Bumblebee (2018)

2019 #83
Travis Knight | 114 mins | Blu-ray (UHD) | 16:9 | USA & China / English | PG / PG-13

Bumblebee

The live-action Transformers movies, eh? Seemingly hated by everyone, critics and fans alike, and yet combined the first five grossed almost $4.4 billion at the global box office. Nonetheless, with the fifth one being the lowest grossing so far, and Michael Bay finally making good on his oft-repeated desire to leave the series’ director’s chair, someone clearly felt it was time for a change. That brings us to Bumblebee, a spin-off (it’s focused around the de facto second-in-command Transformer) cum prequel (it’s set in the ’80s, explaining some events that occurred before the 2007 movie) cum soft reboot (with redesigned characters and nothing that explicitly ties it to the Bay films, this could be the start of a whole new continuity). Did fans finally get what they want? Well, maybe, but it obviously didn’t work for the wider audience: the film took $468 million worldwide, which is good in itself but still represents almost a $140 million drop from the previous film. And it didn’t work for me, either: Bumblebee isn’t necessarily any better than the best of the Bay-era films, it’s just middling in different ways.

The film begins much like Man of Steel: launching us into a conflict between aliens on a distant planet. I criticised that film for throwing us into the deep end with a bunch of hard-sci-fi mumbo-jumbo, and I find similar fault here. I guess the point is to get an Epic Action Sequence up front (unlike Man of Steel, where it’s political arguing, here it’s a full-blown battle) and to show off the new-look old-style Transformers, which have been modelled more on their appearance in the ’80s cartoon series. But it does nothing to dispel the notion that this is nothing like the Bay films — it’s just another frenzy of metal-on-metal and garbled mythology. Then Bumblebee, who’s mainly identifiable as “the yellow Transformer”, gets sent off to Earth, where he accidentally winds up in a scrap with some military types. More action, but with a slight change of pace.

Bayhem never dies

Only after all this has gone down do we finally get to the supposed point of the movie. We’re introduced to Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager in 1980s California who likes listening to 1980s music and wearing 1980s clothes and doing other 1980s things because this is set in the 1980s. She’s down on her luck for various reasons, but what she really wants is a car. She finds one in a boat scrapyard (totally logical), but that turns out to be Bumblebee in disguise, and suddenly she has a giant robot for a best friend. But Captain Military Man (John Cena — I have no idea what his character name was. I could look it up, but this was more amusing), who Bumblebee fought with in that second action sequence, is on the hunt for our big yellow friend, and so are some Decepticons (the bad robots).

The “a girl and her robot” angle is what the film was sold on, combined with the ’80s setting to suggest a throwback to movies of that era, like E.T. and so on. I quite like it as a concept — it’s certainly a change of pace from the increasingly overblown city-destroying world-saving antics of the earlier films — but it’s the execution that disappointed me. It takes too long to get it up and running. Even after the palaver I’ve already described, it spins its wheels on Charlie getting Bumblebee started, on comedic interludes with her family, on establishing a wannabe-love-interest for her (a guy who both works opposite her at a fairground and is her next door neighbour, yet apparently she’s never even noticed. Incidentally, I can’t remember his name either). There’s altogether too much time spent on the military and Decepticons hunting ‘Bee, too, especially considering it amounts to little that’s meaningful. I mean, specifically two Decepticons turn up on Earth, and they’re therefore the film’s primary villains, but I can’t remember their names either. Their personalities amount to “the one who plans” and “the one who just wants to shoot everything”.

A girl and her robot... which is disguised as a car

But after nearly an hour of this faff, the film gets good, with Charlie and Neighbour Boy getting up to some enjoyable ’80s kids’ movie-style antics with their friendly giant robot. But oh, then it’s time for the climax, so it’s back to explosions and indistinguishable chunks of metal hitting each other.

This is why it’s frustrating to me, because for a brief bit of time in the middle you see what I think this movie really wanted to be, and what I really wanted it to be, before it descends back into Bayhem-with-calmer-editing. Incoming director Travis Knight (whose only previous credit is the exceptional Kubo and the Two Strings) handles individual sequences well, suggesting he was a canny hire, but the film’s problem is bigger than that. The wonky pace and structure devotes time in the wrong places, leading to underdeveloped character beats (the big payoff for Charlie’s emotional subplot actually made me laugh out loud, which was not the intended effect) and taking too long to get to where it wants to be — just as it’s getting good, it has to dart off into a finale that doesn’t have enough impact, because we’re not really invested in the villains either.

Talking of what the movie “should’ve been”, a word on the certification. Bumblebee was originally given a 12A by the BBFC, just like every other modern blockbuster, but there was some kerfuffle in Australia that led to it being cut down under, and it seems that version was tamer enough to get a PG in the UK, so that’s the one that was released here (and, I think, everywhere outside the US). It loses about six seconds of injury and violence, apparently. There was a time earlier this century when anything below PG-13 was a bad thing, because they thought teens/adults would write the film off as being kids’ fare. Maybe that’s changed. Maybe it just doesn’t apply in the UK. Maybe they thought being a PG wouldn’t put grownups off (as an adult, who looks at the certificate, especially for the sixth movie in a well-established franchise?) but would allow more kids in. Who knows. It is what it is. I’m not sure it’s worth caring about.

This cute dog is also in it a bit

Also, another thing about differing releases: I wish they’d put it out on 3D Blu-ray somewhere, so that I could’ve bought that version. As noted at the start, I watched the 4K UHD disc, and the (upscaled) picture was fine but not spectacular (aside from one or two bits, and the usual benefits of HDR), but there were whole chunks I feel would’ve benefited from 3D. The Bay movies certainly did. I know those of us who enjoy the format are more in the minority than ever, but it seems that interest remains in some markets (looking at other titles that didn’t get a 3D release in the US and UK but did elsewhere, countries like Germany, Italy, Japan, and India seem to be among the lucky ones), so I don’t know why this hasn’t turned up in any of them.

Anyway. If Bumblebee managed its structure and pace better it’d be a lot more fun. I feel like, even with just the material that made it to the final cut, you could do a radical re-edit and turn it into a much better movie — ditch the Cybertron crap, cut way back on the baddies hunting for ‘Bee, get the relationship between Charlie and ‘Bee up and running faster, then focus on their teenage hijinks. Instead, someone thought it would be neat to bookend the film’s heart with a bunch of Bay-esque whooshbangery, and it gets in the way.

3 out of 5

Bumblebee is released on DVD and Blu-ray (regular and 4K UHD flavours) in the UK today.

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

2018 #47
Michael Bay | 155 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 1.90:1 + 2.00:1 + 2.35:1* | USA, China & Canada / English | 12 / PG-13

Transformers: The Last Knight

Here we have the fifth Transformers film in 11 years from director Michael Bay. At this point you ought to know what you’re getting — the style hasn’t fundamentally changed since at least the third movie, arguably since the first, so if you dislike those then most probably there’s nothing for you here. I say “probably” because I’ve seen at least one review from someone who despised the fourth film but enjoyed this one, so clearly there’s always room for variability.

We’re dealing with variations on a theme, then, and The Last Knight brings a few fresh-to-the-franchise plot spins to add a different flavour and texture this time out. Firstly, a prologue tells us that Transformers were already in England about 1,600 years ago, when they fought alongside King Arthur and Merlin, the latter of whom didn’t wield magic but actually Autobot technology (and is played by Stanley Tucci, hamming it up something rotten). This relates to the present day because… well, I could explain it to you, but it gets fiddly and, frankly, if you care then you’ll find out when you watch it. But, basically, in present day America Transformers are hunted and Cade (Mark Wahlberg) is an outlaw helping hide some of them and rescue others. When a MacGuffin from Arthurian times attaches itself to him, he winds up on his way to England to meet Sir Anthony Hopkins, the last in a long order of… oh, yeah, I said I wasn’t going to explain it. Anyway, only Marky Mark and Clever English Totty (Laura Haddock, playing the kind of Oxford professor who dresses like a secretary in a porn film) can save the world. Who do they need to save the world from? Optimus Prime! Dun dun duuuun!

Now he's called Nemesis Prime, for no good reason

It’s all nonsense, of course, but then the inherent concept of Transformers never made any sense so what does it matter? Adding in Arthurian legend and making Optimus Prime a baddie doesn’t make it any dafter than it already was. And that’s only the half of it — there are more disparate story threads and subplots than a particularly complicated miniseries. Despite being shorter than the last movie, it’s still indulgently long — and needlessly so, too. There’s a ton of stuff that could be cut to streamline the plot, from individual shots and lines (the Arthurian prologue is probably twice as long as it needs to be) to whole characters (a street girl Cade basically adopts, Izabella, contributes nothing of major significance in the end). After about an hour, the story basically stops and starts again — that’s how long it takes to get to Sir Hopkins. Stuff from the first hour remains relevant, certainly, but I’m sure there were other ways to handle it. By getting through the first hour of the movie in half the time, for one thing. For another, don’t introduce major-seeming characters that you’re then just going to set aside and ignore for the next hour while you introduce whole new ones.

It’s remarkable how the Transformers movies can have way too much plot and not enough plot all at once. If you want to follow it you have to pay attention, not only because there’s a lot of mythology to take in, but also because Michael Bay chops it all up into bite-size chunks amongst frenetic action sequences. The film is cut like one long trailer — but that’s been Bay’s MO for a while, so, as I said at the start, no one should be surprised. It remains, in its own way, impressive. As I previously said in my review of Age of Extinction, it’s almost avant-garde: a tumble of images and sound that give you an impression of what’s occurring rather than straightforward traditional storytelling. And I say it’s impressive because it must be so much work to create — all the camera setups involved; events staged for a single, fleeting, couple-of-seconds shot; and then edited together with non-stop dynamism, rarely pausing for any notable period.

Non-stop Bayhem

And if you think that’s mad, wait until you see how Bay uses aspect ratios. Thanks to Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight blazing a trail, we’ve now had a fair few movies that use the IMAX format for select sequences, and emulate that on home media by allowing the aspect ratio to change — for laypeople, that’s when the black bars at the top and bottom disappear and the picture fills the screen. As I say, generally this is used for specific sequences, or occasionally for a particularly grand individual shot; and usually there are two ratios, approximately 2.40:1 (with the black bars) and approximately 1.78:1 (without). Bay uses… more than that. And he does so almost indiscriminately. They’re so all over the place that you can’t miss them. Like, there are standard shot-reverse-shot conversations between two characters, but each character has a different aspect ratio… and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, halfway through the scene one side will switch to another ratio! It just leaves you wondering why and how it ended up this way. What was the intention? What was the point? Well, that’s not a new question with Bay — he still uses five shots when one would do, so why not extend that same thinking to the film’s aspect ratio?

Despite the faffing around, much of it still looks impressive in a purely visceral sense. Like every modern tentpole, it cost a fortune to make ($217 million), but at least it looks like it did: there are so many grand sets and large-scale set pieces, much of it built or performed for real — not the giant robots, obviously, but there are car chases and human stunts and so forth that they did in real-life rather than in a computer. The money is splashed all over the screen, to the nth degree. Is that inherently a good thing? Eh. But it makes you wonder where some other $200m+ movies spend their money — especially when you consider that apparently production difficulties resulted in a lot of material being filmed but never making it into the final cut. How much? Well, supposedly a whole hour of footage was ditched from the original cut to get to the theatrical version. As I’ve already said, the film’s too long as it is, but it’s a shame there are no deleted scenes available because I’d be kind of fascinated to know what more was meant to be there, and to see how much money it looks like they wasted on it.

They really did hang Marky Mark out the side of a speeding vehicle, donchaknow

In what we did get to see, the size of the endeavour and the impressive quality of the imagery is emphasised by how it was filmed. A large proportion of the movie was shot in IMAX 3D (apparently 98%, but I’m certain there was more than three minutes in non-IMAX aspect ratios), and there are innumerable moments that benefit from the depth and scope of the format. Post-conversion has come a long way, but I’m not sure it can always equal doing it for real, especially on a format with the quality of IMAX. That said, the visual splendour didn’t strike me as much as it did in Age of Extinction. Perhaps that’s because, as Richard Brody put it in his New Yorker review, Bay’s “sense of speed works against his sense of scale and of detail. All the best moments in the movie — pure images, devoid of symbol and, for that matter, nearly empty of sense — go by too fast, are held too briefly, are developed too little.” There are some great shots in here, but the rapid editing just races past them. If you wanted to find and appreciate the shots fully, you’d have to damn near go through the whole thing frame by frame. I’m not sure they’re that good.

Although Bay and his directorial style always get a critical slating for these movies (more so than others he’s made in the same period — Pain & Gain and 13 Hours both attracted a reasonable amount of praise), they let him keep making them, and he keeps wanting to. The former makes sense: although you rarely find someone who admits to liking them, they keep making money (The Last Knight is the series’ lowest grosser worldwide, thanks to a particularly poor US showing, but it still took over $600m). As for the latter… no, I don’t know why he keeps coming back. Can you think of another blockbuster-level director who’s made five films in the same series? No one instantly comes to mind for me, and even those who are close (Lucas with Star Wars; Spielberg with Indiana Jones) did so over a long period of time with many films in between. I mean, if Bay wants to do it then why not — it’s his life and career — but I don’t quite understand it.

The three-headed robot dragon that I almost forgot

As I said nearly 1,500 words ago (I never imagined I’d have so much to say about this movie — and I haven’t even mentioned the three-headed robot dragon, or the C3PO-alike comic relief butler), everyone should know what they’re getting with the Transformers films by now. The Last Knight shares the same pros and cons as the other entries in the series, to one degree or another — by which I mean that, for instance, I found the plot a little more coherent than last time (though still totally barmy), but I wasn’t quite as bowled over by the visuals (which are at least half the point of these films, I feel). On balance, I’d say it’s one of the franchise’s better instalments.

3 out of 5

Transformers: The Last Knight is available on Sky Cinema from today.

* The listed ratio for The Last Knight is 1.90:1, because that’s the tallest, but its shifts into various other ratios are very obvious, as I discuss in the review. The three I’ve listed are the most obvious, but one of the trailers was shown to use eight slightly different ratios, so who knows how many there really are? ^

Transformers: Age of Extinction 3D (2014)

2017 #90
Michael Bay | 165 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 + 1.90:1 + 2.00:1 | USA & China / English | 12 / PG-13

Transformers: Age of Extinction

I thought I was done with Transformers movies. I watched Dark of the Moon back in 2014 and hated it — I gave it two stars and later couldn’t remember why I’d given it more than one. Fortunately that rounded out an initial trilogy, so when this fourth movie came out I didn’t feel I had to bother, especially when the reviews were even worse. When it made its debut on Sky Movies, rather than watch it I summarised other writers’ insightful/amusing commentary — though I acknowledged that “maybe one day I will cave and check out this renowned piece of cinematic excrement, because I am a completist and having seen three of the films I feel compelled to watch every new entry that turns up”.

Obviously, that day has come. The reason is 3D.

Regular readers will know I caved to imminently-obsolete technology back in April and bought a 3D-capable 4K TV (I wrote about it here). Long story short, the third and fourth Transformers movies were shot in 3D and are well-praised on the format. So after I rewatched the third in 3D and enjoyed it more than I remembered, the fourth called.

Here come the Transformers... again

On a purely technical level, Age of Extinction is a masterpiece. As well as 3D, significant chunks of the film were shot for IMAX, and the IMAX 3D stuff is incredible. Sometimes director Michael Bay uses it for just regular scenes, like Mark Wahlberg driving his truck or walking around an old theatre, and even those bits are a riot of depth and dimensionality. So when it opens out to show wide scenery, or for the action sequences… wow! And Bay chooses to use IMAX, like, all the time — as I said, for low-key regular stuff as well as the “epic” stuff you know it’s made for — so much so that it’s kinda weird they didn’t just shoot the whole movie in an expanded aspect ratio. (There are at least three aspect ratios used. I believe the fifth movie has five or more.) Some people hate shifting aspect ratios on Blu-ray, finding it odd when the screen suddenly fills up. Age of Extinction has the opposite effect, feeling odd when black bars appear to make it 2.40:1 for the odd shot here or there. Personally I love a shifting aspect ratio, but generally that’s because it’s the expansive IMAX stuff intruding now and then to impressive effect — when it does the opposite, it has a lessening effect.

And to round out my praise for the film’s technical merits, the sound design is positively thunderous. On a pure show-off level, this may well be the greatest Blu-ray I’ve ever seen.

As for the film itself…

Just normal people, standing around normally like normal people do

Age of Extinction is not really a movie for anyone interested in such trivial things as plot or character or internal logic. They certainly don’t concern Bay. He’s almost solely driven by the visual. It’s almost a different way of approaching the movie. If you can take it that way, I think it at least explains how some of its apparent missteps come about. For example: Wahlberg’s 17-year-old daughter is dating a 20-year-old fella — barely worthy of a raised eyebrow here in the UK, but a Shocking Thing in the US where the age of consent is (mostly) 18. But in Texas, where the film is set, they have this thing called the Romeo and Juliet law which, long story short, makes the relationship okay. Except the guy has this law printed on a card in his wallet. How skeevy is that?! I mean, why does he need it on him at all times in the form of a handy little card? What’s that for? But you see, here we are applying real-life logic. In BayWorld, having a little card with the law on it is a handy way to quickly dramatise the existence of said law and get it on screen. No, I agree, this doesn’t make a great deal of sense — as I said, if you think through the implications of why the character might possess this card, it makes the guy a massive creep — but the way Bay uses it in situ, I can kind of see what he was thinking. This kind of reasoning — of moviemaking driven more by visual thrust and expediency rather than plot coherence or character motivation — can be expanded to explain almost every plot hole, logic gap, or sudden time jump in the whole movie.

Elsewhere, It’s like someone set a challenge for how many explosions it’s possible to have in one movie. It’s just… mind-boggling. The film makes little sense as a story, or a series of events with cause and effect, or a paced action sequence with ebb and flow — it’s just a relentless assault of set pieces; things that would be a showcase stunt or effect in another movie just piled atop each other in a never-ending tumble of action. It’s, in its own strange way, impressive.

SPLOSIONS

It’s hard to describe the cumulative effect of these features, because the impact it has on the viewer is so rooted in the visual, the aural, the… not emotional, because there’s little feeling. The adrenal? As in adrenaline-generating. It makes no sense, and yet it makes its own sense. It’s almost avant-garde.

However, lest you think Bay is deliberately thinking everything out, just in a different way to the rest of us, there’s plenty of evidence that he isn’t. An obvious one is the film’s weird vein of anti-American-ism. Not overtly so, but it presents the CIA (and other US law enforcement) as corrupt and the government as incompetent because it can’t oversee them properly. This feels very odd from Bay, who’s usually so worshipful of the armed forces. Maybe he’s actually one of that weird breed of right-wingers who think it’s somehow most patriotic to hate the government and all of its institutions? Or maybe Bay is secretly left-wing — I mean, the entire ethos of Transformers is pro immigration and asylum. Or maybe he just doesn’t know what he is, or doesn’t see the inherent contradictions in what he’s putting on screen. Yeah, that version sounds about right.

It’s definitely way too long. In fact, it’s so long that when it finally finished I felt the same as if I’d just binge-watched an entire miniseries. Ironically, for a movie that doesn’t care about plot, there’s too much of it. Ironically, for a movie that uses visual shortcuts for expediency, it allows some scenes to run much longer than they need to. You could easily lose 30 to 45 minutes of this movie, either by ditching some of the plot or ditching some of the repetitive explosions; or, ideally, a bit of both.

It's a sword... that's also a gun!

Despite supposedly being a fresh start for the series, Age of Extinction spins out of the events of the last movie (it’s set five years later, with both Autobots and Decepticons persona non grata after the destructive Battle of Chicago), but doesn’t even mention Sam (Shia LaBeouf’s character) or any of the other films’ humans. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee don’t seem in the least bit bothered to have nothing to do with their former friends. Why? Who knows. Do we care? I guess not. Maybe it’s just that the Autobots, the film’s supposed heroes, are actually horrible, horrible people. Rather than good and kind and fighting for righteousness or something, their behaviour is frequently mean and cruel. A couple of them are desperate to give up on humanity (the only reason they don’t? “Optimus said we can’t”), while another kills an alien just because it looks ugly. That’s literally the only reason.

At least with the humans there are actually seeds of character arcs, and attempted developments and payoffs too — like Marky Mark and Stanley Tucci both being inventors and so sharing a commonality, or the rivalry between dad and boyfriend that eventually sorts itself out (and creates one of the film’s few genuinely good lines). But screenwriter Ehren Kruger still doesn’t really know how to do his job — or, if he does, Bay must’ve come along and torn it up to the point where it doesn’t matter — so while you’re left able to see the germs of an idea and the broad shape of how it should work, it still kinda doesn’t quite gel (unless you’re kind enough to fill in the blanks yourself). Tucci, incidentally, is great. Goodness knows what made him agree to do the movie, but he’s clearly having fun with it.

A robot knight riding a robot dinosaur, as you do

As a narrative movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction probably merits a two-out-of-five, at best. Approached purely as a demonstration of the visual splendour possible with IMAX 3D, it deserves full marks. As a sensory experience that combines both those things and everything else you get with a movie, it’s somewhere between the two.

3 out of 5

The fifth Transformers movie, The Last Knight, is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on Monday. I’ll be getting it in 3D, of course, and reviewing it at a later date.

The Hum in the Drum Monthly Update for June 2017

There was so much hummable music in this month’s movies that I considered a music-related category for the Arbies then dropped it because I didn’t want to have to decide.

So I’ll leave it up to you what track you choose to listen to (I’m going with Mike Relm’s Baby Driver remix) while we reflect on the month that was…


#76 Space Jam (1996)
#77 The Muppet Movie (1979)
#78 Gran Torino (2008)
#79 Contact (1997)
#80 That’s Entertainment! (1974)
#81 Wonder Woman (2017)
#82 The Mummy (2017)
#83 Moonlight (2016)
#84 The LEGO Batman Movie 3D (2017)
#85 Moana 3D (2016)
#86 John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
#87 The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
#88 District 9 (2009)
#89 Baby Driver (2017)
#90 Transformers: Age of Extinction 3D (2014)
Contact

Baby Driver

.


  • I watched 15 new films this month, exceeding the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 14.1, now 14.2) and equalling the average for 2017 to date (which was and is bang on 15).
  • At the halfway point of the year, I’ve reached #90, which suggests a final tally of 180. Of course (as I mentioned last month, actually), this time in 2015 I was also at #90 and eventually turned that into 200, while this time in 2016 I was way ahead at #115 but only turned that into 195. So… it’s basically meaningless, is what I’m saying.
  • At the risk of spoiling one of my year-end stats, The Mummy marked the most cinema trips I’ve made in a single year since 2008. And there’s half the year to go yet, with at least the same number of films again earmarked as must-sees.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: Neill Blomkamp’s Oscar-nominated allegorical sci-fi actioner, District 9, which came to Netflix UK this week, I believe for the first time, but I didn’t get round to reviewing it.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Clint Eastwood’s retirement from acting (until it wasn’t) in Gran Torino, which I also haven’t reviewed yet.



The 25th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I haven’t got round to reviewing most of them yet so you wouldn’t know it, but there are a good number of favourite-able movies this month — at least five solid contenders for my year-end top ten, I’d say. But setting aside tales of alien instruction manuals, black boys looking blue, toy superheroes, and musical Polynesians (not to mention wonderful women and gun-toting boogeymen), for my favourite movie this month I have to pick Baby Driver.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, this was easy. Several movies this month may have underwhelmed me, either in themselves or compared to the hype, but the only one I outright hated was Space Jam.

Best Serious Drama About First Contact with Aliens of the Month
It’s taken me 20 years to see Contact and I loved it. I’m not sure if I would’ve loved it as much 20 years ago, mind, so maybe now was the right time.

The Silicon Valley Producers’ Favourite Movie of the Month
I wonder if Transformers: Age of Extinction is popular in the Silicon Valley writers’ room right now, considering it features T.J. Miller (spoiler alert!) suffering a horrible demise.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
For the third time this award goes to the latest edition of The Past Month on TV, which covered the start of the new Twin Peaks, the “Monk trilogy” on Doctor Who, and more.



It was another good month for my Rewatchathon. I’m still behind where I should be (we’re halfway through the year, so that’d be at #26), but across the last two months I’ve averaged six rewatches a month — if I keep that up, all will be fine.

#16 Mamma Mia! (2008)
#17 John Wick (2014)
#18 Transformers (2007)
#19 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Big Screen Edition (2009)
#20 Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D (2011)

I didn’t intend to watch Mamma Mia, but the other half put it on and, while I still only half watched it, I paid more attention than I’d expected to. It’s a very daft movie, but it’s so deliberately silly and cheesy that I can’t help but find it amusing. I re-read my nine-year-old review and it pretty much still stands.

Rewatching the Bayformers films was interesting. I wrote a little about Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen, and Dark of the Moon on Letterboxd if you’re interested, but in summary: I liked the first less than I remembered, enjoyed the second a surprising amount, and completely changed my opinion of the third. I technically watched a different cut of the second one (it’s all of 30 seconds longer), so I’ll probably include a little bit about that in a future review roundup.


Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever another Marvel Studios character can.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is new to Sky Movies today but I haven’t seen it and I don’t intend to

2015 #—
Michael Bay | 165 mins | — | 2.35:1 | USA & China / English | 12 / PG-13

Transformers: Age of ExtinctionAs my Now TV Sky Movies subscription winds down, and I find myself with limited time left to watch the abundance of worthwhile films available there, I very nearly spent a little over two and a half of my precious hours watching the fourth Transformers movie (made available via Sky Movies on demand a week before its TV premiere, which is today).

And then I remembered that the last two Transformers films were rubbish, and that Age of Extinction had met with an even worse reception upon its theatrical debut last July, so why would I want to waste so much of my time on something I was sure to think was dross?

Maybe one day I will cave and check out this renowned piece of cinematic excrement, because I am a completist and having seen three of the films I feel compelled to watch every new entry that turns up, even if it takes me a while to get round to it. For now, though, I have better things to do. [Edit: I got round to it eventually. My review.]

Lest you came here hoping for some thoughts on Transformers 4 from someone who had actually endured it, here are some choice quotes from (and links to) other pieces that I have appreciated:

The loyal fans – and they are legion – will trot out clichés like, “Leave your brain at the door,” and defend Age Of Extinction’s right to be nothing but a succession of varoom! and kersmash! sequences. For those who aren’t still blindly faithful to something they liked when they were nine, despite the colossal scale, there’s little to see here.

— Owen Williams, Empire

Colossal scale

audiences love it. I saw this in a packed theatre. They CHEER when innocents were threatened/killed. I can loathe Bay for making it, but he’s…right? This crowd, they love hate. They love revenge. Selfishness. Cruelty. The sexism? They shrug it off. The nonsensical story and people? Ditto. But the cruelty is an active joy. They applaud. I’m not exaggerating. This (American) crowd applauded at the end of the film.

— Andrew Ellard, Tweetnotes

The cruelty is an active joy

Oh man that Mike Bay fella must be the greatest moviemaker alive he even manages to throw in Robot-Dinosaurs too! And they’re on OUR SIDE! Well, to be honest I think they are actually Chinese, but fairs fair, they see Optimus in trouble and they step up, yes sir. Optimus rides in like John Wayne, bless him, sorting out the bad robots in this huge battle that’s so realistic I have to admit I lost track of what was going on, but that’s what war is like, man, its hell and you never know where the next bullet is coming from (or in this case flying robot lizard).

Robot-Dinosaurs!

Where most movies have a beginning, middle and an end, Age of Extinction has a beginning, then AHHHHH! for another two hours or so. […] an adult-themed Transformers movie seemingly written by a thirteen-year old boy and directed by his walking erection

— Neil Miller, Film School Rejects

Mark Wahlberg carrying a sword that is also a gun

Bay keeps the movie in a state of perpetual climax. Everything is epic, even when it isn’t. […] Don’t ask questions, the movie insists. If you persist, the answer is always “because it looks cool.” Why is Mark Wahlberg carrying a sword that is also a gun? Because it looks cool. Why are that CIA team wearing heavy black outfits in what looks like a pretty scorching day in Texas? Because it looks cool. Why does Lockdown’s head transform into a gun rather than his arm or something? Because it looks cool. Why is Optimus Prime riding a dinosaur? Because it looks cool.

— Darren Mooney, the m0vie blog

Why is Optimus Prime riding a dinosaur?

Bay is a film-making anomaly. Even the worst of his Hollywood peers are merely hacks. Bay is no hack. A hack is someone who understands their craft but fails to apply any artistry to it. Bay doesn’t even understand his craft.

— Eric Hillis, The Movie Waffler

There are other humans in this film

There’s nothing wrong with filmmakers either lionizing or lampooning U.S. institutions. That’s what freedom of speech is all about. In Age of Extinction, though, satire ends at the water’s edge. As soon as the action shifts to Hong Kong, the outbreak of alien-engendered chaos is met by a sea captain ordering a call to “the central government” for help, and later China’s defense minister does a walk-and-talk, sternly and seriously vowing to defend Hong Kong. America’s government is portrayed either ridiculous or diabolical, but China’s is assured and effective.

Not coincidentally, Age of Extinction is considered an “officially assisted production” […] No such deal gets struck in China without the consent and approval of the Beijing government and the Chinese Communist Party, and in this case, Paramount is in business with the Beijing regime directly

— David S. Cohen, Variety
(Though, much of Cohen’s piece is a little too “it should be pro-American! It’s unpatriotic!”)

Paramount is in business with the Beijing regime directly

I can show you invention in all 3 past movies. Rich ideas, however dumbly incorporated. Not here. Everything is an echo or repeat, or else so offensive or boring as to negate any quality. But mostly it just SITS there. […] I want to be clear. Don’t see it. Ever.

— Andrew Ellard, Tweetnotes

Transformers: Age of Extinction debuts on Sky Movies Premiere today at 1:20pm and 8pm.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

2014 #56
Michael Bay | 154 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Transformers: Dark of the MoonIn an era where sequels seem to improve on their predecessors more often than not — building on established characters and mythology for a deeper experience, rather than rehashing the same plot/jokes/action sequences for a second-go-round money-grab — this Michael Bay-helmed series based on ’80s action figures is a throwback to… well, the ’80s. It’s almost appropriate.

This is the third Bay-guided Transformers flick (I liked the first, was generous to the second), and it starts off well, with a virtuoso eight-minute pre-credits sequence that reconfigures the past 50 years of Earth’s spacefaring in the story’s image. OK, so it contains a seriously ill-advised, incredibly poorly-realised CGI JFK, but we can let some things go. Unfortunately, from here on out the movie does its best to pile on stuff we can’t let go.

It’s difficult to know where to begin on Dark of the Moon’s flaws, because it throws them up so unrelentingly. The storytelling is appalling — it meanders through interminable tonally-suspect ‘comedy’ bits, but then skips over plot points so thoroughly it’s like somebody forgot to shoot some scenes, or possibly reconfigured the entire plot in the edit. Often it feels like watching a not-final cut, full of scenes and moments you’d normally find in the DVD’s deleted scenes section and think, “yes, quite right they cut that”. One of Bay’s (and his fans’) mantras is that these films are just about entertainment, not “winning Oscars or like whatevs”, so maybe he genuinely couldn’t give two hoots about plot? Storytelling is boring and to be brushed past in a race to the next “funny” bit or big fight, maybe?

Boring peopleThere are impressive visuals, it’s true, but that’s all they are: dramatic pictures. The characters, their motivations and actions that lead to these visuals often make no sense. And to say they “lead” there at all is generous, because just as often things begin to happen for no apparent reason. I swear no one’s thought any of it through — like the moment when the big honourable hero is offered a truce by the villain and, instead of accepting it, immediately executes him. Stay classy, Optimus Prime.

If this was a direct-to-DVD or Syfy Channel cheapy, everyone would rip it to shreds. But because it’s slickly shot with bank-breaking CGI, rather than on video with computer game rejects, some people still buy into the badly-told plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense, the poorly-constructed action sequences that are impossible to follow, let the weak acting and ludicrous tonal variety slide… One character even has the temerity to utter the line — and I quote accurately — “does it suck or what? I mean it’s like a bad sci-fi film.”

Yes, it does suck, but it’s not “like” a bad sci-fi film — it is a bad… well, sod the “sci-fi” bit: it’s a bad film. For a movie made by experienced filmmakers, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is shockingly inept.

2 out of 5

The fourth film in the series, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is released in UK cinemas tomorrow (yes, on a Saturday).

Transformers: Dark of the Moon featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2014, which can be read in full here. However, when I rewatched it in 2017 I had