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In Praise of Jason Statham in The Mechanic 1 & 2

From New Orleans to the South Pacific, Statham enters stealth mode as a hitman on the run.

By Benjamin Bullard

Maybe it’s Mardi Gras... or maybe it’s just coincidence. Either way, cool action movies set in New Orleans are having a bit of a February renaissance on Peacock, where fans have a chance to catch Jason Statham skulking around the Big Easy in 2011’s The Mechanic (stream it here!) and points far beyond in Mechanic: Resurrection, its high-octane 2016 sequel (streaming on Peacock here).

A modern-day revival of the cult classic, same-named 1972 action thriller starring Charles Bronson, The Mechanic (as well as the sequel) was co-produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff — the same producing pair who were there to launch the original 1970s IP nearly 40 years earlier, before tapping Statham to lead the franchise’s bigger-budget (and far more explosive) 2010s revival as series hero (and seemingly death-proof hitman) Arthur Bishop.

There's probably a skin-deep comparison in these movies with the Hitman video game franchise, but the comparison's definitely there: Sporting an almost-smooth balding look just a stubble’s edge beyond Agent 47’s famous chrome dome, Statham accepts assassination missions, relies on disguises (or whatever else the environment provides), and takes down his targets with an obedient, all-pro operator’s efficiency… until, that is, a treacherous fly in the ointment high up in the chain of command gives him a satisfying reason to go rogue.

For More on Jason Statham:
Remembering Crank, Jason Statham’s Adrenaline-Fueled Race to Survive
Why Jason Statham Prefers Action Roles Like Fast & Furious Over Playing a Superhero
Fast Saga Stars Joke About Han & Shaw’s Fast X Reunion

The Mechanic: A quieter (but still badass!) side of Jason Statham

Make no mistake: There’s plenty of implausibly bonkers action in The Mechanic, complete with ridiculously elaborate set pieces that rate right up there with anything Daniel Craig’s ever done in a James Bond flick. But unlike his adrenalized anti-hero in the gonzo Crank franchise or his shoot-first smart aleck Deckard Shaw character in the Fast & Furious films, Statham puts on more of a slow-burn assassin’s show in The Mechanic.

When he’s not carrying out his next high-stakes hit mission, Arthur (Statham) likes to relax at his well-appointed bayou bachelor pad with some Schubert playing on his pricey tube-powered turntable, while hitting the garage to tinker here and there with his sweet, maroon-tinted 1960s-vintage Jaguar XK-E. If he makes a romantic pal or two along the way, well hey — it can’t be helped. But the real intrigue in Statham’s 2011 comeback flick is the movie’s confident, deliberately-paced setup for a sorta-tragic, bittersweet story of doomed mentorship between Arthur, the seasoned veteran, and Steve McKenna (an especially on-point Ben Foster), the son of a revered assassin’s contact named Harry (played to grizzled, world-weary perfection by Donald Sutherland).

Ben Foster walks away from an explosion in The Mechanic (2011).

Thanks to some early plot twists that’re too good to spoil, Arthur agrees to take Steve on as a protégé, training him in all the assassin’s arts that Steve missed out on by being the son of a violent man who wanted to shelter his flesh and blood from the same kind of hard-knock life. But early on, the movie lays breadcrumbs to hint that Steve and Arthur are in an uneasy arrangement, one that just can’t last as Steve begins to be haunted by some especially spooky ghosts from Arthur’s hidden past.

Though the action ratchets up with each shared-duty mission, the real intrigue in watching The Mechanic comes from spying on Statham in Arthur’s quieter moments, where he gets to brood over some genuinely sticky moral quandaries that most of Statham’s other action roles afford him little time to explore with any depth.

Mechanic: Resurrection — The video game you don’t have to play

The story swerved Statham back onto a more conventional action track in Mechanic: Resurrection, a sequel directed by Dennis Gansel (the creative mind behind the critically praised 2010 German vampire horror film We Are the Night). Bigger, more brutal, and exuberantly more focused on putting Arthur in ingeniously impossible assassination scenarios, Resurrection wraps its husk of a plot around the go-here, kill-this structure of what could easily pass as an actual video game.

This time out, a loathsome associate from Arthur’s past named Riah Crain (played with oodles of smarm by Sam Hazeldine) has the goods on our low-key fugitive’s whereabouts — not to mention his faked-death cover story that traces back to the end of the first film. Figuring he can wield Arthur like an unwilling tool to smite a trio of crime-lord competitors from his globe-spanning underground network, Crain ransoms Arthur’s current love interest (an outreach worker named Gina Thornton, played by Jessica Alba), kidnapping her from Arthur’s off-grid love nest in southeast Asia while commanding Arthur to take down the three targets, one after another, if he ever wants to see Gina alive again.

Gina (Jessica Alba) is held captive by two men wearing police vests in Mechanic: Resurrection (2016).

The setup couldn’t be simpler, pointing Arthur like a heat-seeking action-game player avatar at an imprisoned African warlord named Krill (Arthur has to get himself arrested in Malaysia to make the kill!); then at an eccentric and paranoid Aussie human trafficking guru who meets his demise (thanks to Arthur’s MacGyver-like ingenuity) in a spectacular fall from the broken glass bottom of a cantilevered swimming pool suspended high amid the Sydney skyline. The whole thing plays out with video game logic, as we watch Arthur swoop from one South Pacific assassin’s stop to the next, doing no more and no less than what it takes to kill the crook, make sure Gina’s still alive via her hostage-monitored video phone, and devise some way to take Crain down before the third and final kill — an event that’s sure to end with Crain proving treacherous to his word.

That third kill is pretty interesting, though, with Tommy Lee Jones sporting an uncharacteristic soul-patch goatee and an earring as a flamboyant arms dealer named Max. Arthur figures he can team up with Max to take Crain down instead of obediently murdering him, and sure enough, the two exchange almost no words before they’ve hit it off as an unlikely duo of sorta-bad guys who intuitively understand each other. Jones’ appearance is a late-movie high point after all the exhaustion of running right alongside Statham’s level-upping kill missions at a breakneck pace, and it leaves all the right heroes alive at the end — as well as the possibility, so far unconfirmed, that the story might even continue into a potential third Mechanic film.

How to stream The Mechanic and Mechanic: Resurrection

It’s tough to pick a favorite between The Mechanic and Mechanic: Resurrection. One movie is refreshingly rich with the kind of double-crossing intrigue story that most action movies tend to skip; while the other is just over-the-top, big-budget action fun. Thankfully, each runs only about an hour and a half in length, meaning you can catch up with Statham’s stealthy killer deeds in about the same time it would take you to watch Oppenheimer (which you can also stream on Peacock!).

Watch The Mechanic on Peacock here, and stick around for Mechanic: Resurrection, streaming on Peacock here.