I feel equal parts bad and excited for the Justice League movie scheduled for release in 2017. I feel bad because with two Avengers films, three Expendables, and seven Fast and Furious’ the hero-team formula is growing wearisome. I feel excited because by 2017 the filmmakers might be even more motivated to actually make a good team action movie.
My beef with these three film series is that they no longer flow. The respective films aren’t films. They’re like seven or eight, twelve minute scenes glued together and then labeled “movie.” Each character gets a cameo, they have one on screen moment fighting back to back and then the credits roll.
My excitement for the future of team movies–and Justice League in particular–comes from the success of the movie Legends of the Fall. Remember that one? I can still hear my brother’s excited hope-whisper during the final scene. I see no difference between that team-of-heroes movie and these recent ones. There’s Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel, and the dad, Susannah, and One Stab round out the good guys. That’s six essentially main character’s in my book. Obviously Brad Pitt was “the rock they broke themselves against”, but that’s exactly my point. In the three series I’ve mentioned, it was exciting to see the first of each of these movies the because they were new. But on the whole, teams aren’t what movies or, as I’ll argue in a minute, any art is even about.
Avengers One worked decently because it was essentially Ironman on steroids. Number two was not about Ironman. That’s why it isn’t as good. (Not to mention that the “age” of Ultron was hardly long enough to be a “week” let alone an “age” which means that the team behind the movie didn’t even know what their movie was about–fail.) Expendables One was about Stallone. Two and three were not as focused–therefore not as good–as they tried to spread the wealth. And then with the Furious movies, Vin Diesel is cool as shyat, but honestly the Rock can’t stop cookin’ when he’s in a movie. It’s either main good guy or main bad guy for that Übermensch.
This brings us to all art. I like to think about all art the same way. Take Beethoven’s ninth. Everyone knows the simple motif that doesn’t appear until the fourth movement. It is eight notes. The symphony is over an hour long, but boils down to only eight notes. I’d call that motif the “main character”. All the other music makes it seem like there’s a team thing, but there isn’t.
Another example would be Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. For all of the many scenes, the main character is the “divine spark” taking place between God and Adam. (No, it is not an accident that these two masterpieces have the moment of creation at their core.)
Which leads to the only thing there is left to say on the subject. In the forthcoming Justice League movie, there must be a main character. And the main character must be Batman.
The first Transformers movie will always have a special place in my heart. Instructor pilots of mine piloted the MH-53 that was the movie-opening Decepticon “Blackout”. Michael Bay even hand chose the pilot that marked me “unsatisfactory” once to be the hologram that “piloted” Blackout and later had a scene in the police car that interrogated Ladiesman217 (Shai LaBeouf).
I need a minute.
Okay, back to the review. Then came the second and third installments. Admittedly they were less than inspiring.
Then number four lost LaBeouf, but gained Marky Mark. Not interested enough to see the film in the theater, I started watching it four weeks ago, and finally finished it yesterday. Why did it take so long? And why did I persist, you ask? Because Optimus Prime riding a T-Rex Dynobot only happens once in a lifetime. And because that darn scene didn’t occur until the 133rd minute in the 165 minute film. But I still got goosebumps. It is awesome.
Here’s what some reviewers said about number 4 on Rotten Tomatoes:
“In the end, though, this is still a movie about giant robots fighting each other, which is to say it’s nearly impossible to take seriously on a narrative level.”
“Inflated, interminable and incoherent …”
“Transformers: Age of Extinction is simply more of the same mindless action, flat characters, and utter boredom that we’ve come to expect from these bloated mechanical sequels.”
And my personal favorite:
“Transformers have souls, this movie repeatedly tells us, but does Michael Bay?”
Know what I say? I say Michael Bay has a soul and it is the soul of a genius. Stay with me. I began watching this movie after listening to H- play for hours on end with a Beauty and the Beast doll set. The set included Belle and a few dresses, the human prince, and a Beast suit to put over the prince. (She hasn’t seen the movie yet.) These three characters became Belle, Belle’s father, and Beast (never mind he doesn’t have legs). And soon thereafter a lego character entered the mix so that it was an even two-on-two. Good guys became bad guys; characters that died came back to life; Beast was always asleep in the moments before only he could save the day. You know I love this child, but listening to her play can be mind-numbing.
Now, I can memorize a two hour movie’s story-line after one viewing, yet can’t follow, let alone repeat, H-‘s story-lines. Michael Bay, on the other hand, can. If you watch Transformers 4 as if you’re watching a four-year-old holding the actors and robots alike and performing all the voice acting, then the movie is perfect. Simply perfect. All the characters are yelling, injured, needing help, fighting, crying, whining, dying, or repeating some cheesy line they probably just heard the day before on TV. Even the scene where the boy and girl kiss after the victory seems like a child is forcing the two of them together while saying, “Mmua, Mmua” and thinking, “Eww gross”. The poor kid knows kissing is what happens when good guys win, but doesn’t understand why.
The genius of the movie and what the critics forget is that it is quite literally a movie about toys in the first place. Perhaps it is the 2007 installment that should be viewed as the fluke. But now with the fourth installment we’re finally getting to the heart of why Transformer toys and Transformers 4 are so great. And all these nay-saying critics probably don’t recognize that when they got big, they became the guy from Big who thinks that there’s something fun about a building that turns into a robot.
The special operations warriors segregated themselves from the rest of the soldiers in the DFAC. “Deefak” is how everyone referred to the dining facility–the chow hall. After only a matter of days in-country, it became apparent to all how to distinguish those who worked inside “the fence” from those who worked outside “the fence”. These men worked outside the fence. They weren’t necessarily more dedicated, or smarter, but they had always wanted to do what they were doing and happened to be good at it. And they were dedicated. And they were smart.
On the ceiling of the DFAC hung flags. There were flags of the different nations of the world that were in the coalition of forces, and flags of the 50 states.
Suddenly, after a break in the conversation, one of the men spoke up.
“Hatu. Huh, where’s that country? It sounds familiar, but I can’t seem to place it. South America? Africa?” he asked.
“Definitely Africa,” chimed in one of the men more respected for his book knowledge.
“I don’t know,” said another.
“It doesn’t have an African ring to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in South America,” challenged a third.
Without the internet at their fingertips, the hard men were left with all the nuances of communication to determine who to believe–conviction in the voice, the tone of voice, facial expressions, and look of the eyes. Lastly, all waited to see if somebody would wager that they were correct. No one was so bold.
At last, all eyes found themselves gazing at the flag, trying to look for clues. The stocky mustached reader finally broke the silence.
“Hatu. Ha. Morons. It’s not Hatu, it’s Utah. You just read it from the back side of the flag.”
In all caps, it was an easy mistake we suppose, but one that silenced this proud group of men for some time.