*. Is there anything I haven’t said, several times already, about comic-book, video-game movies? I don’t think so, and since Bloodshot is another instance of the same I won’t have much to add here.
*. So: take one comic-book or video-game franchise. In this case it’s a comic book that debuted in the ’90s about a hitman who is infused with nanites that give him superhuman strength. Cast one action star. Vin Diesel, check. Throw in plenty of rapid-cut action sequences with lots of CGI work where the hero gets to show off his super powers. Finally: get a sequel in the works. Done and done.
*. There’s not much to add because Bloodshot doesn’t add anything, and I mean not one single thing, to the formula. Plus Vin Diesel, while not much of an actor, doesn’t even get a chance to project any charm (which is something he is at least capable of). His best moment here comes in a visit to his ex-girlfriend, and that only lasts for a few seconds. Meanwhile Guy Pearce is only passable as a villain who checks the boxes for being a rich techie CEO. Just kill him already.
*. The plot is actually a bit complicated, involving our hero (just what is his name anyway? let me check . . . Ray Garrison) being implanted with false memories along with the cocktail of nanites. A complicated plot, but in no way interesting. After the first couple of fight scenes I stopped paying attention to what was going on. But to be fair, those fight scenes, and some of the big stunts (especially a couple of the car crashes), aren’t bad. And they’re probably all you came for anyway.
*. I had to wonder why, given the fact that Ray can punch right through heavy bags, human bodies, and cement pillars, mere bulletproof glass should be some insurmountable problem. I mean, bulletproof glass doesn’t stop everything. I mentioned this point already in my notes on Savages. But maybe this is special glass made out of titanium nanites. Or, you know, something.
*. Ray (or Bloodshot) also has a remarkably casual attitude toward taking bullets in his new, superhuman state. This struck me as a bit odd given that being shot does drain his power supply somewhat so he shouldn’t just be charging straight into hails of bullets like he does. But then I suppose there’s no real point asking such questions of a movie like this.
*. Formula and cliché from start to finish. I had to laugh when the one character says “You don’t need a history to have a future.” That’s pure comic-book dialogue. Then I saw that somebody thought this was so clever that they put it on the theatrical release poster (changing “history” to “past”). Well, why not. If you like those kinds of lines then chances are you’re in the target audience. You’ll also want to stick around right to the very end, where our heroes leave us with the line “Who we were doesn’t have to define who we’re gonna be. We can choose. We all can.” Where would we be without the wisdom of comic books?
More heavy lifting for this week’s quiz, but at least this fellow has the (rebuilt) body for it. Now see how many of these ladies you can pick up.
See also: Quiz the forty-sixth: She ain’t heavy (Part one).
*. The Transporter Refueled was panned pretty roundly by critics and audiences when it came out, for what I think were predictable reasons. The main complaint was that without Jason Statham as Frank Martin all that was left was a brainless action film with lots of car chases and fist fights.
*. I take a more charitable view, in large part because out of the original trilogy I only thought Transporter 2 was any good. For example, is this movie stupid? Hell, yes. As stupid as Transporter 3? No. In fact, if I were to rate them just on watchability I’d rank this entry only just behind the second film.
*. I get it. Ed Skrein is no Jason Statham. But he isn’t bad. He doesn’t have the same charm, which translates into star power, but I think he holds his own, even with his throaty delivery and inability to smile. He also keeps his shirt on. The action scenes were better handled than in the previous instalment, and while silly not quite as silly as I’d gotten used to.
*. I was confused as to why they would want to change stars but keep the same character. Why not make Skrein into Statham’s nephew? Instead, I believe this movie was intended to be a prequel, which I’m not sure makes sense given the cars and other technology that’s being used. I mean, if this is a prequel then we’re in the ’90s aren’t we? But according to the dates we’re given this is 2010. Or was this Frank supposed to be the son of Jason Statham’s Frank, a character now played by Ray Stevenson? I couldn’t be sure.
*. The plot is, indeed, very stupid. Basically Frank is hired (and/or forced) to help a bunch of prostitutes get revenge on the Russian pimp who is running them. This they do in fashionable style. It’s a movie full of clichéd fashion notes. The girls wear blonde wigs and dress in haute couture (not looking suspicious at all!) while robbing a bank. The bad guys live the gangster lifestyle. And you know what that means, don’t you, playboy? Yachts, private jets, hot tubs, alcohol, and strippers shaking their booty in your face all day and all night.
*. As I said, however, I thought the action at least as well handled as in the previous movie. There’s an overfondness for throwing in lots of aerial drone shots that I thought were unnecessary, but if you have a climax on a mountain top what else are you going to do? I didn’t buy any of the stunts, but I didn’t in the earlier movies either. I just found myself wondering how often Frank has to replace his tires. He burns a lot of rubber.
*. In sum, switching to a new star in a franchise that was purely a star vehicle is not an easy maneuver to pull off. I thought they did fine here, but then I wasn’t a big fan of the franchise in the first place. But I’ll go so far as to say that I’d watch another Transporter if it comes to that. And it very well might.
*. You might have been going into this one with high hopes. The Transporter was a decent action film, introducing Jason Statham as an action star and having a kind of ’90s charm to it. With Transporter 2 they upped their game with a flick that was good silly fun.
*. Alas, the third time around did not continue this trajectory. It’s crap.
*. It would be easy to blame Natalya Rudakova. Many reviewers did. Luc Besson apparently “discovered” her walking down a street in New York City. She was a hairdresser with no acting experience but he still wanted her to play Valentina.
*. She can’t act but I didn’t think she embarrasses herself given that it’s not really fair to throw a novice into such a hopeless situation. In the event, she gave what Besson wanted her to project, in service to his own fetishes. So she’s stuck falling in love with her saviour (Statham), reciting hopeless lines in fractured English, all while pimped out in her Ibiza party dress, with make-up running down her face.
*. I’ve never been to Ibiza, by the way. Do people just go there to dance and do drugs? Is that its only purpose?
*. So the character of Valentina is awful. As with Lai in the first film and the little boy in the second she’s only there to serve a plot function. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more of her and she starts to grate even before she takes to popping pills and getting drunk so she can act like a total ditz and get into even more trouble. In the big love/seduction scene I just felt embarrassed for everyone involved. As if Frank couldn’t just take the damn keys from her and be done with it.
*. I have to wonder at Tarconi telling Frank that his growing attachment to Valentina is not like the Frank he knows. Tarconi was in the first two films. This is exactly the Frank he knows.
*. Just don’t think about the plot here making sense. Just don’t think about it at all. I’m not even going to begin.
*. Another generic element added this time is the exploding bracelet Frank wears, which will detonate if he gets too far from his car. This goes back at least as far as Escape from New York, but is also like similar guns to the head in Speed and (another Statham vehicle) Crank. Again, it’s just something that’s here to make the wheels of the plot keep going around. Frank drops in on a mechanic friend of his to see if he can get the bracelet off. There’s a big fight in his garage. But he can’t get the bracelet off. Which turns out not to matter, because it was just meant to be a pit stop anyway, a place where Frank would stop driving long enough to fight some bad guys.
*. The action scenes struck me as a big letdown from Transporter 2. They’re just dance numbers. In the garage Frank even does a strip tease, which Valentina eyes appreciatively. I didn’t think there was anything fresh or interesting about any of it though. Or to the chase scenes. The Audi going on its side to squeeze between two trucks was peak stupid.
*. On the plus side, at least we finally see the bad guy getting a suitably spectacular (albeit still conventional, and bloodless) send-off. I would have been disappointed if he’d only been tossed from the train.
*. One of the worst things I can say about this one is that I didn’t even finish watching it the first time through, which is something I only realized when I started writing up these notes and had no memory of how it ended. I had to go back and watch the final five minutes, for what that was worth. Not much.
*. Director Olivier Megaton (no, that’s not his real last name, it’s Fontana) would go on to do Taken 2 and 3, which was no big stretch (though I think they were better movies). Statham, however, would be getting off the bus here, and for good reason (it didn’t help that he felt he was being lowballed in the new contract he was offered). Why do another movie after this train wreck? Tomorrow to fresh franchises and pastures new.
*. The opening shot of Frank Martin (Jason Statham) sitting in his car in a parking garage establishes continuity. As do the names of Louis Leterrier and Corey Yuen, who again collaborated on the direction. Script co-written by Luc Besson, which tells you where the Nikita clone Lola comes from (as if you couldn’t have figured it out). But note one important difference. This movie is brought to you by the good people at Audi, not BMW.
*. What follows is more generic stuff in the same vein, but slicker, brighter, and more fun than the first movie. The hot chick in distress is replaced by the cute kid in distress. Exactly how the evil plot was supposed to work totally escaped me. Luckily, we’re not asked to spend any time thinking about it.
*. Instead we’re meant to look at stunts so silly they border on the surreal. A car jumping from the roof of one parking garage into another across the street. Or a fight with a fire hose that lets Yuen show off his Hong Kong-action chops at their acrobatic and whimsical finest. You can also enjoy looking at Amber Valletta (a model) getting all concerned about her kid, and Kate Nauta (another model) changing into a variety of different lingerie sets to cause some damage. Because she only fights in lingerie.
*. I mentioned being disappointed with the way Matt Schulze was disposed of at the end of the first movie simply by having him thrown out of the cab of a truck. A bloodier end was cut from the American release version. That happens again here, as Lola’s death has the blood cut out of it in order to score a PG-13 rating. This made it hard for me to understand that she was actually dead. Meanwhile, Alessandro Gassman’s Chellini has to be kept alive so that his blood can somehow be used to cure the plague he was looking to unleash on behalf of Colombian drug cartels so that they could . . . but I already told you I couldn’t figure this part out.
*. Chalk up one surprise. I was sure Matthew Modine’s character was in on the plot because (1) he seems guilty as hell, and (2) he has star billing after Statham despite the fact that he doesn’t have much of a role in the film. But no, he’s actually one of the good guys, and it looks like this trial has even brought his family together. Too bad. They seem like the kind of self-important plutocrats that made me hope global warming would speed up and wreck their trashy Miami mansion, just so I could see it washed away.
*. Well, like I say, it’s silly. But silly in a good way. Or in the way blockbuster genre action films were trending at the time. It plays well alongside the Mission: Impossible, Fast & Furious, and John Wick franchises. We’re just whipped along from one big rock ’em, sock ’em scene to the next. And these are well handled. I like the little flourishes like the camera spinning around the gear shift in the main car-chase scene. This happens so fast I didn’t even notice it the first time.
*. Apparently this was Statham’s own favourite film in the series. I am in complete agreement. When I think back on the action classics of the ’80s though I don’t think any of these movies compare. At least I can’t imagine any of them having the same staying power as Die Hard or even Commando. The stunts are more spectacular and the speed at which it all comes at you has been pushed into the red, but at the same time they’re even more brainless and superficial. Was this what the twenty-first century demanded, or just what it was going to get anyway?
*. The Transporter had two directors, Corey Yuen (a Hong Kong action director) and, credited as artistic director, Louis Leterrier. Behind these names, however, it’s also easy to see the hand of writer-producer Luc Besson.
*. I’m not sure how comfortable any of these people were working in English at the time, which may help explain why the script is so laugh-out-loud bad. Or maybe it’s because the whole project was inspired by a series of advertisements (or “branded content”) produced by BMW called The Hire starring Clive Owen in the title role. Does this movie look like a car commercial? Well . . .
*. It’s hard to overstate just how mailed-in the script feels. You know Frank (Statham) and Lai (Qi Shu) are going to hop into bed, so when she forces the issue you get one of those laugh-out-loud moments I mentioned. Their coupling is simply what such a story as this demands. You knew it was coming from the moment they locked eyes. Add to that a plot that’s flimsy even by the standards of an action film, or car commercial. The shipping container isn’t even a decent MacGuffin. And what’s the story about why Lai needs to be transported around anyway? What does her dad want to do with her anyway?
*. Generic tripe like this calls for some star power to bail it out, and here the producers got lucky by glomming on to Jason Statham, who had just appeared in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (his film debut) and Snatch. In The Transporter he launched as an official action star. Along with Dwayne Johnson and . . . Vin Diesel? other names don’t suggest themselves . . . he was one of the heirs of the ’80s icons he would later show up alongside in The Expendables franchise.
*. I like Statham, and he capably carries this movie. It’s not very special in any other way. The opening car chase struck me as very dull. Most of the rest of the action stuff was edited all to hell so I couldn’t even judge whether the stunt work was any good. There wasn’t anything original about any of it, with the possible exception of the oil fight in the garage, which I’ll admit was neat. Otherwise it’s quite predictable, and disappointing. Matt Schulze does well enough as the heavy to deserve a better death than simply to be thrown out of the cab of a truck. In the original French version he was at least crushed by the truck’s wheels, a better (though still not very interesting) exit that was oddly cut from the American release.
*. So, not a keeper. But it would go on to spawn a pair of sequels and a reboot (The Transporter: Refueled), the latter coming as Statham himself, no longer young, was replaced by a new generation of action star. In the meantime, Transporter 2 and 3 would look to improve on the original. All they needed was some more comfort with the star, some slicker action, and a slightly (if ever so slightly) less stupid script. Not a problem. Or at least so one would have thought.
*. In 1971, at the end of Dirty Harry, SFPD Inspector Harry Callahan tosses his badge into a quarry pond. In 1973 NYPD Detective Frank Serpico rejects the badge of a detective’s gold shield, opting for (very) early retirement to Switzerland.
*. Two dramatic acts of abnegation from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Both Harry and Frank are disgusted with “the system,” but for very different reasons. Harry would, of course, be back, his fight against the system becoming a part of American mythology. But there would be no second act for Serpico, whose story had the uncomfortable distinction of being true. I have to think there’s some larger meaning to this.
*. I have to say I find Serpico a dull watch today, but that’s more because of its genre than its politics. The progressive-activist biopic is almost the definition of Oscar bait. Norma Rae. Silkwood. Erin Brockovich. Milk. All stories about little guys taking on the corrupt/racist/homophobic/capitalist system. And I think they’re stories that are worthy of telling. I just can’t imagine watching any of these movies twice.
*. Al Pacino in his heyday, just after The Godfather and just before The Godfather Part II and Dog Day Afternoon. He’s good here, if a little improbable. He looks so small, and one simply can’t credit him running down the bad guys on foot. Sidney Lumet was a last-minute replacement as director but Mr. New York City comes through, even if you have to grin at the way Serpico keeps arranging secret meetings at such conspicuous landmarks.
*. As with most of these biopic heroes, Serpico is a Christ figure. This is even more obvious because he’s undercover as a hippie so he even looks like a ’60s (or ’70s) Jesus. He’s also often wearing white, and the light on him is highlighted whereas the dirty cops are cast in shade. Actually, most of the supporting players are cast in shade. There’s some talent alongside Pacino but we don’t really notice them in such a one-man show. The women are so disposable they don’t even register. Though there’s no way he was going to let that magnificent sheepdog get away. He’s a keeper.
*. Everything looks dirty in that documentary-style grittiness that was, briefly, the style after The French Connection. And yet it’s not a movie that makes much of an impact today. Perhaps it’s too authentically of its time and place, meaning the pre-Disneyfied NYC. Fifty years later, bad cops are more likely to be exposed by cell phone footage than being outed by a whistleblower. I’m not sure if the medium has changed the message.
*. On the face of it The Wailing seems like a fairly standard bit of Asian horror, complete with a demonically possessed little girl and a bleak ending that leaves evil still afoot. But then you note the running time of just over two-and-a-half hours and the precision with which it’s been made and you start paying a little more attention.
*. Does that increased attention pay off? Partly. The Wailing is a beautifully photographed film (Kyung-pyo Hong would go on to shoot Parasite), making it always nice to look at, but I started to wonder after a while if it should look so good. Does that really add anything to the picture?
*. This is a minor point that I’d like to dilate on a bit. There’s a tendency to praise a lot of movies for looking good and for beautiful photography even when looking good is not the point or is even counterproductive. This is often a question to be asked and I don’t think it gets asked enough. I mean, would you expect a John Cassavetes picture to look good? What would be the point?
*. Then there is that running time. This is not a terribly economical film, stretching out through various sequences that I think are excessively built up. This is especially the case with the two big intercut scenes: the exorcism (cutting between the shaman and the Japanese man) and the ending (cutting between Jong-goo confronting the mystery woman and the deacon confronting the Japanese man). Did we need so much back-and-forth here? Doesn’t it make these scenes less effective? They feel like they go on too long and the tension is watered down.
*. Nor do I find it a particularly scary film. Director Na Hong-jin doesn’t go for jump scares and he doesn’t use all the time he takes to build up any set-piece suspenseful moments. Instead there are a lot of strange comic bits that I didn’t think worked that well, with, when you get right down to it, a fairly pedestrian ghost story playing out in the background.
*. So I didn’t love The Wailing. I know I liked it a lot less than reviewers, as it received universal critical praise. But it’s still a good movie. Even as long as it is it’s never dull. And it does do a good job of exploring what I think is its central theme: Where, in the modern world, does authority reside?
*. I don’t mean authority in the pejorative sense it usually has today, as when describing someone or some government as authoritarian. I mean who has power, and in particular the power to serve and to protect. This is a question that is addressed in two different contexts.
*. In the first place there is Jong-goo’s status as father and as a cop. These are roles that we feel should mean something, though both are undercut in the early going. He’s a bumbling, cowardly cop who breaks the law and not much of a father either (his daughter even catches him screwing around on her mom). Nevertheless, this is what he hangs his hat on at the end, that daddy is a policeman and can protect Hyo-jin. Except he can’t. He has no real authority.
*. The second context that the question of authority is addressed in has to do with spiritual matters. Does a shaman have more authority than a priest? Do either have any authority over a ghost or the devil? Without giving too much away (thought you may take this as a spoiler alert) the answer here is again negative. Traditional, established sources of authority are shown to be corrupt and ineffective. This isn’t all that new — I’ve noted before the complete collapse of religion and its ability to challenge the forces of evil in contemporary horror (see my remarks on Paranormal Activity, for example) — and here it only brings things around to what has become a now familiar down-beat conclusion.
*. This questioning of authority is what, in turn, sets up the film’s climax where Jong-goo and the deacon are suspended in doubt about the true nature and identity of the forces they are fighting. How can they know what is really going on? Who can they trust?
*. I’ve heard a lot of people refer to The Wailing as a horror “epic” but I can’t think of what this is referring to aside from its length and maybe some of the photography. Because it’s really a fairly simple story about a rather low-rent demon infesting a mid-size town just for the hell of it. There’s a good twist, but you know a twist is coming and I didn’t find it all that surprising.
*. My own feeling is that the high-end treatment of genre material didn’t do the film any favours. I think I would have enjoyed it more if they hadn’t put so much work into it. Just compare, for example, low-budget J-horror classics like Ringu and Ju-on: The Grudge. For a film like this I’d trade professionalism and high production values for a bit more of that energy and inspiration.
Well, maybe I wouldn’t recommend sidling up to this particular bar. But it seems to only be open at odd hours anyway. Here are some more congenial watering holes, where I’m sure everyone knows your name.
*. The Scorpion King is usually described as a prequel to The Mummy and The Mummy Returns but I don’t see it fitting in the same universe. Apparently the character of Mathayus, a laughable CGI monster at the end of The Mummy Returns, is the same Mathayus who is the hero of this movie, and played by the same actor, but I had trouble making the connection (though the CGI in this film is almost as bad).
*. What I think is of more significance is the genre difference. This really isn’t a Mummy movie but a throwback to the swords-and-sorcery flicks of the 1980s. Not strictly a remake of Conan the Destroyer but very much pressed in the same mold.
*. Dwayne Johnson (still being billed as The Rock) in his first leading role. But is it the movie that launched his career? He would go on to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but looking over his extensive filmography it’s hard to tell exactly when this happened. The Scorpion King did well enough at the box office, but nothing that demanded bringing Johnson back for any of the sequels (of which there have been four at the time of this writing). After this there were a string of action films that didn’t amount to much. And yet, despite not being in any movies that strike me as being memorable, in ten years he had fully inherited the mantle of the action heroes of the previous generation (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, etc.).
*. I’m not knocking Johnson though. A former pro wrestler, he moves better than Schwarzenegger or Stallone, and has a lot more charm. He’s also the only thing this movie has going for it.
*. The plot could not have been simpler or more formulaic. Johnson plays Mathayus, an Akkadian (don’t try and make sense of the history). He’s hired by one of the last free tribes to kill the Sorceress (she doesn’t have a name, and not much in the way of clothes) who is assumed to be the power behind the throne of Memnon, an evil dude whose hordes are raping and pillaging and burning villages. Mathayus picks up a nerdy sidekick, the Sorceress (Kelly Hu) falls in love with him, and together with a Big Black Man (Michael Clarke Duncan), a scientist who has invented explosives, and a bunch of Amazons, he kills Memnon and saves the world. If you’ve seen Conan the Destroyer you should recognize all of these characters.
*. No surprises whatsoever, and the unimpressive villains make it even weaker than it sounds. The lieutenants Takmet and Thorak are disposed of almost as afterthoughts, while Steven Brand as Memnon, despite being given flaming swords to play with at the end, just doesn’t have the requisite weight to go toe-to-toe with the People’s Champ.
*. I didn’t dislike The Scorpion King, but at the same time there’s nothing about it that stands out as being all that good either. It’s not as much fun as the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, and only improves on the Conan movies by being a bit sprightlier. Still, that lightness is also part of the problem. As noted, there is virtually no story here at all, and indeed the original cut was apparently only 70 minutes long, requiring more scenes to be shot.
*. They literally had nothing here but the Rock kicking ass, flexing, and cracking jokes. And I guess he showed that he could carry a film like this on his own. Conan the Barbarian was Schwarzenegger’s calling card, and that was a movie that had a lot more going for it than The Scorpion King. So you have to give Johnson some credit here. Not a lot, but some. It’s a star turn.