21 June 2017

From Transormers To Transformographagizers

Okay, listen - we need to get something out the way right now - this blog's fate is and always will be intrinsically intertwined with Michael Bay's Transformers franchise. I never thought I'd write that. Ever. Amazingly, this franchise predates this blog, going ten years strong now, but one of my first articles ever was an exceedingly long impression of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and then another one when I saw the film a second time in IMAX. For a little behind the scenes info, for some reason my Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) impressions are the #2 all-time viewed post on this site. Hey, you tell me. Also Age of Extinction (2014) exists.

But in this one, Optimus chops off a bunch of heads!
I've written 26 posts with some reference to this terrible franchise, most notably recently an analysis of the series of bizarre Last Knight (2017) feminist trailers that continue to be inexplicable and incongruous with a franchise that obsessively oggled Megan Fox's car mechanic ass and continually throws glasses on hot women because they're also the smartest women in the world. That's a lot to take in. I ranked The Last Knight as #2 on my most anticipated Summer Movies. Am I totally off base and insane here? In a summer of continually dwindling returns, barring a few great exceptions, what makes another mindless and horribly stupid Transformers sequel stand out? That was so many links. Catch up.

For some reason, and this is likely totally in my head, I feel as if Transformers tends to own its stupidity better than other movies. King Arthur (2017) can't escape its self-seriousness amidst the sheer dumbness of using its Arthurian Legend mythology as a basis for blockbuster entertainment. Alien: Covenant (2017) can't escape the fact that it's just a lesser version of Alien (1979) with a hackneyed sprinkle of proto-Alien (Prometheus [2012]). Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) is so long-dead and played out without knowing it to be embarrassing. It keeps leeching off Johnny Depp's stardom, ironically without realizing that although it was the vehicle that propelled him into the stratosphere, it's now the reason why people are most sick of him.

How does Transformers escape these issues? Well, for the population at large I'd argue that it largely doesn't. Age of Extinction grossed substantially less dollars stateside than any other release, despite making 77% of its profit overseas to still crack a billion at the global box office. That was obviously a lot of Chinese pandering, which along the way became a poster child for the new international model of blockbuster filmmaking - sacrificing a coherent story for greater worldwide returns. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, this is a business after all, never more so than with this franchise.

And that's just it - I often think that a film fails or succeeds based on what it's trying to do. Transformers have never pretended to be anything other than an absurdly eye-rolling exercise in making money. They have no pretense whatsoever of being art of any kind. Its product placement borders on Josie and the Pussycats (2001)-levels to the point of parody. It ignores almost any kind of overarching story or plot progression between installments, favors flashy attention-grabbing visuals over a coherent style and heavily believes in sex, explosions, and robots that hide an intricate space age melodrama that could be explained or could not be. Videos like this are hilarious because their outrageous suggestions are only a shade more insane than what you're actually seeing on screen.

Let's look at this flick next to The Mummy (2017) from two weeks ago. Like Johnny Depp, Cruise's star ain't shining so bright no more, although to his credit, he's still fairly popular in the public consciousness. Still, he's terribly miscast. Transformers kind of works because these CGI robots will never get old. Has there ever been a more endearing CGI character than Optimus Prime? Sure you got Caesar in the newer Planet of the Apes movies (who is totally a better character), but he didn't pull off five movies in ten years, totaling over $4 billion by the time The Last Knight is done. When Mark Wahlberg gets old and weird they can find some new dumb human sidekick to slap in there - it clearly didn't bother anyone when Shia LaBeouf was trashed. None of that shit is why people watch these movies. Explosion! KER-KROOOOSSHH! Baysplosion!!!

This isn't just a mix you can throw together anywhere, though. Battleship (2013) failed because it didn't wear its stupidity on its sleeve enough. It's as if Transformers was humble enough to admit to itself, "Listen, these are giant films based on a crummy 80s television cartoon that was designed to sell toys. Let's embrace this completely moronic identity and have some damn fun with it." There is no shame to be found anywhere here. Why does Michael Bay keep making these films? He had Pain & Gain (2013) in there - a legitimately great, yet also completely bonkers film! Should we be grateful or saddened that this has taken 10 years of his life away from other insanely dumb movies? Transformers are five bullets and counting out of Bay's career. We could have had five other terrible films. Imagine a Michael Bay Cowboys & Aliens (2011) or Michael Bay's Edge of Tomorrow (2014). These are weird dreams.

Nope.
So what about The Last Knight specifically? Oh, who cares. The story doesn't matter, and we already know it's something incomprehensible. I'll admit anger in what I perceive to be Diesel's bunging of the "Leader Gone Bad" 2017 trope in The Fate of the Furious (2017). I want to see Optimus Prime as a true blue evil sumbitch. Of course, that's not the only thing going on here by far. Weird little girl struggling to survive in a partially destroyed Chicago? Ancient Medieval Transformers? Mark Wahlberg returning as the inexplicably named Cade Yeager? Anthony Hopkins having literally no idea what's going on?! See, this is what it's all about. Take a great actor, who has no qualms whatsoever about spending his twilight years in trash after trash, who is so damn GAME for this stupid crap. I love how Hopkins has played old wizened characters for like thirty years now. You have to just give in to this level of ridiculousness that is so far beyond anything else Hollywood is doing this summer. This isn't a desperate cry for attention like Pirates of the Caribbean attempting another go at a dead franchise, this isn't a pathetic failed start to a terribly misguided shared universe that was doomed before it began. This is Transformers. They don't give a flying monkey fuck what you think of them because they've never made a good movie. There's no tainting of the franchise or argument against excess or "getting it back to its humble roots" or any of that crap. This is nuts and proud of it.

Age of Extinction wasn't actually even about saving the world or anything, come to think of it. The only destruction was that evil black alien robot bounty hunter using his magnetic pulse to try to suck up Optimus Prime. And Frasier just wanted to kill the Transformers for the sake of America. Oh, I guess there was that Galvatron bit, but he didn't really have a plot, just running amok and ruining Apple's image. Damn that's three plots right there. Any other film would be content to pick any single one, but Transformers doesn't even stop there! Cade Yeager and his failed farm / hot daughter, baby! I love it. I love it so much. It's not for everyone, though.

There's some cool shit here for diehards, though. We finally get Hot Rod on screen, who was probably notable enough to be in the original Transformers (2007), but has taken five movies to get to for some reason. We also get the return of Megatron, which I think is kind of lame, since Galvatron being insane is the single greatest part of The Transformers: The Movie (1986), and then throughout Season Two. I'm really just waiting for Unicron. It's taken them so damn long. I suppose we'll get that in Transformers 19 (2045) or whatever. Maybe we'll get Beast Wars then too. Let's finally get to what we're here for, that cultural, commercial, critical crap.

First, it's no secret where the critical consensus will land. Dark of the Moon may have been the most solid reviewed, but generally Transformers is seen as okay, then anything else has a tough time breaking 40% on RT. There's simply no way The Last Knight can or will ever be considered a good movie in a context-free, objective, filmmaking-perspective.

And uh...Lobsterfacemotron.
Commercially, it ought to do well, I'm thinking that it will have a similar Age of Extinction feel, where it doesn't do great stateside but cleans up overseas, although almost certainly to a lesser extent. The world is weary. Then again, it has next to no competition. Wonder Woman (2017) is still anyone's best bet in theaters, and although it will assuredly clear $300 million domestically (probably next week), it won't get to $400 million, and it's long enough in release for anticipation to burn off. The Mummy isn't threatening anyone, and last week's four films seemed to split everyone up pretty thoroughly, with all non-All Eyez on Me (2017) insanely underperforming. And I don't usually talk about last week's pictures here, I mean, that's old news, but damn, Rough Night (2017). What the hell happened? I may chalk this up to being another forgettable comedy with a terrible title, but how much must Kate McKinnon's talents be wasted until she becomes a movie star?

Looking into next week, there's not much to stand in The Last Knight's way. We got like, Baby Driver (2017) and The House (2017), but they won't really threaten the audiences that are going to see Transformers. After that I do think it'll run into trouble with Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), War of the Planet of the Apes (2017), and Dunkirk (2017) back to back to back, which will all assuredly make some bank.

Culturally, Transformers is here to stay. That's for sure. I don't know if The Last Knight will really have a lasting impact, Age of Extinction really didn't - it's all just kind of more shit at this point. Still, Dino-bots. Those are cool. I suppose a lot of the iconography of Extinction has stuck around, and some scenes are sweet, but there's literally nothing in the plot that stands out in my mind. This will be the same shit. I know it, you know it, Anthony Hopkins knows it. It's all good.

So there you go. You know I love writing about this schlocky dumb crap. Are you still into this decade-old franchise or ready to kick it to the scrapyard? For now, let's watch the trailer again:



See you around the playground, friendo.

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