26 films, 2,621 minutes and 20,000+ words later... What do I take away from this little journey through the Collected Works of Jason Statham? He's no Arnold. That's intended both as a compliment and a warning: Statham is a genuinely strong actor and a perfect example of what happens when you don't choose (or aren't offered) solid scripts with good directors. He started out with much better acting chops than Arnold, and he seems to have no shortage of personality, but he seriously lacks Arnold's excellent business acumen and intelligent handling of his persona. Arnold was always larger than life before getting into acting and grew leaps and bounds in ability afterward due to the constant challenges he placed upon himself. If Arnold had gone the Conan the Destroyer-Red Sonja-Raw Deal-Red Heat path and not taken huge chances with The Terminator, Commando, Predator, and Twins, he might very well have had a career that would look awfully similar to Statham's.
Statham has some movies I adore (including several new personal favorites), only a handful of complete turkeys, and a whole lot of forgettable crap inbetween. So if you pick a Statham movie at random, you're probably not going to come back for a second one, and that in turn makes you very likely to stay away from anything else he does unless he gets massive critical acclaim. Which he never does. He does thankfully have his niche and a legion of loyal fans, which I'm happy and unembarrassed to say includes me. I will always be willing to try out another Statham movie, but I'm not very likely to do so in the theater. That's a pretty marked contrast to the majority of the other actors I really enjoy where I get all twitchy if I can't arrange to see their new movie opening night.
Statham movies don't seem to quite scratch the same escapism itch that Arnold always did for me. Outside of perhaps Crank, there really wasn't a single one of his movies that felt like he transported me to some other living, breathing world. He is often over-the-top badass, but equally often under very generic and bland circumstances. I have a lot of trouble reconciling the badassery with the largely forgettable movies. I find Statham a wonderfully compelling and interesting actor, he just really hasn't done anything with it. That string of groaners in the early 2010s very nearly did me in and made me give up.
I like to imagine a world where Statham followed up The Transporter and The Italian Job with Crank, The Bank Job, and Safe and then went on to stratospheric heights from there. Perhaps ultimately Statham best serves as a cautionary tale to the would-be actors out there: Acting and stardom are a huge crapshoot. You can have all the talent in the world, pour your heart and soul into your craft, get all the good breaks, but it won't guarantee your next film will be a success. Statham has at least established himself well enough that he won't be hurting for work anytime soon. I leave this saga somewhat disheartened at the promise of what could have been, but ever hopeful for The Big One for him that seems perpetually just around the corner.