wearing, and ass-kicking duties from Jason Statham, Ed Skrein proves a serviceable replacement, especially as the straight man to his comic relief: his father, Frank Senior (Ray Stevenson), the Professor Henry Jones to Frank’s Indiana Jones. (And lest you think the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade analogy is mere whimsy, Frank’s father, for good measure, also constantly refers to his son as “Junior.”) Seeing the extrovert Frank Senior next to his stoic offspring, however, simply emphasizes how far the Transporter himself has fallen through four features.
A genuinely intriguing air of mystery hung around the character in the first Transporter, specifically as a man who treated his dangerous car-driving trade as a bills-paying job, imposing a set of rules for himself to minimize the physical and emotional risks. But Transporter 2 did away with much of the character’s moral ambiguities, and Transporter 3 saddled him with a conventional romance that became a drag on the action. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that in Transporter Refueled he’s regressed to being a blank slate to serve the characters and the mayhem surrounding him—a walking metaphor for a franchise that’s run out of gas.