Movie Review: Transporter 3 (2008)
The Eurospy genre is alive and well thanks to the efforts of Luc Besson and his Europa Corp. Yes, I know that a "transporter" is not a spy, but for all practical purposes these are spy movies: fast cars, hot babes, impossible stunts and daffy action in exotic European locales (from Marseilles to Munich to Budapest to Odessa). Specifically, they’re Roger Moore Bond movies with a different sort of leading man. (The wink and the self-deprecating humor are traded for abs and abs and a face that doesn’t look all wrinkly when sucking the air out of tires underwater.)
In the spectrum of extant Transporter movies, Transporter 3 isn’t quite as good as the sublimely over-the-top Transporter 2, but it’s definitely more enjoyable than the first film. Director Olivier Megaton, new to the series with this installment, lacks some of Louis Leterrier’s patience. Leterrier was content to stand back and give full coverage to action choreographer Corey Yuen’s impressive fight spectacles, allowing star Jason Statham to show off his moves. Megaton subscribes to the more contemporary school of action direction, and cuts too quickly. If Statham’s still got the same impressive moves he demonstrated last time out, he never gets to really show them off here, which is too bad. But even at their choppiest, the fight scenes are always at least coherent, which is sadly more than can be said for Quantum of Solace. Furthermore, Megaton has the good sense to let the car chases (and a very impressive bike chase) play out entirely unimpeded by unnecessarily choppy editing, and those are the bread and butter of any Transporter movie.
The plot to Transporter 3 makes no sense at all. In fact, the very involvement of the hero, the transporter, is never remotely justified. There’s nothing that needs transporting. He’s completely extraneous to the bad guys’ rote kidnapping plot. But that doesn’t seem to bother the writers, and damned if it didn’t bother me, either. The filmmakers are so committed to their utterly (as I said before) daffy action that plot matters little. True to Eurospy form.
As a dedicated follower of Fleming, and as a staunch admirer of Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale, I realize that it’s wrong for me to lionize the Roger Moore era of Bond. I shouldn’t want that. But for some reason, I do. When watching Quantum of Solace a second time recently, as Bond haphazardly chased someone across the rooftops of Sienna I found myself wishing I were watching Roger Moore. It took me another moment to realize that of course, that’s not really what I wanted at all. I love Craig’s 007. What I really wanted was John Glen. If I was watching an Eighties Moore film, I’d be able to follow the action completely and take in the amazing scenery at the same time, because John Glen would direct it in an unflashy, even workmanlike manner that would allow me to do so. It didn’t matter that it clearly wasn’t Roger performing most of those stunts (likewise it clearly isn't Jason Statham riding the bicycle!); the Bond team in the Eighties committed to exactly the same sense of daffy action that the Transporter team does today, and after the dead-serious, gritty shaky-cam action of Quantum of Solace, it was refreshing to wallow in such unashamed... fun as Transporter 3.
The movie piles on the Bond references. There are whole heaping bits of GoldenEye, a direct steal from Diamonds Are Forever and the aforementioned tire air breathing from A View To A Kill (which I've always thought to be one of the cooler moments in that movie), to mention just a few. (There’s even an actor from The Living Daylights–Jeroen Krabbe.) But in each case, Transporter 3 takes things a bit further than its illustrious predecessors. Not only does Statham’s Frank Martin survive underwater by sucking air from his car’s tires; he somehow uses that air to inflate some bags he had in his trunk and float the whole car to the surface! Yes, it’s impossible, but that’s the world of Transporter. Frank doesn’t drive through an alley on two wheels of his car; he drives between two eighteen wheelers moving at high speed! (Though we never get a satisfactory shot explaining exactly how he gets his Audi on two side wheels without the benefit of a ramp! The same way Sean Connery managed to flip his Mustang halfway down the alley, I guess.) And rather than stopping a train with a tank to face down the villain as 007 did, Frank Martin actually jumps his car onto the moving train... twice. They recycle stunts from Bond, but they do them even bigger, in loving homage.
I hate to imply that Transporter 3 out-Bonds Bond. You’ll find none of the pathos, none of the rich characterizations or stellar performances, and none of the genuine drama of the latest 007 adventure here. But there were moments when classic Eurospy movies managed to one-up the very thing they were desperately aping, like Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina rising out of the water in bikinis and brandishing spearguns in Deadlier Than the Male, or Daniella Bianchi machine-gunning people while dressed as a nun, then stripping down to a bathing suit and diving off a cliff in Special Mission Lady Chaplin. And in that tradition, Transporter 3 contains a few action setpieces far more Bondian than anything in Bond's own latest offering–even on a decidedly lower budget.
Of course, every Eurospy movie needs a hot Euro-babe. Olga Kurylenko filled that role in last year’s Hitman, and look where she is today! After the first Transporter 3 trailer hit, I speculated as to whether Natalya Rudakova would be able to follow in her footsteps. At the time, there was no information on Rudakova whatsoever on the web. Well, judging from the number of hits that story has been getting via Google searches since the movie opened, the striking freckled redhead has certainly struck a chord with viewers. While she never wields two guns as makeup streaks her face as she does on the poster (and as her predecessor Kate Nuata did in Transporter 2), she is sexy, which is really the most basic requirement of any Eurospy starlet. Her party girl character is a bit annoying at times, but Rudakova has fun with that and earns quite a few laughs.
Furthermore, her character becomes the first woman in a Transporter movie to actually become romantically involved with Frank Martin.
In the first two movies, Frank wanted nothing to do with women. It was explained away under his strict adherence to his own specific set of strict rules, which didn’t allow for such distractions–but he almost seemed afraid of the fairer sex. Rudakova’s Valentina picks up on this and exploits it fully. And this is how the Eurospy genre has changed in forty years. At one point, Valentina steals Frank’s car keys (the most important things in the world to a professional driver), and demands that Frank do a strip tease for her to get them back. (She’s already watched him fight topless with great interest.) Then she demands even more from him, and Frank finally succumbs to feminine wiles. This is exactly the sort of behavior that one of the loathsome, chauvinist Sixties male Eurospy heroes would have engaged in. (I can just picture Kommissar X’s Tony Kendall forcing a reluctant woman to strip for some keys! In fact, maybe he did...) Natalya Rudakova makes the prospect much more appealing. In forty plus years, things have some full circle. Gloria Steinem might not agree, but for the Eurospy genre, this is feminism.
It may not have done it with quite the finesse of the second movie in the series, but for the most part, Transporter 3 delivered exactly what I wanted from it. It’s fun, mindless action with a likable hero and a sexy girl. It’s crazy car stunts that unfold impressively before the viewers’ eyes, and not off camera between rapid cuts. And it doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s daffy action. It’s Eurospy.