The College Conservative has done many reviews of popular films over the past few months. Some of these include Noah, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and most recently, Dinesh D’Souza’s America. I’ve seen all of the films, and I’ve been impressed with all three. But the film I’d like to review today is being written not out of enthusiasm, but out of bitter disappointment. Michael Bay’s Transformers 4: Age of Extinction has to be one of the worst films of the summer, if not the entire year. What makes it so bad is the producer’s arrogance and belittlement to the audience, though the horrific acting helped no one.
Michael Bay and company made three Transformers films before their latest installments. None of the films were ever hailed for their brilliant acting, mostly because the acting in the first three films was simply decent. It wasn’t something that was unbearable, it was something that we could simply live with. Shia Lebouf was ten times better than Mark Wahlberg (although Wahlberg was amazing in Lone Survivor) Josh Dumel and his gang of Special Forces soldiers make much better minor characters than the obscure and angry government agents, and Megan Fox screamed a lot less than the new poster child, Nicola Petz. Simply put, the acting in Transformers 4 was simply nauseating, and it ruined the storytelling experience for everyone.
Seriously Nicola, stop screaming.
Whenever someone asked me what I thought about the movie, I repeated the same explanations multiple times: “The acting was unbearable and the plot made no sense. Seriously, they actually found a way to insert Dinosaurs into the plot.” But reflecting and stewing upon my righteous grumpiness, I realized a few aspects about the film that caused me more grief than Nicola’s shrieks, particularly the behavior of Michael Bay.
First, Either Michael Bay doesn’t believe you’re worth the effort to make quality, or he’s just really bad.
After walking out of the film, I felt a little bit betrayed. How did someone approve a film this bad to head to the box office? More importantly, how is a film this bad bringing in 500 million dollars? It’s simple: America will pay for explosions, popular brands, and some sort of computer animated destruction better than last year’s. Michael Bay knows that, he didn’t have a problem saying he doesn’t care who doesn’t like Transformers. He knows you’ll come out of loyalty anyway, and then he’ll pocket a pretty penny. The result of such behavior by producer and customer is something far more troubling than the imminent robot apocalypse every film surrounds itself with, it speaks volumes of us and him.
Fast.co explained the problem with Michael Bay’s production style brilliantly in their piece, “Why Do We Need Bay’s Cinematic Bayhem?”
It is not enough for Michael Bay to film someone having a conversation on the telephone. In that shot, everything will be moving. The camera will swoop around the actor in one direction from below, as the actor himself will turn in the other, which in conjunction with layers of depth in the foreground and background will give the scene an effect almost like parallax scrolling. This makes quiet shots feel epic, and epic shots even epic-er. But the shots themselves are almost always the same. In many ways, Bay is like a purple prose writer, always trying to knock it out of the park with every sentence, but never considering the subtle rhythms that need to work in the good of the whole.
Simply put, Bay believes that simply appealing to to the eye is the best way to make a film. It’s worries me, that he directs his films as if the eye and the mind of the viewer are two different objects, that don’t relate to each other. Bay throws every penny into stimulating the eye, ignoring the mind and insulting his audience by perceiving them at such a low value.
Worse than Bay’s arrogance, however, might be that the consumer (myself included) continually flocking to his films in a fashion eerily reminiscent of Stockholm Syndrome.’
Secondly, The Chinese market is far more lavish and their government far more effective.
When a few Transformers run around suburban Illinois in Bay’s film, the United States Government is not just hapless to stop any damage from being done, they’re in bed with the Transformer’s leaders. Inept, and in-adequate to the handle the situation, the US authorities through the first three installments were always portrayed as lackluster in fighting off alien invaders that has not changed in this film. Usually, it takes the Americans 2 & 1/2 hours into the movie to formulate a decent response to Alien invaders. However, in this film, when the invaders were in China, it took the Chinese all of 30 seconds to respond. “The Central Government will respond, we will defend Hong Kong” announces the the Chinese Sea Captain. Within a few minutes, a Chinese Defense Minister is rallying the troops for battle.
Why is the Chinese government so adequate in responding to the situation in the film, but the American Government is hapless? Simple: this was simply a hat tip to Chinese officials, in an effort to get better graces within their film market. We have to imagine that our movies were eventually going to be tailored more toward the Chinese market, but this film was not simply tailored to The Chinese, it was funded by the Chinese. China is expected to have the largest market for film very soon, so it’s no surprise Bay jumped on the opportunity. To better explain Bay’s involvement in China, Variety’s David Cohen said it best:
In America, you can lampoon the government and portray all the manner of death and mayhem, as long as you flatter the audience. In China, you can lampoon the audience and portray all manner of death and mayhem, as long as you flatter the government.
My third take away from the film, is that it is a signal for the direction of the rest of the American Film Industry. Long story short, it should not surprise any of us that the movie turned out this way. This film and it’s enormous amount of profits show us that the movie industry in the direction of appeasement: appeasing the eye and appeasing China. After all, if the money is in China, that is where the movies will continue to go. The Chinese want conformity and praise for their government in movies portraying them, so all new movies seeking profits in China will need to follow through on this demand.
This movie is simply a taste of what the future will likely be more like: appeasement, conformity and profit chasing.