Stop Reviewing Bad Movies

Michael Bay’s Tr4nsformers came out few weeks ago and judging by the box office numbers, every man woman and child in the country has seen it at least once already. This includes me unfortunately. Sometimes you’re out with friends, and they really want to see a bad movie, and you just get roped into it. That said, you might have noticed I resisted live tweeting that atrocity. I am currently resisting the urge to review it. Which is not that hard actually.

I literally have nothing to say about it other than that it was utterly forgettable. Michael Bay is really good at manipulating movie building blocks such as tropes, stereotypes, archetypes, pop-culture references, set-pieces and action sequences into functional entertainment spectacle that is almost like a real movie but completely devoid of any kind of consistent message. He is like a human Markov chain generator blindly remixing pop culture into original scripts.

The movie is artless, sexist, racist and problematic on many levels, but so are most of the other blockbusters that came out in the last few months. This is of course not an excuse, but I’m no longer sure if he is actually the worst offender, or just the most visible one. Or perhaps it is because he does not seem to have any filter or creative oversight, and so his prejudices can flow freely onto the celluloid without him ever giving them a second thought. Which further cements his image in my mind as some alien robot who has learned to efficiently manipulate movie tropes into configurations that focus test very well, but who does not really understand their context or implications.

Have you ever seen that episode of TNG where Data is trying to learn how to do stand-up comedy but he can’t quite get it right because he does not fully grok humor? I think this is kinda like that. Bay has nothing meaningful to say about human condition. He is not interested in having his movies stand for anything or explore any high concept ideas. He is primarily interested in creating a compelling visual spectacle, and he uses whichever human emotions, notions, ideas or moral truisms that seem to be appropriate for any given scene, without any deeper awareness or insight. He uses them like he uses product placement, carefully arranging them between explosions for maximum effect and exposure. At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with that but it makes for a rather empty experience.



I left the movie theater wandering how a film with so many explosions could be so utterly boring.

But I can no longer blame Bay for this. I used to think of him as the embodiment of all that was wrong with the movie industry. But can we really blame him for making the kind of movies that people really, really want to see? Can we really blame him for not wanting to be an artist, when each of his soulless, artless productions makes him barrels of money, and bring joy to millions of movie goers around the world?

Regardless of the objective quality of his movies, Bay is definitely an auteur. He has a very distinctive style, that is unmistakably his. It is artless, soulless, commercial, prejudiced and vulgar but it is unique to him alone. If anything, he is consistent. We all know this: especially those of us who write movie reviews. And yet, we still go to his films, we still live-tweet them and write blog posts feigning shock and disgust at his latest exploits. And for what? It has already been established that Bay’s long running franchises are immune to criticism. Regardless of how many thumbs down and one star scores they receive, people will still go to see them in droves. In fact, the venomous, negative reviews help to build the hype for his movies. Among the folks who pay to see Bays films there are those who genuinely enjoy them, and then there are those who watch them out of morbid curiosity.

At this point in the game, calling Bay out seems almost counter productive. Movie critics treating Bay movie reviews like performance art, competing with each other trying to invent the most innovative and hilarious ways to trash his work only draws more attention to his work. When the internet reviewers unite to spit on the latest installment of his silly 3 hour toy robot commercial, average Joe can’t help but wander what is this all about. Our vitriol and hate only fan the flames of morbid curiosity that pushes people to spend money on something that is only vaguely entertaining at best. So I’m just not going to feed into this vicious cycle.

I’ve seen it and it was awful, but you already knew that. You knew it was going to be awful long before the movie even came out.

I’m not saying that we should stop calling out movie makers on the things they do wrong. I’m not saying we should stop reviewing all bad movies. All I’m saying is: look, this is a long running franchise which started bad, got worse, made loads of money anyway, and whose creator is not interested in changing or improving the formula. What can we really say about it that was not said in the reviews for the last three installments of the series? At this point the most constructive way to approach Transformers reviews is to use them to psychoanalyze Michael Bay’s weird personal quirks and hangups. But even that shtick is getting stale these days, because does not vary his game at all. There are new revelations there to be had, and the whole thing starts to border on ad hominem attack on him as a person. So what’s the point?

Ditto for the upcoming TMNT movie which looks just as loud, hideous and artless as Tr4nsformers. I highly doubt that there is anything one could possibly gain by reading or watching a review of it. Unless of course you are into critics feigning shock for the sake of comedy or find the annual ritual of Internet Bay Bashing to be cathartic in some way.

Instead of complaining about the silly robot or turtle movies, let’s talk about things that may be worth watching. For example, has anyone seen Snowpiercer? I have yet to see it, but from what I heard this is the movie we should all have seen instead of Bay’s robot extravaganza. I had it described to me as a blend of Hunger Games and Those Who Walk Away from Omleas with plot hooks of Speed (if Speed was actually a good movie) and raw brutality of The Raid 2. I think you will agree that is a hell of an elevator pitch.

Aubrey Plaza has a new dark comedy Life After Beth coming out which puts a new and original spin on the old and tried zombie movie tropes. Terry Gilliam has quirky and off-beat Zero Theorem due to drop soon, and it will be worth watching because… Well, Terry Gilliam. Even when he fails he fails in interesting ways.

We are also days away from the premiere of Guardians of Galaxy which I am really excited for. It’s not just because it is another Marvel movie (and those have not been bad since The Hulk), or because it has all of my favorite actors in it. I think I’m most excited for the fact that if it works, if it becomes a box office success, then it will open up the door to the crazy-ass SF side of the Marvel comic-verse with it’s larger than life villains, and epic plot lines. The success or failure of this movie will heavily influence the direction Marvel is going to take with Phase Four movie batch, and will ultimately play into the post-Avenger planning discussions they are doubtlessly already starting to have.

What movies have you watched in the past few weeks? What movies are you excited for?

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10 Responses to Stop Reviewing Bad Movies

  1. that was pretty review-y for not wanting to review it…

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  2. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    What surprises me is not that people keep reviewing those movies; it’s that they keep watching them. I mean, it’s like you said: you know there’s nothing good coming out of it. I’m not even against mindless entertainment (I play Call of Duty!), but it should be entertaining, not just mindless.

    As for what I’ve watched recently, that was Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Scenes from a Marriage (1973). Yeah, I’m not one to watch many recent movies, when there’s a whole century of good films made before I was born.
    I did watch Super based on your recommendation, and it more than made up for a 3 hour plane ride, so thanks for that :)

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  3. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Oh, I forgot: what I’m excited about. That would be Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, based on a story by his brother (like Memento, which I still think was his best film). On the other hand, the leading role will be played by Matthew McConaughey, which rather dampens my excitement.

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  4. About 3 years ago my wife and I decided movie theaters weren’t worth it anymore. Ever since I’ve tended to lag about 6-12 months behind releases, so perhaps I’ll catch up on some of these summer blockbusters over the Christmas holidays. This works out pretty well for me. I’m exposed to very little advertising, so, with a few exceptions, I’m oblivious to what movies are coming out. Since I don’t know about them, I don’t get hyped about them, so there’s no pain in waiting. Ignorance is bliss. After several months it’s pretty well established whether or not movies are worth seeing. If I hadn’t heard about it organically, it’s probably no good. If people won’t stop talking about it (e.g. Game of Thrones), I should probably watch it. If it’s spawned Internet memes, I should probably watch it. Sometimes your own reviews prompt me to watch movies I wouldn’t otherwise watch.

    As for recent movies, I finally caught up on some Kevin Smith and Tarantino — movies I should have already watched years ago. I recently watched Dogma, Chasing Amy, Pulp Fiction, and both Kill Bills.

    Dogma: Meh. I understand the appeal, and there are some really funny parts, but it’s too Kevin Smith-ithy for me: all the characters are long-winded and sarcastic, making them same-y. Smith is like Pauly Shore in this way: really fun the first time you see him, but he quickly wears out his welcome because it’s always the same act. He’s got action beats planned out predictably, following formula (i.e. that unnecessary poop monster scene). It makes the movie feel amateur.

    Chasing Amy: Better, and much more interesting characters. Hooper X is probably my favorite Smith character across all his movies. But the second half of the film dragged on without much more depth. I was just waiting for the movie to resolve itself and end already. I do wish I had seen this as a teenager (I was 12 when it came out) because I think there are some good messages for young people in there.

    Pulp Fiction: Not at all what I was expecting. This is because I’ve been watching Tarantino backwards. The first I watched was Inglourious Basterds, where I immediately fell in love with his cinematic style. It’s so obvious that he was influenced by The Big, The Bad, and The Ugly, because there are so many similarities. The opening scene of Basterds, with Christoph Waltz and the French farmer, is the most suspenseful scene of any movie I’ve ever seen. The next film I watched was Jango, which is currently my favorite Tarantino film. Both of these are traditional stories. They have a beginning, a middle, a big climax, and a conclusion. In contrast, Pulp Fiction is a story about a bunch of weird, loosely-connected things happening. There’s no ending or structure, just interesting characters in unusual situations. Cinematically it’s really interesting, and it’s culturally significant, but I wouldn’t watch it again except to see specific details that I missed.

    Kill Bill: Except for some of the time jumping, this is another straightforward story. I liked how twists were revealed along the way. I liked the speeches, especially the Superman speech by Bill in the finale. I liked the subtle details, like airplane seats fitted with sword holders as standard in the Tarantino universe. I wanted to see The Bride succeed in her mission. It was a good couple of movies.

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  5. Karthik INDIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Well, I’m doing my part in ignoring the existence of the Transformers movies. (Well, I was until now.) I remember watching The Rock as a kid and liking it, but that’s all the Michael Bay I’ve seen.

    I watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World recently, and… I don’t get it. It had some funny beats, but I didn’t get most of the jokes (like the one about vegans) or the ending. If the movie had a message–about self-respect or emotional baggage or something else–I’d say it whooshed right over me.

    This viewing was actually inspired by this video on how to do visual comedy. I watched a couple more Edgar Wright movies afterwards (Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz), and found them somewhat amusing, but nothing special. So it’s been a tepid movie season for me.

    (I don’t watch movies in theaters since 3D became the default. I find it dim and annoying.)

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  6. Mihai ROMANIA Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    In a strange coincidence the last movie I have seen is also the oldest one that I have (really) enjoyed: “The Third Man”. I don’t watch many movies and it’s been many years since I stepped into a movie theater.
    In fact this and Hair ware the only movies I remember seeing in the past months.

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  7. MrPete GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’m a frequent visitor to the local cinema, so much that our company was hired for their last renovations and the owner and I talk about upcoming movies as much as upcoming works :)
    So, I’ve seen that #4. And it was not because I really wanted or was curious due to bad reviews. It was out of boredom and a friend asking if I had anything to waste some time on. So off we went and… meh.
    It’s got explosions. It’s got giant robots and… err… story? There’s some well hidden behind smoke of explosions. Something about humans doing too much tech I think.

    Other movies I’ve seen in the last time, sorted by how long it’s in the past:

    Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy – yeah, thanks to kids. Still, nicely done story with a well enough hidden “go for your ambitions, not what others tell you” to not make the parents squirm in their seats while the kids enjoy the pictures.

    Maleficent – Another of the “our licence runs out we need to do a reimagining of the stuff” Disney movies. Good picture, twist on the story as you might remember it from being told to you as a kid and -as usual for modern Disney- with a “subtle” message.

    A Million Ways… – well, this is a mixed bag. It’s a wild-west-love-story-thingy with sometimes real black/harsh humor and a rather simple love with the expected turn tucked in. Good fun for a while but don’t expect any revelations.

    Edge of Tomorrow – that’s a cool action flick, even with TC in the lead. Well, TC isn’t a bad actor per se, just a person I don’t really like. And this movie has everything you’d expect from a good asian novel. A main char that’s constantly beaten/shot/crushed/exploded/burned until he learns to memorize everything, a side char that’s kicking the main in the butt several times over until he learns the ropes and a time-twist element that’s allowing it to take all the shit not serious and allows for some nice comedy.

    Bad Neighbors – fun while it lasts, nothing memorable and some scenes in it that might set off sensible audiences.

    Snowpiercer – Now that was a great one, seeing my list here the best. We took a 1.5h drive to see it, watched it and then discussed the whole thing on the way back. Great work, shame it got shoved in the small-release-corner.

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  8. It’s interesting that you have a little side-swipe at Speed (‘if speed were a good movie’). It’s no masterpiece, but as an action film/thriller it is much more compelling than Bay’s films. Speed doesn’t tell us much about the human condition either, but it has competent (even excellent) framing, blocking and editing, which are things Michael Bay can only dream about. The plot is simple and to the point but that just means there’s more time to concentrate on the action, the pace and the suspense. I would argue that compared to other summer movie blockbusters (especially recently) Speed is superb.

    That’s the thing I find most bizarre and frustrating about Michael Bay’s films – not that the acting is bad, or the dialogue, but it’s that Bay can’t shoot action sequences competently!

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  9. Sheriff Fatman UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ IceBrain:

    On the other hand, the leading role will be played by Matthew McConaughey, which rather dampens my excitement.

    Did you see True Detective? If he’s half as good as he was in that, he’ll be worth watching.

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