Batman Begins was a reboot. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a reboot. I know we like to call almost anything a reboot, but there is a difference between a sequel, a remake, and a reboot. For example, Jurassic World is a sequel. Batman Forever is a sequel. Technically speaking, The Transporter: Refueled isn’t a reboot either. Yes, it’s intended to reignite interest in the franchise, but it doesn’t retroactively negate everything that came before it. The only reason it’s not being discussed in straight sequel terms is because Jason Statham didn’t want to come back and thus Europacorp just went and recast his character. Thus in this new fourth installment, Ed Skrein plays noted “guy who drives other people around and gets into fights” dude who really should have been referred to as “Not Jason Statham” by the film’s supporting cast. Casino Royale was a reboot. Live and Let Die was a sequel. And The Transporter is the Live and Let Die of Transporter films. Yet, the question remains, why exactly did the folks at Europacorp decide that this franchise needed to be kept alive without its marquee star?
The reason people saw and/or liked the prior three Transporter movies is because of Jason Statham’s genuine star power/screen charisma. Just when old-school action heroes were being supplanted by boy wizards and superheroes, the first Transporter felt like a genuine throwback to 80′s style action movies, and Statham looked like a genuine attempt to fashion a new action movie star. The franchise wasn’t (relatively) popular because audiences were thrilled by the world in which in inhabited, nor were they dazzled by the world of underground criminal transporting. The franchise was successful because Jason Statham was a lot of fun in them and the surrounding movies (especially the second one) were tolerable enough to justify the ride. But continuing The Transporter without its key component is a lot like making a new Rambo movie without Sylvester Stallone or making a new Die Hard film without Bruce Willis. Without the headliner, it’s just another random action movie.
If the Transporter franchise were a super-duper successful action franchise, I could totally understand the powers-that-be wanting to keep it alive even via recasting what is the prime reason for its popularity. When Sean Connery left after his fifth 007 film, the producers had to recast as they were coming off a string of massive hits (Thunderball and Goldfinger both earned over $500 million in adjusted-for-2015 ticket sales) and the Ian Fleming source material and the franchise tropes were arguably enough to keep it going. But let’s be honest, George Lazenby didn’t work out and it wasn’t until Roger Moore’s third entry (The Spy Who Loved Me, which followed the genuine flop Man with the Golden Gun) that the franchise escaped Connery’s shadow. But here’s the rub: The Transporter movies are not all that successful. More importantly, they are not that much more successful than a stereotypical “one-and-done” Luc Besson action movie.
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