Olivier Megaton | 100 mins | DVD | 15 / PG-13
I very much enjoyed the first Transporter film. No, it wasn’t high art, but it did what it did very well — even managing a few outstanding moments — and in a pleasantly efficient running time too. 2005’s sequel kept the latter but sadly lost the former, pushing things too far into the realm of CG-aided silliness. With sequel director Louis Leterrier off bringing some of his much-needed CG silliness to the Hulk franchise, it falls to the amusingly-monikered Olivier Megaton to try to navigate this cars-and-kung-fu series back onto the right road.
Film credits sometimes baffle me. As you may guess, Transporter 3 has a perfect example: “Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Based on characters created by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen.” I honestly can’t comprehend the need for that second credit. Some may not even comprehend the need for the first one in a film like this, and usually they’d be right. Here, however, Besson and Kamen seem to have decided the presence of writers should be remembered and so stuck in an awful lot of character development. Not only is it not wanted — one of the best things about the first two films was their efficient 80-something minute running times, while this sprawls out to a full hundred — but it’s not very well done either.
Equally, the plot really makes very little sense for much of the film. Worse, when someone eventually explains it, it turns out to be no great shakes, especially as by that point the viewer’s just about pieced it together. I can’t compare it to the first two because, to be honest, I can’t really remember what their plots were, but I don’t remember thinking they were quite so ill conceived. It’s almost a shame, because it isn’t wholly a rehash of the first two — it’s still little more than an excuse to string together some fights and chases, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be different. There’s also a weak villain — never much of a threat, with an attempt at character development that is (of course) misplaced — who’s granted a logic-defying death (albeit with a nice surround sound mix). Overall, the film lacks both the humour and excitement of earlier instalments.
Megaton over-directs and over-edits the action (and a lot else besides) too often — it would be nice to tell what’s going on. Someone also needs to tell him that speeding up footage of two cars racing doesn’t make it more exciting, it just makes it look silly. And he misses apparently-obvious things that would improve sequences. For example, we know Frank’s bracelet flashes between yellow, orange and red as he gets too far away from the car — a conveniently visual warning system — so when someone takes the car and Frank has to run (and cycle) after it to avoid his wrist-bomb going off, we expect a fairly tense chase where the light on Frank’s bracelet-bomb constantly changes colour. But there’s just one half-glimpsed shot of the bracelet in the entire sequence. It’s a glaring omission that robs the setpiece of much of its ingenuity, rendering it a bog-standard chase.
After all the criticism of Transporter 2’s reliance on CGI, most of this sequel features no significant use of it — and that, of course, is a good thing. A car driving at high speed on two wheels between two articulated lorries is just silly if it’s all done with computers; done for real, as it is here, it’s somewhat impressive — exactly as it should be. (By ‘for real’ I mean a real car, real lorries, etc. I’m sure rigs of some kind must’ve been used to actually pull it off.) Unfortunately, after almost an hour and a half of keeping it real, Megaton mucks it all up again by resorting to CGI to pull off the ludicrous climax. Personally, I’d find it pleasantly ludicrous if they’d managed to film a real car doing that stuff on a real train, but the CGI just compounds the silliness.
When a film that exists solely to provide some nice action sequences can’t even do those well, you know you’re in trouble. Transporter 3 should be a mildly diverting piece of action fluff; just a bit of violent fun. I’m not sure if it’s trying to be something more with its added character development, or just generally failing in its primary aims. Either way, it’s still fluffy, but not actually much fun.