Tom Jolliffe looks at the middle era of Jason Statham movies (2010-2015)…
He’s follicly challenged, raspy voiced and a double hard bastard. No, he’s not Vin Diesel, he’s Britain’s own Jason Statham. Statham began his film career almost by accident, plucked from obscurity to star in Guy Ritchie’s breakout film, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Statham’s onscreen introduction saw him appear as a London street peddler selling stolen items. The swagger of his sales pitch to the on-looking crowds (shortly before the arrival of the police) felt authentic and indeed it was true to life for the ex-Diver. As part of a group of upcoming actors and cheeky chappies, Statham had a very definite presence. His career kicked on, further bolstered in his follow up with Guy Ritchie, taking on the lead role in Snatch.
For the next few years Statham slowly established himself. He worked with John Carpenter in Ghosts of Mars, and then saw a shift toward action films. He starred opposite Jet Li in The One, which had action designed by Corey Yuen. Though he wouldn’t particularly display his own martial arts ability too much, this would lead to his first breakout action role in The Transporter. Corey Yuen, the HK martial arts legend, would again take care of the action (as he did for almost every Jet Li production in Hollywood) with Louis Letterier co-directing. The film spawned two sequels marking Statham as a bankable lower budget action star for the theatrical market. His films tending to shoot for around 20-25 million dollars and making a tidy enough profit to warrant a continuation. He had a particularly niche audience section, without (yet) coming up to the level of some of the bigger icons.
That first career period saw Statham plug efficiently along, with mostly moderate success and enough goodwill to keep going. Then came the trigger point for stage 2. Statham had earned enough kudos as a martial arts tough guy. He was one of a few prolific action heroes who still retained a big screen presence. Studios were putting just enough into the films to ensure a tidy return and not overselling themselves. By 2010, it would come as no surprise that Sylvester Stallone’s brainchild, The Expendables, would come looking for him. The idea was to bring together a collective of renowned tough guys, some older, some new wave, and creating an old school throwback. With Stallone you had Dolph Lundgren, pulled from a lengthy straight to video wilderness back to the limelight. You also had Jet Li at the tail end of his moderately successful Hollywood run. Much like Statham, his films weren’t huge, but proved profitable enough to maintain continuation. Later, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis would also join. Statham slotted into the mix and moreover would rank as the number 2, alongside Stallone in the first picture. The film was a big hit, opening Statham’s appeal to a potentially wider audience.
The next few years saw his mid-era. Here Statham’s brand had never been higher. He was now one of the boys as far as action legends before his next kick on point. Interestingly, the last Expendables film in 2015, came at a key point, bookending that middle period. This would be the year he really found himself at the forefront of the Fast franchise. His first major role within the car franchise was taking on lead villain duties in the seventh film (after a teasing cameo in the 6th). He also broadened his appeal still further with Spy which brought some of his best reviews for brilliantly sending up his growling tough guy image. The Stath since 2015 has thus transitioned into becoming bankable on a larger and wider scale and leading films with enormous budgets. If rumours are to be believed Expendables 4 will be (quite sensibly) Statham-centred. His mega-shark opus, The Meg proved hugely popular around the world too, also proving that he could suitably lead something a bit more fantastical. Statham has been open about his own limitations, but has now found a successful way to utilise his biggest strengths.
Back to said middle era though… Statham looked to be moving up a notch or two, whilst simultaneously trying to do one or two variations on his action formula. There was an interesting selection of films that always seemed to pull in enough around the world to keep more coming, but that still didn’t quite suggest he’d become a tent-pole lead. The bigger productions would indeed be those subsequent returns to The Expendables. Having re-watched a wave of them recently, there are some very watchable and enjoyable genre films. Blitz in 2011 saw Statham return to the UK to film a very Hollywood-esque serial killer thriller. Statham is a burnt out cop, known for excessive force who finds his force being targeted by a killer called Blitz who has a vendetta against the police. It’s a grimy looking film, much of which is shot at night but Statham uses the growl to good effect, reluctantly teaming with a by the book cop, played by Paddy Considine. Considine is a great actor, elevating the role of a cop whose reputation in the force is in the duldrums due to being gay, but further, being a grass who takes down other cops. It’s a decent film with a good growing dynamic between the two, and one which doesn’t fall back on Statham’s martial arts too much. Oddly, this one proved slightly less popular than perhaps more generic action fare. It marked a step away, rather than a leap, from his comfort zone.
A few of Statham’s film within that period were more his bread and butter. The Mechanic, a semi-remake of the Michael Winner/Charles Bronson 70’s thriller saw the Stath as a hit-man with a specialty in making hits look like accidents. Whilst the film meanders a little, it proved a fairly enjoyable slice of action. It’s very much the epitome of the mid budget Statham, ‘does what it says on the tin’ special. If it’s your cup of chai, you’ll enjoy it. If not, you’ll probably think it’s a cup of post washing-up sink water. Statham does his thing, whilst Ben Foster does what he’s often so effortlessly done, and steals the film as an enthralling character actor. The central concept of making deaths look like accidents/natural causes has limited stamina, and of course there are moments where all guns blaze and fists and feet fly (this is also particularly the case in the sequel which came in 2015).
Around this time Statham also did the solidly enjoyable and more action packed Safe. It sees him as a burned out ex cop turned nihilistic/self destructive cage fighter, turned suicidal vagrant in hiding who finds a new purpose to live, and protect a young girl who has memorised special vault combinations (and has triads, Russian mafia and bent coppers chasing her down). Boaz Yakin’s film is loaded with plenty of frantic and Statham friendly fight sequences. It’s a proper meat and potatoes action film and one of the better Stath solo projects of the previous decade. Statham also shared the lead in The Killer Elite (another semi-remake, with Clive Owen and Robert De Niro) and Parker (opposite Jennifer Lopez). Both marked reasonable time passers, the latter of which failing to ignite the kind of chemistry it probably needed to get by.
One of the more interesting films of the period was Redemption (also known as Hummingbird). In some regards it shares similarities to the opening of Safe. Statham ventures to the streets, shamed, hunted and in hiding. He’s now homeless but finds an empty apartment, assuming the identity of the owner, before going on his own redemptive quest. This is interesting in as much as, the kick off and core character journeys are very similar in Safe and Redemption. On the one hand you have the more generically action heavy Safe. On the other you have this film written by Oscar nominee Steven Knight (Locke, Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things). This was certainly a bigger step away for Statham as much he’d done prior, although the film suffers from this unshakable battle between conforming to the Statham formula, and wanting to be more, something Knight admirably attempts but couldn’t quite pull off. At times it feels like it’s not sure of its identity, and interestingly, some of the Stath-action almost feels forced as a point of market focus.
In the end, this period in Statham’s career saw a continuation of doing what was working, as well as some fleeting steps into trying some new things. The associated excitement with his Fast 6 cameo suggested that he’d be warmly received as a villain in the next film. That proved to be the case, and going into part 8 it was becoming increasingly clear that, alongside The Rock, Statham was proving to be one of the most popular elements in the franchises second half arc. Statham now finds himself in a good position too. The spin off, Hobbs and Shaw showed the willingness for audiences to abscond to Johnson and Statham’s venture, whilst Statham’s careful attitude to on set politics means the door has remained open on the main franchise. Elsewhere he’s got more Megs to punch in the face, another Spy film, the new Expendables and there have been two more Guy Ritchie collaborations. Statham is flying higher than ever, but lets not forget that middle era with some enjoyable Stath-action (many of which are regular streaming additions).
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.