The Transporter's First Package

30-Oct-08 12:44 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 3 comments.

When the first Transporter film was released in 2002, it didn't even register on my radar. The first I'd heard of it was the 2005 release of Transporter 2, which I assumed was the first domestic sequel in some foreign series. (Hey, it happens.) It didn't seem very high-brow, so I dismissed it as a flash in the pan. But a recent Transporter 3 trailer revealed the franchise to have a longer tail than I expected. More important, it actually looked like a fun film I'd want to see. Time at last to go back to the beginning and watch the original Transporter.

Frank Martin (played by Jason Statham) is a retired soldier living in southern France, where he makes an underground living as a transporter — a courier with no questions asked. When his curiosity leads him to break Rule #3 — "Never open the package" — he finds himself running from the mob while trying to do what's right… as long as it doesn't get him killed.

The Transporter

"What have you gotten me into now?"

It's that sense of morality that let me get behind The Transporter as a fun action flick. The main character finds bliss in ignorance, but like Firefly's Mal, when he knows something wicked is going down, he does his best to minimize it. We never see Martin kill anyone, which is a surprise to even his opponents, who often expect a fatal blow only to find themselves still breathing. We can presume some of his victims die off-screen, but it's never explicitly shown. I didn't need to check the MPAA rating to deduce it was PG-13.

The rating doesn't slow down some great action sequences. There are several hand-to-hand combat sequences that occur in diverse settings such as a passenger bus, an oil slick, and among cargo containers. Where Jackie Chan uses props as comical effects, Martin uses them for deadly ones. There's some great choreography present that doesn't resort to the annoying trend toward quick and dizzying cuts and angles. There's more green screen than there is CGI, and what little CGI is noticeable is more for aesthetics than function.

The Transporter is nothing new; like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in The Rundown, Martin is a merc who gets too close to his target. But despite being written by Luc Besson of The Fifth Element, it's mindless fun with plenty of action and a solid performance by Jason Statham that has me looking forward to the sequels.

Hulk (a) Smash!!

27-Jun-08 11:05 AM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

Bill Bixby's Hulk impressed on me the quintessential rendition of the monster, which made Eric Bana's take all the more monstrous. I have spent the last five years submerging memories of that 2003 Hulk film, and I worried that this summer's second attempt at the green giant would be more of the same. But with the reassurances of Marvel devotees, I paid my admission and steeled myself for the worst.

It's amazing what a difference is made when a film's star shares my opinion. As Ed Norton said on Jimmy Kimmel, "We're trying to rescue this franchise from the crapper!" He thus took a heavy hand in the scripting and editing of this outing, resulting in a much more engaging and fluid tale.

From the opening, it's clear this film is neither sequel nor remake. Dr. Banner's backstory is told primarily through brief vignettes that play out under the opening credit sequence. This encapsulation suffices for comic book buffs; others will pick up the details from ensuing dialogue. The story is clearly an homage to its television namesake: Within the first few minutes of the opening is a cameo by Bill Bixby, and later there's Lou Ferrigno in a much more noticeable and respectful appearance than in the last Hulk film. This is not a movie-length episode of the television series, but there are many common elements, such as a protagonist on the run, looking for a cure, which could not be present in an "origin" story such as Ang Lee's. The renewed focus on character development is a welcome change from the 2003 version that featured arena-type combat, a ridiculous villain, and a hero we could neither understand nor sympathize with.

The supporting cast here creates a valuable context for Banner to develop in. Like Jeff Bridges in Iron Man, William Hurt has aged into an excellent villain almost unrecognizable from his usual throwaway fare in films such as Michael and A.I. His brassy, hard-as-nails general is someone whose motivations we can almost understand, smartly keeping him from being the true villain. General Ross is also a more interesting father figure than the one Nick Nolte tried to play in the last Hulk film; Banner's relationships are sufficiently complex and painful without introducing unnecessary and villainous family.

As for the Hulk's actual adversary, I was hesitant by what the trailers suggested: essentially an evil Hulk, manufactured through the same means that brought us our original hero. Yet the smallest of details banished my concerns and instead subtly incorporated the Hulk into the rich Marvel mythos. It seems the gamma radiation which put Banner on the lam was a byproduct of research into creating the perfect "super-soldier" — a phrase that should hold meaning to any fan of the Marvel universe.

The Incredible Hulk has a good mix of action and dialogue. Banner is subjected to only three transformations, and in the style of Alien, his first appearance is kept almost entirely in the dark. Action fans may've expected more of the title character and less of his human counterpart, but I think the film's focus is exactly where its cinematic predecessor showed (by counterexample) it should be. (There could've been even more; I'm told there are over 70 minutes of deleted scenes, several of which are visible in the trailers.) Director Louis Leterrier deftly works the threat of the Hulk into even non-action sequences. There's a tense scene in which a metamorphosis begins and Betty climbs atop the thrashing figure to offer calming words, piercing Banner's confused haze to remind him who he is. Perhaps this act struck me for being so similar to my mother's own actions when my father had a seizure.

There are a few inconsistencies. When Banner is driving at night with "a person of interest", he ducks down in his car seat; but the next morning, he feels comfortable strolling through an open glade with her in broad daylight. When threatened, he pushes his love interest away for her own safety — but later, when he knows he's about to transform, he makes no such gestures. Is this guy a brilliant scientist or not??

More to the point: is The Incredible Hulk a brilliant film? I'd say yes, and it's almost enough to make me wonder if the 2003 film was Marvel Comics' attempt at New Coke to make us appreciate the reboot all the more. Iron Man is still the summer film to beat, but as superheroes go, Ed Norton has created an unexpectedly incredible movie.